Processors disagree on response to trout market’s approaching collapse

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Trout farmer and processor Roger Hofseth does not see the need for emergency measures for trout.

On Monday, it was announced that the Norwegian seafood association Sjømatbedriftene, by chief executive Robert Eriksson, are asking the Minister of Fisheries for help against what is feared to be a market collapse for trout. In a letter to Minister of Fisheries Emil Ingebrigtsen, Eriksson proposed a 20 per-cent increase in the maximum allowed biomass (MAB).

“I simply fear that the market balance will be destroyed if nothing is done,” Eriksson told SalmonBusiness.

The alternative to leaving the fish further in the sea and growing larger via increased maximum allowed biomass (MAB) is “to harvest it and destroy the fish that you can’t sell,” Eriksson suggested.

Getting it wrong
Roger Hofseth runs the trout farmer Hofseth Aqua, but also the processing companies Hofseth International and Hofseth BioCare, both of which buy and process salmon and trout. He believes that low fish prices are not an insurmountable problem.

“I have been a processor now for fifteen years – and struggled with upward prices. It has been a reality, the last 6-7 years, with high prices. We can take a beating,” he told SalmonBusiness.

“I’m a fish farmer too, I think this is going to be wrong. I agree that trout is special right now and that a MAB increase could have postponed the problem, but right now I think it’s an overproduction of salmon and trout. You have to brace yourself and power on – as we processors have had to do it,” he explained.

Fish harvest at Hofseth Aqua’s plant in Ålesund, Western Norway. PHOTO: Lizbeth Osnes

“Prices have just gone up and up, and you have to look back a little bit. I think it’s short-lived. I think the market is going to be strong. These low prices cause many new people to get a taste of the goods. We see that time and time again,” Hofseth said.

During production cost
He thinks it’s too early to address the crisis.

“It’s the first week we’re under production costs. You can’t be pessimistic right now. There are no fish farmers struggling in Norway.”

At the same time, Hofseth is aware that trout breeders will struggle for a period of time, not least due to the pull-down of biomass, as a result of traffic light regulation, in Western Norway.

“It’s going to be tough on farming, yes. That’s absolutely right. As Robert says, trout get much worse than salmon. 80 per-cent of the trout are located in the area where one takes down MAB.

He denied that there is a need for the destruction of fish.

“Everyone gets so dramatic. It’s nonsense in the same way as this spring when the production fish were to be destroyed. We can take what people want to destroy,” Hofseth said.

Availability
“I have a lot of capacity, so I can make fillets and freeze it, and then they can get it again later,” he continued.

“But it will be special on the trout. Historically, trout is slightly lower priced than salmon. But I’d go so far to say that the trout have better taste. We’re going to have 8-9,000 tons at any given time. And process everything.

Is there any option for you to switch from trout to salmon?

“We are increasing on salmon. But we don’t switch to salmon from what we have on trout.

Greatest
Last year Hofseth Aqua, formerly known as Fjordlaks Aqua, produced 9,000 tonnes of trout and 1,500 tonnes of organic salmon in its fish farms in the fjords at Sunnmøre, Western Norway.

The serial entrepreneur said can’t become a pessimist.

“I have faith in everything I’m doing, haven’t you?” asked Roger Hofseth.

The Lerøy Group is by far the largest trout farmer in the country, with large production capacity outside Bergen, Western Norway. However, the company’s management is not particularly talkative about either the market situation or any MAB measures for trout.

“We have no comment on this until our quarterly presentation on 20th August,” Lerøy’s public relations spokesperson Krister Hoaas told SalmonBusiness.