Marine Harvest to lay off dozens

There’s more economic bad news following layoff notices by one of the North Island’s largest employers.

There’s more economic bad news following layoff notices by one of the North Island’s largest employers.

Marine Harvest recently announced a reduction of 60 people in its B.C. aquaculture operations in response to a jump in a global supply that has depressed the price of farm-raised Atlantic salmon.

Two employees in Port Hardy have already received severance packages and roughly 12 per cent of Marine Harvest’s 550-person workforce in B.C. will be impacted between now and the end of 2012, Marine Harvest spokesperson Ian Roberts said.

Of those, approximately 250 workers operate within the Regional District of Mount Waddington.

“What we’re hoping is that most of that will take place through normal attrition,” said Roberts.

“Severance packages have been given to some people, mostly in administrative positions,” he said.

“Anyone who may be impacted has been notified that next year’s sites won’t be stocked at the same levels.”

Marine Harvest, a Norwegian company with major operations in Norway, Canada and Chile, said in a press release that stocking of smolts will drop by as much as 30 per cent in 2011 and 2012.

That percentage translates into 11.3 million fish.

The move is in response to a report by industry analyst Kontali that the global supply of farmed salmon has jumped 18 per cent during the third quarter of 2011 and will continue at elevated levels through the coming year.

“Obviously, we expect this to be temporary,” Roberts said.

“This is nothing new; you have ebbs and flows in the market, you enjoy high prices for a number of years and then it corrects itself,” he said.

“We certainly don’t want people on the North Island to panic.”

While staffing levels will be reduced, Roberts emphasized none of Marine Harvest’s hatcheries, processing plants or saltwater farms face closure.

Two main factors are driving the worldwide production increase of farmed salmon: Chilean salmon has flooded back onto the market after that country’s industry was shut down following an outbreak of disease to stocks in 2007; and with prices having climbed in recent years, many new operators have jumped into the fray.

“We’re pretty rare in Canada where we have four operating companies,” Roberts said.

“Chile and Norway have hundreds,” he said.

“Prices over the last five or six years have been climbing and lots of producers globally took advantage.”

While demand for farmed salmon remains strong, the glut of product has pushed prices down steeply and forced companies to cut production.

Canada is particularly hard-hit, Roberts said, because costs here are higher than in the other producing countries.

He said Marine Harvest Canada has not been able to implement a series of production effeciencies in place in the company’s other regions, largely due to governmental regulations.

“There is an example of one site, the Doyle Island site near Port Hardy, where we were able to move into larger cages and move them slightly offshore,” Roberts said.

“It gave us better production, better environmental results, just all-around good news.

“But other sites are still waiting, and most of it is for simple amendments.”

Canada is particularly hard-hit, Roberts said, because costs here are higher than in the other producing countries.

He said Marine Harvest Canada has not been able to implement a series of production efficiencies in place in the company’s other regions, largely due to governmental regulations.

“There is an example of one site, the Doyle Island site near Port Hardy, where we were able to move into larger cages and move them slightly offshore,” Roberts said.

“It gave us better production, better environmental results, just all-around good news.

“But other sites are still waiting, and most of it is for simple amendments.”