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BC’s amazing bounty from the sea

Wyng Chow – The Standard

June 21, 2017

Dozens of international seafood buyers – mostly from Asia – flocked to the picturesque Comox Valley in British Columbia to mix business with pleasure.

Their primary purpose was to place orders for BC farmed Atlantic salmon, oysters, clams, mussels, geoduck, and other shellfish, in attempts to meet the seemingly insatiable demand from seafood lovers back home.

But they also took time out to play tourist, along with international media representatives and foodies, participating in marine adventure and producer site tours, celebrity chef competitions, dinner celebrations, and educational seminars about the region’s aquaculture.

Officially, the buyers from China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand and India traveled to the Comox-Courtenay area, located about 140 kilometers northeast of Vancouver, to attend the 10-day, 11th Annual BC Seafood Festival that ended Sunday.

“Our business opportunities are massive. They want to buy more than we have available,” said Jeremy Dunn, executive director of the 50-member BC Salmon Farmers Association.

He said BC farmed salmon is prized as a “banquet fish” in Asia, where 1.2 million kilograms were consumed in China and 393,000kg in Hong Kong last year. “All our fish are sold on the fresh market. They can leave BC and be on dinner plates over there in two days,” he added.

Meanwhile, Greg Wood, who farms Denman Island oysters, said “demand is through the roof” for his product, which takes two years to grow from babies to mature oysters ready for shucking.

Liang Zhongming, a buyer from Guangzhou, said he was looking at placing orders for lobsters, oysters, scallops, dungeness crabs, sea cucumbers, sea urchins and geoduck, as well as salmon, while Ling Fengpan, from Shanghai, was particularly interested in spot prawns, fresh salmon and salmon roe to sell to supermarkets and Japanese restaurants back home.

BC’s pristine coastal waters produce more than 100 sustainable seafood products, with the historic Comox Valley accounting for the most oysters in Canada. The various delicacies are exported to both domestic and international markets – largely to the United States, although industry officials say the Asian market has been “growing exponentially” every year.

“While most in Canada have feasted and reaped the health benefits from British Columbia’s waters, Asia is now waking up quickly to the bounty of the same seas,” one said.

In a remote area northwest of Vancouver Island called Kyuquot Sound, sablefish, also known as black cod, which has been a Japanese favorite for years, is gently cultured in cold, deepwater pens. After about 36 months, they are harvested from their habitat using a traditional Japanese system to prevent tissue damage, and are destined to become a sashimi-grade fish on the Asian side of the Pacific Ocean.

In 2015, BC produced more than C$40 million (HK$235.8 million) of farmed oysters, C$11 million of farmed clams, and C$5.5 million of mussels and other shellfish that have all gained global recognition for taste and quality.

Meanwhile, global sales of fresh BC farm-raised salmon reached a record C$745 million last year, with exports to 12 markets. The volume of BC farmed salmon sold to Asia jumped 40 percent over 2015 to 4.7 million kilograms of fresh fish.

China and Japan continue to be the top two Asian destinations for exports, although South Korea is now emerging as a key growth market.

According to Dunn, Norway remains the world’s leading salmon exporter, selling some 1.2 million tonnes of fish annually, followed by Chile at 500,000 tonnes, and Scotland at 200,000 tonnes, with British Columbia ranking fourth.

“But we’re seeing exponential year- to-year growth. We’re working to raise our profile. We know we have market for our fish,” Dunn said.

In the past two years alone, farmed salmon sales volume to Asia has quadrupled to nearly C$40 million annually, he added.

As well as traditional Asian markets like China, Japan and South Korea, India has more recently developed a taste for BC salmon and shellfish.

“India has a great coastal cuisine and salmon is becoming increasingly popular because of its taste and health benefits,” said Chindi Varadarajulu, one of the chefs specially flown in to Comox to showcase her Indian fish curry. “I am hoping we can get more BC salmon and shellfish in India,” she said.

Asia’s rising demand for BC seafood – especially salmon – comes on the heels of growing concerns by various international organizations about the depletion of wild ocean stocks.

According to assessments by the United Nations, nearly one-third of the world’s fish stock is being “overfished,” or harvested at biologically unsustainable levels. In large part, that is because Asians have insatiable appetites, and are willing to pay handsomely for the sea bounty.

A recent report by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization found that Asians ate 99 million tonnes of fish in 2013 – about 70 percent of the total amount available for human consumption.

British Columbia, Canada’s third- largest province, currently accounts for nearly 60 percent of all Canadian exports of farm-raised salmon. That industry itself has a total economic impact exceeding C$1.1 billion yearly, providing more than 5,000 jobs.

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