News & Views
Industry players receptive to seafood sanctions against Russia
By Liza Mayer
By Liza Mayer
Russia is a small player in aquaculture but its role in supplying the world with wild-caught seafood could still impact the industry at large.
In 2019, Russia exported 1.9 million tonnes of seafood to overseas markets while 2.7 million tonnes was consumed locally, according to data from Innovation Norway in Moscow. Of the country’s total production of 4.6 million tonnes of seafood during that year, only 170,000 tonnes came from the country’s 3,000 fish farmers. Around 560,000 tonnes of the total is imported from overseas markets, with salmon as the top import product.
Players in the seafood industry, like their counterparts in other sectors, are cutting trading ties with Russia since it initiated conflict with Ukraine in February. Norway-based Atlantic salmon producer Cermaq told this publication that it exported salmon to Russia but it has now stopped. The world’s biggest farmed salmon producer, Mowi, said it did not sell any salmon to Russia, and that was the case before the events in Ukraine.
“It is incredibly unfortunate that war is going on in Ukraine right now,” said Ned Bell, an award-winning chef, seafood advocate, educator and founder of Chefs for Oceans in British Columbia (B.C.). “We certainly didn’t support Russian seafood prior to this and we certainly won’t be going out of our way to support it.”
Seafood producers in the United States have not been able to sell their produce to Russia since 2014, the year it banned seafood imports from the U.S. and its allies. This is in retaliation against a suite of sanctions against Russia after it invaded the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine that year.
The current crisis has provided an impetus for U.S. lawmakers to renew calls to ban seafood imports from Russia.
U.S. Senators Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski (both R-Alaska) introduced in February the U.S.-Russian Federation Seafood Reciprocity Act, a legislation that would impose a ban on the import of all Russian seafood products into the U.S.
Sullivan decried that Russian seafood exports to the U.S. have grown by 173 per cent since 2013, the year before Russia stopped U.S. seafood products from coming into its borders.
“Most Americans would be astounded to learn that Russia has unfettered access to sell its seafood in the United States at the same time America’s fishermen and seafood processors have zero access to the Russian market,” said Sullivan.
“This is just wrong and hurts our fishermen. For years, I’ve been pressing officials at all levels, from the Oval Office on down, to pursue a seafood trade relationship with Russia based on principles every American can understand — fairness and reciprocity. We don’t have that right now…”
Murkowski hopes that the Congress and the Biden administration will finally agree to equalize the treatment of Alaska’s world-class seafood. “This is a perfect addition to a package meant to show Russia that undermining and disrupting global norms will not go unpunished,” she said.
U.S. trade industry group, The National Fisheries Institute, supports the move. “The National Fisheries Institute recognizes the need for our nation’s leaders to use a variety of tools to implement effective foreign policy that deters aggression. With the recently announced sanctions, it is likely that imports of Russian seafood could be affected. Senators Sullivan and Murkowski agreed to work together to ensure a bill meets both of their needs. NFI looks forward to seeing what comes from that collaboration,” the association told this publication in an email.
Sebastian Belle, executive director of the Maine Aquaculture Association, noted that seafood produced in Maine is mostly consumed in the North American market. The crisis could possibly impact European salmon prices and therefore affect “our European colleagues more,” he said.
“There will be an impact possibly on European salmon prices because of the fact that in salmon coming from Norway, and possibly from Scotland, is processed in Ukraine and Poland.” But the upheaval will affect his association members indirectly through fluctuation in exchange rates and fuel prices, he added.
The executive director of the National Aquaculture Association (NAA), Paul Zajicek, says the current conflict and its impact on the seafood trade further strengthens the case for locally produced seafood.
Consumers, he said, are willing to pay the premium for locally grown, fresh seafood because they are confident of their quality attributes ¬– no antibiotics, no other chemicals. For instance, local shrimp farmers “have developed niche markets to be outside that tidal wave (of imports),” he noted.
But there still may be some seafood from Russia that could end up on consumers plates because of the long-standing problem with seafood traceability, said Bell, the chef, who is a partner in the historic Naramata Inn, in Okanagan Lake, B.C. where he also runs the restaurant.
“There’s no requirement to label the country of origin in imported seafood,” he says. “Labeling and traceability of seafood is a major issue internationally. I know there’s a lot of Russian frozen sockeye salmon that finds Its way into British Columbia and into the retail and food service system. Often it would be labeled as ‘wild salmon’ or ‘wild Pacific salmon,’ and then people wouldn’t really ask any more questions. So, they would be inadvertently supporting salmon that was harvested in Russian waters.”