Salmon: branded as Scottish but owned abroad

The £2 billion salmon farming industry marketed around the world as Scottish is virtually all owned by investors in Norway, Switzerland, Cyprus, Canada and other countries, according to a new analysis by campaigners.

As much as 99 per cent of caged salmon production from Scottish-branded companies operating along the west coast is controlled outwith Scotland, says Scottish Salmon Watch. Most of the industry is Norwegian, and one major parent company is registered in Jersey, an offshore tax haven.

The revelations have prompted angry condemnation from campaigners who described Scottish salmon as a “sham” and a “consumer con”. They say companies should be investigated for “false” advertising.

The industry, however, stresses the economic benefits it brings to Scotland in jobs, investment and taxes, pointing out that many key Scottish businesses are owned abroad. Salmon farming was also strongly defended by the Scottish Government’s rural economy secretary, Fergus Ewing.

Three of Scotland’s big six salmon farming firms are owned by Norwegian companies: Mowi (formerly Marine Harvest), Scottish Sea Farms and Grieg Seafood. The Scottish premises of the three companies in Rosyth, Stirling and Shetland were raided on 19 February by inspectors from the European Commission investigating alleged price fixing in Norway.

Mowi’s largest shareholder is a company registered in Cyprus which is owned by Norway’s richest man, John Fredriksen. Scottish Sea Farms is owned by a complex network of Norwegian firms and Grieg Seafood’s four biggest shareholders are all based in Norway.

The parent company of Scotland’s third largest salmon producer, The Scottish Salmon Company, is registered in Jersey, and listed on the Norwegian Stock exchange in Oslo. Its largest shareholder is a Swiss company, linked to a Ukrainian businessman, Yury Lopatinsky.

The two other major salmon producers in Scotland are Cooke Aquaculture, which is Canadian, and Loch Duart, which has major shareholders in the US. According to the Scottish Government, these six companies account for 99 per cent of all Scotland’s farmed fish production.

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Farmed salmon is Scotland’s biggest food export, earning more than £600 million a year. But in recent years it has been hit by a raft of problems including pollution, disease and sea lice.

The industry has been strongly criticised by two Holyrood committees and is now facing a regulatory crackdown by the government’s watchdog, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. The industry remains committed, however, to doubling its business from £1.8 billion in 2016 to £3.6 billion by 2030 – and is backed by the Scottish Government.

But now a report by Scottish Salmon Watch has assessed the extent to which the industry is foreign-owned. “Scottish salmon is made in Norway, registered in offshore tax havens like Jersey and owned by investors abroad,” said the campaign group’s director, Don Staniford.

“So-called Scottish salmon is a sham and a consumer con. A staggering 99 per cent of salmon farming production in Scotland is controlled by foreign-owned companies.”

Staniford argued that salmon was even less Scottish than the whisky industry, three-quarters of which is reportedly owned abroad. “Well over 200 of Scotland’s 226 salmon farms are not Scottish at all despite their Scottish-sounding names,” he said.

Scottish Salmon Think Tank, which campaigns against fish farming, pointed out that salmon eggs for farms were mostly imported to Scotland from Norway. “It is astounding that foreign-owned salmon companies can still claim their product is Scottish,” said the group’s Lynn Schweisfurth.

“The only Scottish thing about farmed salmon is the water these farms are allowed to pollute. This has been a very clever marketing ploy.”

She accused companies of using Scotland’s environment to “trick” consumers into thinking they’re eating something authentically Scottish. “These companies should have been investigated for false advertising long ago,” she added.

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According to the Scottish Greens environment spokesperson, Mark Ruskell MSP, salmon farms’ economic benefits were often used to justify the environmental harm they caused. “One wonders just how much better communities could be supported if the companies that run these farms paid their fair share of tax, rather than cynically locating themselves in tax havens,” he said.

The Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO), which represents the industry, emphasised its benefits. “Scotland’s salmon companies put hundreds of millions of pounds into our economy and employ thousands of people across the country making a hugely successful Scottish product,” said SSPO’s director of strategic engagement, Hamish Macdonell.

“That investors from all over the globe have confidence in Scotland and the skills our employees have in rearing our high quality Scottish Salmon is testament to the industry’s ongoing success and we are proud of the economic contribution the industry makes to Scotland.”

Mowi highlighted its major investments in Scotland. “Our 1,250 employees work and live in Scotland and provide significant economic activity and tax support to the country,” said Mowi Scotland’s managing director Ben Hadfield.

The company had invested more than £200 million in Scotland in 2018, he added. “The money for these ‘built in Scotland’ investments came not just from our Scottish earnings but also from our parent company – effectively putting the wealth back into Scotland and protecting our investment for the future.”

Scottish Sea Farms though it “odd” that it should be criticised for being owned abroad when the same applied to many other companies. “We are every inch a Scottish company with Scottish provenance at our heart, and a significant contributor to the country,” said the company’s managing director, Jim Gallagher.

He listed the company’s contributions to Scotland: 464 livelihoods, £17 million salaries, nearly £12m corporation tax and £5m income tax and national insurance contributions. In the last 10 years over 50 per cent of profits had been reinvested into new technologies, and annually more than £100m worth of business was given to suppliers across Scotland.

The Scottish Salmon Company confirmed that its parent company was registered in Jersey and listed on the Oslo stock exchange. “The Scottish Salmon Company Limited is UK registered and operates solely in Scotland, with over 60 sites and 550 staff in Scotland,” said a company spokesperson.

“All our Scottish Salmon is produced in Scotland and is accredited under the European’s Union’s Protected Geographical Indication scheme.”

Grieg Seafood Shetland pointed out that it provided 180 well-paid full-time Scottish jobs. “We are not registered in a tax haven – we are registered in the UK and proudly paying our taxes according to UK law,” said the company’s managing director, Grant Cumming.

“Our Scottish salmon is hatched, grown and harvested by Scottish employees on our farms in Shetland and on the Isle of Skye. As such, it is Scottish salmon.”

Loch Duart confirmed it had “a number” of shareholders. “Control of Loch Duart lies entirely with our board, made up of eight directors, a majority of whom are Scottish, with four working full time in the business,” said managing director, Alban Denton.

“In the past financial year Loch Duart’s shareholders supported the investment of over £5 million in the business. As a significant employer and supplier with a local purchasing policy Loch Duart invests in excess of £25m per annum into Scottish businesses and communities.”

Cooke Aquaculture declined to comment on ownership.

The Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy, Fergus Ewing, described salmon as one of Scotland’s success stories. “The sector has seen some of the largest inward investments in Scotland in recent times, helping to create and maintain jobs, many of them highly skilled and paid in some of Scotland’s most remote and rural areas,” said his spokeswoman.

“To suggest that because some of the major companies which are helping to generate all this economic and social benefit for Scotland are overseas-owned somehow diminishes the value of that contribution is nonsensical and panders to unsavoury notions about who is welcome here.”

She added: “What matters is how ownership is used, not which nationality the owners are. Just because the owners are not Scottish does not mean that they cannot respect and value Scotland and their workforce.

“Indeed this seems to be a strange kind of attitude from people who would utterly condemn a view that non-Scottish workers were not welcome.”

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Who owns the big six salmon companies?

Mowi (formerly Marine Harvest)

  • The largest shareholder is Geveran Trading, which is registered in Cyprus and owned by Norway’s richest man, John Fredriksen. According to the US business magazine, Forbes, he is worth $11 billion and lives as a tax exile in Cyprus. The second largest shareholder is the Norwegian state pension fund.
  • In 2017 Mowi produced 60,200 tonnes of salmon, 38 per cent of production in Scotland.
  • On 19 February 2019 the company’s offices in Rosyth were raided by European Commission inspectors investigating alleged price fixing.

Scottish Sea Farms

  • Scottish Sea Farms is a subsidiary of the Norwegian firm, Norskott Havbruk, which is 50 per cent owned by two other Norwegian companies. One is SalMar, in which most shares are owned by the Norwegian investment company, Kverva, owned by Gustav Magnar Witzøe, said to be “the world’s youngest male billionaire”. The other half of Norskott Havbruk is owned by Leroy, in which most shares are owned by another Norwegian firm, Austevoll Seafood.
  • In 2017 Scottish Sea Farms produced 31,000 tonnes of salmon, 19.8 per cent of production in Scotland.
  • On 19 February 2019 the company’s offices in Stirling were raided by European Commission inspectors investigating alleged price fixing.

The Scottish Salmon Company

Cooke Aquaculture

  • Cooke Aquaculture is a Canadian firm, with headquarters in Blacks Harbour, New Brunswick. It runs salmon farms in Canada, the US, Chile and on Orkney and Shetland in Scotland.
  • In 2017 Cooke Aquaculture produced 23,000 tonnes of salmon, 14.7 per cent of production in Scotland.

Grieg Seafood

  • Grieg Seafood is predominantly Norwegian-owned with its four major shareholders all based in Norway: Grieg Aqua, OM Holdings, the Norwegian state pension fund and Ystholmen Felles.
  • In 2017 Grieg Seafood produced 12,056 tonnes of salmon, 7.7 per cent of production in Scotland.
  • On 19 February 2019 the company’s premises in Shetland were raided by European Commission inspectors investigating alleged price fixing.

Loch Duart

This story was published in tandem with the Sunday National.

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