World's biggest salmon company arrives in Bay of Fundy

Marine Harvest, the world's biggest player in the salmon aquaculture business, is moving into the Bay of Fundy.

Norway's Marine Harvest operates in 18 countries

The purchase of Newfoundland-based Northern Harvest gives Marine Harvest of Norway nine farm sites in the Bay of Fundy and a processing plant in St. George. (Hans_Petter Wikipedia Commons)

Marine Harvest, the world's biggest player in the salmon aquaculture business, is moving into the Bay of Fundy.

The Oslo-based company filed papers Tuesday with the federal Competition Bureau after making a share purchase agreement to take over Newfoundland-based Northern Harvest, which has nine sea-farm sites in the Bay of Fundy and a processing plant in St. George.

"We do not have any operation in this area from before," said Alf-Helge Aarskog, Marine Harvest's CEO. "It was interesting for us."

The seafood company has 12,700 employees in 18 countries.

The Northern Harvest purchase marks its first foray into waters off the East Coast of North America.

I think New Brunswick is difficult to expand in terms of number of fish and volume growth.-Alf-Helge Aarskog, CEO of Marine Harvest

Aarsgog pointed to the Bay of Fundy's proximity to Boston and the eastern U.S. market, and to Central Canada.

He said the New Brunswick salmon farms can also ship to a large salmon-smoking plant, Ducktrap River in Belfast, Maine, that is already owned by Marine Harvest.

He noted, however, that growth potential for the company is limited in the Bay of Fundy.

"I think New Brunswick is difficult to expand in terms of number of fish and volume growth," Aarskog said.

"It's rather a condensed area with farming. But Newfoundland has potential. It's a huge area, and if we do the farming right, it can grow in the future."

Overcoming sea lice

There are about 100 farm sites in the Bay of Fundy, making Marine Harvest a bit player in a region dominated by Cooke Aquaculture.

When asked about the many sea-lice outbreaks in the shallower waters of the bay, Aarskog pointed to Marine Harvest's research and development programs, managed in house as well as in co-operation with universities and even other aquaculture companies.

"Sea lice is an issue for the industry but sea lice can be managed," he said.

Aarskog said the company has done a lot of work on the use of the ballan wrasse, a sea lice-eating fish that can be put into pens with the salmon.

Marine Harvest CEO Alf-Helge Aarskog says the purchase gives his company better access to the eastern North American market for Atlantic salmon. (Marine Harvest)

Marine Harvest is now raising its own ballan wrasse for that purpose and the fish is now widely used on sea farms in Norway, Scotland and Ireland.

It is not clear if ballan wrasse, a fish native to the eastern Atlantic, would be permitted in Canadian waters.

In the summer of 2016, more than a half-million salmon either died or were pre-emptively killed in the midst of a fast-growing outbreak of sea-lice at two farm sites in Passamaquoddy Bay.

The sites were under licence to the Gray Group, an aquaculture company being operated by Ernst and Young.

Gray Group's assets were later acquired by Northern Harvest.

Fundy baykeeper Matt Abbott of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick said he will be keeping a close eye on Marine Harvest's arrival, "to see if this new ownership brings about any significant changes in stocking density pressure, pesticide use, or fish escapes in a Bay that is already facing numerous environmental stressors."