Movement of eggs
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.