In­dus­try plat­form

Move­ment of eggs

Fish Farmer - - Contents - BY NEIL MANCH­ESTER

Re­cent re­ports about the move­ment of eggs be­tween Nor­way and Scot­land have been used by an­ti­salmon farm cam­paign­ers to un­der­mine the in­dus­try. Here, the man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Scot­land’s largest in­de­pen­dent sal­mon egg pro­ducer sets the record straight

LANDCATCH was formed in 1980 in Argyll and quickly es­tab­lished a strain of At­lantic sal­mon us­ing ge­netic ma­te­rial from sev­eral sources, pre­dom­i­nantly Sun­ndal­søra, Mowi and some Nam­sen. In ad­di­tion, some Scot­tish wild strains were in­tro­duced in the very early years but phased out over time in favour of the higher per­form­ing lines.

This mass se­lec­tion pro­gramme proved highly ef­fec­tive, but in 1996 the com­pany moved to a fam­ily based breed­ing pro­gramme and, un­der the name Landcatch Nat­u­ral Se­lec­tion, led the world in the de­vel­op­ment of quan­ti­ta­tive ge­net­ics. n 2007, and­catch was the first com­pany to iden­tify a T for (in­fec­tious pan­cre­atic necro­sis) re­sis­tance.

The move into ge­nomic se­lec­tion fol­lowed shortly af­ter, with good progress seen in im­por­tant traits such as sea lice, PD (pan­creas dis­ease) and AGD (amoe­bic gill dis­ease).

A sim­i­lar pro­gramme with the Landcatch strain was es­tab­lished in Chile in the 1990s to sup­port the sig­nif­i­cant trade in and­catch eggs from cot­land, and that line is still go­ing to­day, with ever in­creas­ing mar­ket share as a re ec­tion of su­pe­rior per­for­mance.

How­ever, the ISA (in­fec­tious sal­mon ane­mia) cri­sis in 2007 in Chile closed the borders to im­ported eggs (apart from small num­bers from Ice­land in the off-sea­son), and Landcatch in Scot­land strug­gled to re-es­tab­lish it­self in its do­mes­tic mar­ket.

Scot­land has a rel­a­tively small pro­duc­tion vol­ume of At­lantic sal­mon, which in the last 13 years has re­mained static while Nor­we­gian pro­duc­tion has tripled, and in order to jus­tify the ex­pense of a full blown breed­ing pro­gramme it was clear that new mar­kets had to be found.

Nor­way had al­ways been an oc­ca­sional mar­ket for the Landcatch eggs and smolts, with the last batches of eggs de­liv­ered in 2009.

How­ever, the new own­er­ship of Landcatch, Hen­drix Ge­net­ics, de­cided that to be a ma­jor player in sal­mon breed­ing and egg pro­duc­tion, it was cru­cial not only to ac­cess the Nor­we­gian mar­ket but to es­tab­lish a breed­ing op­er­a­tion in the coun­try and de­velop the strain to suit all the re­gions of Nor­way.

In 2015, an ap­pli­ca­tion was made to the Nor­we­gian gov­ern­ment for Hen­drix Ge­net­ics to es­tab­lish an At­lantic sal­mon breed­ing op­er­a­tion in Nor­way, us­ing nu­cleus ge­netic ma­te­rial from the Landcatch pro­gramme in Scot­land.

art of the sub­mis­sion in­cluded con­fir­ma­tion of two part­ner pro­duc­ers, plus the con­di­tional pur­chase of a land based hatch­ery and a cap­i­tal pro­gramme for de­vel­op­ment. Also in­cluded were de­tails of the very com­pre­hen­sive R&D pro­gramme op­er­ated on the Landcatch strain, and how this would be fur­ther adapted for the Nor­we­gian mar­ket.

First to re­spond was the Nor­we­gian Fish­eries Di­rec­torate, with an en­thu­si­as­tic and pos­i­tive rec­om­men­da­tion from their Brood­stock Com­mit­tee that brood­stock li­cences be is­sued (two ini­tially, in­creas­ing to four as soon as pro­duc­tion biomasses ne­ces­si­tated them).

The rec­om­men­da­tion in­cluded com­ments about the im­pres­sive level of R&D and ge­netic de­vel­op­ment within the Hen­drix Ge­net­ics breed­ing pro­gramme, and also how the added di­ver­sity of a new ge­netic strain would add a com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage to the Nor­we­gian in­dus­try by of­fer­ing

greater choices in egg strain se­lec­tion (since just two sup­pli­ers is con­sid­ered a risk to the in­dus­try).

(The two in­de­pen­dent sal­mon breed­ing com­pa­nies in Nor­way are Aqua­gen, owned by Ger­man EW Group, and Sal­mo­breed, owned by Bri­tish com­pany, Bench­mark Hold­ings. Apart from this, there are two other strains man­aged by in­te­grated pro­duc­ers for in­ter­nal use only: Ma­rine Har­vest/ Mowi, and SalMar/Rauma.)

Sec­ond to re­spond, how­ever, in March 2016 when Hen­drix Ge­net­ics ap­plied to move 50,000 nu­cleus eggs from the Scot­tish Landcatch pro­gramme into Nor­way, was the En­vi­ron­ment Di­rec­torate (KLD), which im­me­di­ately blocked the move­ment of eggs de­spite all health cer­ti­fi­ca­tion and test­ing re­quire­ments be­ing met or ex­ceeded, stat­ing quite openly that ‘they didn’t want Scot­tish ge­net­ics in Nor­way’.

The EU reg­u­la­tion 1143/2014 on In­va­sive Alien Species was cited as the piece of leg­is­la­tion used to sup­port the ban, although the Scot­tish gov­ern­ment’s le­gal de­part­ment quickly re­viewed this and de­cided that Nor­way was un­law­fully in­ter­pret­ing the doc­u­ment.

This doc­u­ment is de­signed to ex­clude ex­otic species, although KLD was ap­par­ently us­ing this to ex­clude al­le­les in an al­ready in­dige­nous species.

Then be­gan a se­ries of meet­ings and ex­change of in­for­ma­tion (in­volv­ing var­i­ous de­part­ment di­rec­tors, state sec­re­taries, min­is­ters, and even the prime min­is­ter of Nor­way her­self) where Landcatch chal­lenged this de­ci­sion.

This di­a­logue con­tin­ued up un­til March 2018, when the Nor­we­gian gov­ern­ment is­sued a state­ment that their fi­nal de­ci­sion was to pre­vent the move­ment of At­lantic sal­mon eggs from Scot­land into Nor­way over con­cerns that, if al­lowed in and if any es­caped, and if those es­capees ac­cessed a river and bred with wild At­lantic sal­mon, this could have a cat­a­strophic im­pact on the wild gene pool.

It is in­ter­est­ing to note cer­tain points that arose dur­ing the pe­riod be­tween the ini­tial re­fusal and the fi­nal de­ter­mi­na­tion by the or­we­gian gov­ern­ment: At no stage did the or­we­gian gov­ern­ment con­duct any ge­netic anal­y­sis on the Landcatch strain, and even ad­mit­ted that they were mak­ing an as­sump­tion on the pre­cau­tion­ary prin­ci­ple; The or­we­gian gov­ern­ment de­clined to ad­vise what ge­netic anal­y­sis we could of­fer (that is, spe­cific mark­ers that might al­lay their con­cerns There were move­ments of At­lantic sal­mon eggs from Ice­land into Nor­way, per­mit­ted with­out any ge­netic anal­y­sis but on a stated as­sump­tion that these were of Nor­we­gian ori­gin and un­con­tam­i­nated by other strains in the 20 years they had been pre­sent in Ice­land; There were also move­ments of trout eggs from Den­mark, hal­ibut fry from Canada and Scot­land, and wild caught wrasse from any wa­ter out­side of Nor­way; eer re­viewed pa­pers were pro­vided in abun­dance show­ing that the ge­netic dif­fer­ences be­tween dif­fer­ent strains of farmed and wild sal­mon were in­signif­i­cant, and even ad­mit­ted that there was a greater dif­fer­ence be­tween farmed Nor­we­gian strains and wild Nor­we­gian sal­mon than be­tween farmed Scot­tish and farmed Nor­we­gian, yet it was de­cided to draw the line at the Landcatch strain; The cot­tish in­dus­try be­came al­most 100 per cent re­liant on im­ported

eggs, mainly from Nor­way. Dur­ing the process, the Scot­tish gov­ern­ment had been asked to chal­lenge this de­ci­sion as it was clearly an un­law­ful trade bar­rier be­tween a non-EU coun­try and the EU.

As men­tioned above, the first ac­tion was to de­ter­mine that the or­we­gian gov­ern­ment’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the Alien Species Act was un­law­ful.

Fol­low­ing this, the Scot­tish gov­ern­ment was asked re­peat­edly to chal­lenge the ban, but sadly no ac­tion was taken, de­spite public state­ments from the min­ster of fish­eries that the or­we­gian gov­ern­ment s de­ci­sion was not based on sci­ence or rea­son.

This lack of ac­tion, and will­ing­ness to al­low a long es­tab­lished Scot­tish com­pany to be mis­treated by a for­eign gov­ern­ment (even if in the greater in­ter­ests of Nor­we­gian in­vest­ment in the Scot­tish in­dus­try) is not how gov­ern­ments are sup­posed to be­have.

The chal­lenge fac­ing the min­is­ter of fish­eries was there­fore uite sim­ple ei­ther dis­agree with the ban and do some­thing about it, or agree with the ban and then ex­plain to the anti-sal­mon farm­ing lobby why you aren’t ap­ply­ing the same rules.

Af­ter the fi­nal de­ci­sion of the or­we­gian gov­ern­ment in March 2018, and with­out any as­sis­tance or sup­port from the Scot­tish gov­ern­ment, it was clear that Landcatch re­quired a change of strat­egy to main­tain eco­nomic vi­a­bil­ity.

Be­ing blocked from 85 per cent of the avail­able mar­ket in Europe and Scan­di­navia, Landcatch can­not hope to com­pete with the Nor­we­gian based egg pro­duc­ers that en­joy the pro­tec­tion of the Nor­we­gian gov­ern­ment.

We have to se­ri­ously con­sider the value in main­tain­ing a breed­ing pro­gramme in Scot­land, de­spite hav­ing a his­tory of 34 years of suc­cess­ful breed­ing and the sup­ply of over 150 mil­lion smolts and nearly one bil­lion eggs into the global in­dus­try.

For­tu­nately, the fu­ture of Hen­drix Ge­net­ics in Scot­land is se­cured through con­tract smolt pro­duc­tion and long term ge­netic and pro­duc­tion sup­port agree­ments with the Scot­tish Sal­mon Com­pany on its Na­tive He­bridean strain.

But decades of world lead­ing breed­ing tech­nol­ogy and col­lab­o­ra­tion with the uni­ver­si­ties of Stir­ling, Glas­gow and Ed­in­burgh, once seen as a shin­ing ex­am­ple of smart, suc­cess­ful, cot­land is clearly re­garded as a sac­ri­fice worth mak­ing rather than chal­leng­ing bla­tant pro­tec­tion­ism by the Nor­we­gian gov­ern­ment.

The guardians of the Scot­tish sal­mon in­dus­try should take note; this pas­sive ac­cep­tance of bully tac­tics by the Nor­we­gian gov­ern­ment is threat­en­ing the clo­sure of Scot­land’s last in­de­pen­dent sal­mon breed­ing com­pany, and plac­ing a vi­tal com­po­nent of the value chain en­tirely in for­eign hands, sub­ject to im­port reg­u­la­tions.

The global an­i­mal breed­ing in­dus­try is re­liant on a num­ber of things, in­clud­ing: ge­netic di­ver­sity (that is, a range of strains); and a com­bi­na­tion of lo­cal pro­duc­tion and move­ment of ge­netic ma­te­rial across borders.

Free com­pe­ti­tion, mul­ti­ple choices for buy­ers, and the avoid­ance of sec­tor dom­i­na­tion or mo­nop­o­lies ought to be com­mon sense.

All and­catch ever asked for was a level play­ing field. Neil Manch­ester is man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Hen­drix Ge­net­ics Aqua­cul­ture BV.

This pas­sive ac­cep­tance of bully tac­tics by the Nor­we­gian gov­ern­ment is threat­en­ing the clo­sure of Scot­land’s last in­de­pen­dent sal­mon breed­ing com­pany”

Be­low: Fa­cil­i­ties in the top three sal­mon pro­duc­ing coun­tries.

Op­po­site: Choices needed in egg se­lec­tion.

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