South Korea goes big on salmon farms

Sustainable fishery.

Over the years, salmon became one of the most popular staple foods in South Korea.  A report published last month said the amount of salmon imported into the country has quadrupled since 2009. With increasing demand, South Korea may have to import more next year.  However, to reduce reliance on overseas supply chain, the government has decided to expand the capacity of local salmon farms by investing a total of 120 million won (US$1.2 billion) until 2027. 

The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries said in a statement that “South Korea is importing more than 40,000 tons of Atlantic Salmon per year” and the authority will upgrade salmon farms to reduce the amount of import.

Park Myung-rae from the Farming Industry Department at the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries told Maritime Fairtrade that the government decided to promote domestic salmon farms to stabilize the rising price because of huge demand and meet the high level of consumption. 

Experts in South Korea showed high hopes for the government’s plan to create new job opportunities while at the same time provide fresh, high-quality salmons to consumers. However, there is concern that this plan may have an adverse impact on the environment.

Consumers’ huge appetite for salmon 

According to The Korea Maritime Institute, salmon became popular as more people dined out and their diet became more “westernized”.  This has not always been the case as before the 1980s, salmon was not popular.  The fish was imported for reproductions for use as fishery products as not many people liked to eat it.

But since the 1990s when Japanese restaurants in big cities such as Seoul started to introduce salmon into their menus, its popularity began to rise.  And nowadays, the number of restaurants that serve salmon has increased greatly and it is common to even find salmon dishes in restaurants in countryside and rural areas.

The Korea Maritime Institute said that as salmon has become one of the country’s most popular food source, it is important for the government to find ways to provide good quality salmon at a competitive price for the public.

Government-backed salmon farms to partner with private sector

The government will establish three “Smart Salmon Farm Clusters” in Busan, Gangwon Province, and North Gyeongsang Province by 2024. The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries said that these clusters will use the latest technologies like data-driven and AI-powered tools to create new species of Atlantic Salmon. 

The clusters will be complemented by corporate partners and field experts, including Dongwon Industries, the largest fishing company in South Korea.  When fully operational, these clusters will create 1,600 jobs.

“The government will invest 40 billion won ($US34 million) in each cluster,” Park said. “The plan is to work with our corporate partners to produce more salmons domestically.”

The government’s goal is to produce 40,000 tons of domestic salmon annually by 2027 and decrease the amount of imports. It also hopes to export salmons to neighboring countries, including China and Japan where there is also a high preference for salmon.

Park explained that this plan will also reinvigorate the aging fishery towns in South Korea. 

“Running a fish farm is a labor-intensive business,” Park said. “But the population in fishing villages has been going down. This is why the government wants to automate the process of farming to boost the salmon output.”

“Considering the level of consumption and possibility for exports, domestic salmon farms backed by technological prowess seem promising,” Lee Jang-won, a researcher from Sejong Salmon Research Institute, was quoted as saying by HDHY. 

Potential harm to the environment?

There is concern that salmon farming may be harmful to the environment as pollutants, such as chemical waste, are used and released in the process.  For example, in Scotland, known as a big salmon exporter, “organic and chemical waste from Scottish salmon farms is changing the chemistry of sediments and killing marine life on the seabed”, Compassion in World Farming, an animal welfare organization, said in their report released in January. 

Maritime Fairtrade contacted the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries to ask if their plan included any measures to prevent potential environmental harms but there was no reply.

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