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EXPLAINED: Why Norway is so obsessed with salmon

Frazer Norwell
Frazer Norwell - [email protected]
EXPLAINED: Why Norway is so obsessed with salmon
Salmon is a huge deal for Norway. The Local has explained what the fuss is about. Pictured is a plate of salmon. Photo by David B Townsend on Unsplash

Salmon is seemingly everywhere you look in Norway - not just supermarket aisles - from business to politics, the fish makes a splash wherever it lands in the Nordic country. The Local explains why.

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Home to moose, reindeer, polar bears, puffins, and whales, Norway has plenty of iconic animals associated with it. 

However, salmon is probably the animal that has the biggest impact and influence on the country. 

When it comes to the economy, everyone knows that oil and gas make up a large chunk of Norway’s wealth – directly or because the revenues from oil and gas are invested all over the globe. 

READ ALSO: Norway's 1.6 trillion dollar 'oil fund' explained

The seafood industry is Norway’s second biggest industry, and last year, Norway exported 172 billion kroner of seafood, according to the industry organisation, the Norwegian Seafood Council

Salmon dwarfed all other seafood exports in Norway as the fish amounted to 122.5 billion kroner worth of exports last year. 

Norwegian salmon can be found on dinner plates all over the world as the country’s largest seafood markets are Poland, Denmark, the USA, France, The Netherlands, Spain, Great Britain, China, Italy, and Germany. 

The numbers may not make for exciting reading, but monthly export figures and the movement of the seafood index make the news in Norway regularly. They are given similar attention to inflation or unemployment numbers by the press. 

When it comes to the Norwegian diet, salmon features heavily and figures from a Norwegian seafood industry organisation estimated that Norwegians eat around 5.63 kilograms of salmon a year - more than anyone else in the world

But why salmon? 

Taste is one factor in the popularity of Norwegian salmon. The fatty fish is famous for its mild and buttery taste. 

However, clever marketing has also contributed to the rise of salmon. 

The Norwegian seafood industry helped shape how sushi is eaten across the world. 

In the 1980s, Norway had a surplus of salmon that it could not shift. To try and move this massive stockpile of salmon, the country turned its efforts towards finding new markets – particularly getting Japan and other countries to use it for sushi. 

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After some teething issues, the ploy worked, and salmon is now synonymous with sushi all over the world. 

There’s also availability. Many Norwegians would likely choose skrei, migrating Atlantic Cod, over salmon for dinner. In fact, in northern Norway, stockfish could be considered much more historically and culturally significant than salmon. 

But salmon wins out against the cod because skrei is seasonal, whereas salmon can be fished all year round. 

This availability is the result of salmon farming. Norway supplies around half of the world’s farmed salmon, and most of the salmon eaten in Norway is farmed. 

Are there any issues with Norwegian salmon? 

However, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for salmon though. In 2011, China allegedly sanctioned Norwegian salmon for the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. 

Being such a key export, the Norwegian seafood industry was hit hard until restrictions were eased. 

Salmon farms themselves are also subject to much controversy. With salmon farming being such a massive industry, it is no surprise that business crosses over into politics. 

The most famous example is the salmon tax. The tax aims to ensure that the public benefits more from the vast sums generated by fish farms, with operating profits for these operations reportedly around the 45 percent mark in 2022. 

The result was the introduction of a 25 percent tax on top of corporation tax for the largest producers. 

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Such a hefty tax on a critical industry led to a long political row that is still rumbling on, but the government has pointed to the lowering of kindergarten costs nationwide as one policy the increased windfall has paid for

Policy aside, fish farming has proved to be a controversial practice in itself. Fish farming can be harmful to the environment and its surrounding habitat in several ways. 

Furthermore, farmed fish have higher disease instances than their wild counterparts and may offer less nutrition and more toxins than wild fish. 

The diet of farmed fish is also becoming increasingly controversial. Due to overfishing and sustainability concerns, farmed fish are eating less fish in their food and are eating more and more plant-based food. 

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This has two impacts. Critics of the practice say that fish and vegetables used in fish feed could be used for human consumption instead. 

Then there’s the impact that the changing diet has on farmed fish.

Farmed fish escaping is a big problem for the ecosystems in which wild fish inhabit. This is because farmed fish can carry diseases. 

Furthermore, the changed diet, lives and conditions of farmed fish compared to wild fish means that if they were to be bred with wild fish, the offspring would be less likely to survive in the wild, leading to dwindling populations. 

READ MORE: Why Norway's salmon farms have turned to a veggie menu

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