Salmon could be priced off the kosher dinner table as global demand outstrips supply.
A disease known as infectious salmon anaemia has decimated the salmon industry in Chile, which largely supplies the American salmon market. As a result, American salmon buyers have turned their attention to Scottish and Norwegian salmon.
Salmon production has grown by eight to 10 per cent annually for the past 15 years but analysts have predicted that this will be the first year of falling production.
Demand, meanwhile, has increased, notably in markets such as Russia, Belarus and parts of South America.
According to Jorgen Christiansen of Norway’s Marine Harvest, the biggest salmon farmer: “The big question to which we don’t know the answer is how high will salmon prices go? We can look at prices from August 2006, the last time there was a major increase, when they were up to 4.5 euros (£3.79) a kilo, the highest price earlier this year from farmer to processor.”
Mr Christiansen said much would depend on whether demand dropped from the newer markets in South America and Eastern Europe. “Mature markets such as the UK will continue to buy salmon because they always have. Those newer markets may decide to reduce demand because they have no long-term tradition of eating salmon. That could ease the pressure on demand and increase the amount available elsewhere, which would in turn ease the price in the UK.”
In Norway, the price from the farm to the processor has risen as high as £4.26 a kilo. However, the Norwegian salmon futures market is looking at contract prices of between £2.84-£3.03 at the end of the year.
At Goldstein Smoked Salmon in Stanmore, owner Ian Goldstein reported customer ignorance of the industry’s troubles. “People don’t seem to be aware of what has been happening with salmon,” he said.
“As a family-owned company, we have been trading for more than 100 years. I have been in the industry for more than 35 years. During this time, I have never witnessed a more sustained period of difficulties.”
Top kosher caterer Tony Page gets through some 20,000 lbs of fresh and smoked salmon annually. He said prices for salmon had risen by 40 per cent in the last two months alone.
“The salmon I use comes only from Scotland. I don’t use Atlantic, Pacific or Norwegian. What a lot of people in the industry are afraid of is that salmon will come off the menu.
“As far as I am concerned, it will always be on the menu for my clients.”
In Mr Page’s view, no other fish was an adequate substitute. “People just love smoked salmon and good smoked salmon is fantastic.”
Paul Webber of J Bennett, the biggest seller of salmon at Billingsgate fish market on the Isle of Dogs in east London, said the price had dropped by 50p a kilo last week — “we thought it was the end of the high prices.” But the next price announcement put it back up to its former level, a wholesale price of between £4.20 and £5.20 a kilo.