18 February 2019
Norwegian salmon has become a lot costlier as output has fallen at farms abroad due to a problem stemming from parasitic sea lice. Photo: Reuters
Norwegian salmon has become a lot costlier as output has fallen at farms abroad due to a problem stemming from parasitic sea lice. Photo: Reuters

Salmon prices shoot up as sea lice crisis affects global supply

Norwegian salmon has become costlier among the imported food items in Hong Kong, with retail prices surging by 18 percent in the past few months to around HK$110 per kilogram.

Prices have risen as supplies were affected due to a sea lice epidemic in farms abroad, Apple Daily reports.

Parasitic sea lice disrupted operations at several global salmon suppliers, as the tiny lice attached themselves to the fish and fed on them, making the farmed creatures unsuitable for consumption.

The lice are tiny crustaceans that have infested salmon farms in the US, Canada, Scotland, Norway, and Chile, which are the major suppliers of the high-protein and heart-healthy fish.

The parasites are killing the salmon as the former’s numbers continue to grow. This has resulted in lower output at the farms, causing prices to shoot up.

According to Hong Kong government data, 85 percent of the salmon imported into the city came from Norway during the past three years.

However, the numbers have seen a decline, with the imports falling from 19.44 million kg in 2015 to 17.59 million kg last year.

In the first seven months of 2017 there was a much steeper drop in the imports, as they fell 26 percent from a year earlier to 7.92 million kg.

As supplies fell, salmon price per kilogram rose from HK$53 in 2015 to HK$69 last year. This year, prices hit a new high, standing at HK$71 per kg at the importer level.

Apple Daily quoted a woman surnamed Leung, who claimed to be a regular salmon eater, as saying that she has observed that prices have gone up by nearly 20-30 percent recently at the retail level.

Chan Ho-hin, a representative of Prudential Trading Co., an entity involved in salmon imports, said prices of Norwegian salmon will continue to rise as output has been impacted by the sea lice epidemic.

This month, price per kilogram reached HK$80 at the importer level, which marks a 20 percent jump compared to the same period in 2016. He predicts that as Christmas approaches, import prices would hit HK$100 per kilogram.

“As global warming intensifies, the seawater temperature is higher, making it a perfect breeding ground for sea lice. If the fish farmers fail to come up with solutions fast, Hong Kong people will just have to pay more to taste the delicacy,” Chan said.

Ricky Cheng Wai-tao, founder of the Itacho sushi restaurant chain in Hong Kong, says Norwegian salmon sashimi are very popular, making up for almost ten percent of his chain’s sushi ingredients.

Although prices are on the rise, Cheng said that as of now he has no plans to pass on the added cost to his customers.

A representative for Genki Sushi was also quoted as saying that the group has no plans to hike prices on their menu.

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