Demand for B.C. Farmed
by Brian Morton
Total sales expected to top last year's $318.7 million
B.C. salmon farmers are going full tilt to meet a surging demand for their fish, according to the executive director of the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association.
"It's completely outstripping supply," association executive director Mary Ellen Walling said in an interview. "We just can't keep up with the requests for the product."
Walling said most of the demand is coming from the U.S., where 85 per cent of their product is shipped. "We've been harvesting salmon every day [and] our prices have been very solid."
Blair Billard, production manager of Grieg Seafood BC Ltd., a Campbell River-based company that operates five fish farms on the B.C. coast, said in an interview: "We harvest about 8,000 metric tonnes a year and we could easily do more than that if we had the fish in the water."
Walling said she expects 2006 B.C. farm fish sales to top 2005, when the net value to the fish farms' production rose 42 per cent to $318.7 million.
Prices paid by U.S. commercial customers for whole fish (10-12 pounds) have risen by more than 40 per cent since 2004, from $1.66 US a pound to $2.38 this year. Filet prices have risen even more sharply, from $2.82 a pound in 2004 to $4.33 this year.
Walling said that recent reports linking the consumption of salmon with a healthier diet are a major reason behind the increased sales. She said those reports also help counter critics who say farmed salmon is unhealthier than wild salmon because it contains more chemical contaminants.
"And there's a growing understanding that to meet our demand for salmon, we can't secure that from the wild fishery."
In October, the salmon industry got a big boost when an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that regular consumption of fish such as salmon cuts the risk of heart disease by 36 per cent.
2005 was the third year in a row that farmed salmon was the province's top seafood product -- generating a wholesale value of $371.1 million and accounting for 73 per cent of all salmon produced in B.C.
A B.C. Salmon Farmers Association release, which cited B.C. government figures, noted that the total provincial harvest of farmed salmon in 2005 grew to 70,600 tonnes, a 14-per-cent increase.
In 2005, the total wholesale value of B.C. seafood, including wild and farmed salmon, farmed and wild shellfish, herring, groundfish and other wild fish equalled $1.2 billion, up from $1.12 billion in 2004. B.C. seafood products were shipped to 72 countries in 2005 and generated a total export value of $995 million -- an increase from $984 million in 2004.
Christina Burridge, executive director of the B.C. Seafood Alliance, which represents most of B.C.'s commercially harvested seafood industry, said: "Demand for seafood is growing in virtually every market. Certainly, it's growing in the U.S., where you have a population that's aging, generally wealthy and wants to be healthy."
But Walling said growth in the salmon farming industry has stalled because of difficulty getting new fish farm operations approved. There are now about 120 fish farms in B.C., she added.
"We're at capacity in terms of the amount of fish we can produce. And we've got great market conditions and prices. We should be growing the industry. But it's a challenge securing new sites. There's a strong anti-farming campaign."
Walling also said that fish farms escaped the type of storm damage shellfish farmers experienced in recent weeks. "We haven't had any damage. [The farms] are so well sited and heavily anchored."
Five species of salmon are farmed in B.C.: Atlantic, chinook, coho, sockeye and marine trout, also known as steelhead. Atlantic salmon accounts for approximately 55 per cent of production, generating a wholesale value of $293.8 million.
Besides the U.S., the other two top markets for B.C. farmed salmon are Japan and Taiwan.
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