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Updated: Calls grow for investigation into Norway's salmon exports to Vietnam

Thirty-two Norwegian companies shipped salmon into Vietnam last year. Experts and politicians are calling for investigations into how much they knew about the country's smuggling operation.

The Chinese salmon smuggling scandal has already claimed at least one Norwegian salmon farming executive, and arguably played a big role in the departure of another.

And with several major salmon farming companies, including Marine Harvest, Leroy and Cermaq, saying they have largely avoided the market over ethical concerns, a spotlight is now on SalMar and other companies selling to Vietnam, a market that the Norwegian Seafood Council (NSC) has deemed uninteresting for the country's exporters.

A full list of exporters and salmon farming producers from the Norwegian Food Safety Authority (Mattilsynet) shows the number of companies -- 32 in all -- includes nearly every major supplier.

These Norwegian companies sold salmon to Vietnam in 2017

Cermaq Norway *
Hofseth
Inka
Isfjord Norway
Lerøy Seafood *
Marine Harvest *
Nils Williksen
Nordlaks Oppdrett *
Norsk Sjømat
Nova Sea
SalMar
Seafood Farmers of Norway
Sekkingstad
SMP Marine Produkter
Vikenco
Br Karlsen Sales
Sunsea
Bravo Seafood
Coast Seafood
Front Marine
Icemar
Kvarøy Fiskeoppdrett
Matgard Seafood
Nordøy Sea
Norway Royal Salmon
Norwell
Ocean Quality
Ocean Supreme
Polar Quality
Seaborn
Selected Seafood
Silverred Norway / Sirena
*) From one of more divisions within the same company accepted

**) Prestfjord was accepted for various forms of whitefish. Salmon from Norlaks could have been sold via Prestfjord Seafood.

Keeping it local

Though Marine Harvest, Cermaq and Leroy do appear on the list, despite earlier claims they've not sold to the Vietnamese market in years, all three said those fish are only for local customers or their own processing operations.

Marine Harvest owns a processing plan in Vietnam, and does not sell outside of its own network into traders or exporters, Communications Director Ola Hjetland told IntraFish sister publication Fiskeribladet. Around 102 metric tons of salmon were sold into retail clients in the country, he added.

Leroy Seafood CEO Henning Beltestad told Fiskeribladet his company is certain the 400-500 metric tons of salmon it sells is traceable and does not get sent beyond Vietnam.

A spokesperson for Cermaq, meanwhile, said its volumes were around 2,000-3,000 kilograms* and sent to parent company Mitsubishi's processing plant there.

Norsk Sjomat, another major exporter on the list, is confident all its salmon is sold on the local market, and CEO Per Magne Grondahl noted the company does not sell whole fresh salmon, but primarily frozen salmon heads and bellies.

A further 22 companies are registered to sell salmon into China, according to the Norwegian Seafood Council

Aalesundfisk as

Multiple Species

Atlantic Delights

Salmon/Cod

Blue Fjord

Multiple Species

Br. Karlsens Sales

Multiple Species

Coast Seafood

Multiple Species

Jandia Seafood

Salmon, Trout

Kjellsea

Salmon, Trout

Lerøy Seafood as

Multiple Species

Nordic Seaco

Multiple Species

North Sea Seafood

Multiple Species

Norway Royal Salmon

Salmon, Trout

Norwegian Sea Company

Salmon, Trout

Norwell

Salmon, Trout

Polarctic Seafood

Multiple Species

Profika

Multiple Species

Seaborn

Salmon, Trout

Seafood Partners

Multiple Species

Silver red Norway

Multiple Species

Slakteriet Brekke

Salmon, Trout

SMP marine Produkter

Salmon, Trout

Thonipa

Salmon

Villa Seafood

Multiple Species

Time to investigate?

Experts on trade and corruption have said the practice of selling into Vietnam is problematic, both from a reputational standpoint and a legal one.

Tina Soreide, a corruption expert at the Norwegian Business School, said it's time for Norwegian financial crimes authorities to look into how Norwegian companies are operating in the country.

"Relationships should be investigated more closely so we know the facts," she told Fiskeribladet. "Industry members have seen this as a convenient way to get around a trade situation where they have been unfairly impacted by a political dispute. But that doesn't make it acceptable."

The Norwegian Financial Crimes Bureau (Okokrim), would neither confirm or deny if it was investigating the trade.

Norwegian Parliament member Ruth Grung, of the Norwegian Worker's Party, also called for an investigation, and is asking Norwegian Fisheries Minister Per Sandberg for answers to how the smuggling has taken place without government authorities' knowledge.

"Norway can't be naive," Grung said. "Authorities need to put in place clear ethical guidelines. Seafood is one of our most important export industries and must be prioritized, especially when our reputation is at stake. One bad player can destroy a lot."

Torgeir Knag Fylkesnes, a left-leaning member of the Norwegian parliament, said the Norwegian industry should pull out of the country altogether.

"Norwegian salmon is an international brand," Fylkesnes said. "The fact that it's now involved in illegal trade is devastating. This could impact all Norwegian seafood companies."

Atle Middtun, an ethics professor at the Norwegian Business School, said Norwegian seafood companies will be forced to reckon with the issue.

"With a few notable exceptions, Norwegian salmon exporters have taken advantage of the Vietnamese back door," he said. "The seafood industry can't shrug off its social responsibility or its need for due dilligence."

While several years ago it may have been fine for companies to sell their products without questioning where it ended up, those days are over.

"Companies now are responsible for their supply chains, sales channelgs and end consumers," he said.

Looking the other way?

While SalMar attacked Vietnam's salmon market, larger rivals kept their distance

Read more

Leroy's analysis has put the domestic consumption in Vietnam at 2,000-3,000 metric tons, well below the 29,000 metric tons of salmon exported to the country in 2017, Beltestad said.

The NSC has worked to contain the fallout from the scandal, and said it's open about its work in China and Vietnam, but added its focus is on the overall promotion of Norwegian seafood.

The group further noted the resale and export of seafood to third countries is not illegal provided it is done in accordance with regulations.

Following a crackdown by Chinese authorities on Norwegian salmon smuggling, multiple experts and industry members have said companies were aware of the thriving "gray market" in Vietnam.

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*Editor's note: IntraFish previously wrote Cermaq sold 2,000-3,000 metric tons of salmon from Norway to Vietnam. This was incorrect, instead the company sold 2-3 metric tons of salmon to the country.

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