* Flight restrictions hit salmon harvest in Norway
* Harvest volume cuts to prevent oversupply to Europe
* Norwegian fish industry lost $5 mln last week-analyst
* Iceland's fresh fish exports put on ice
* Shares in Norwegian fish farmers slump
(Adds Whole Foods statement, U.S. fishmonger comments)
By Wojciech Moskwa and Mia Shanley
OSLO/STOCKHOLM, April 19 The world's largest
fish farmer, Norway's Marine Harvest (MHG.OL), reduced its
salmon harvest and Iceland put fresh fish on ice as flight
restrictions due to an ash cloud from an Icelandic volcano
Marine Harvest said it would cut back from Monday the
amount of fish it was harvesting to avoid oversupplying Europe
while exports to Asia and North America were hindered by flight
bans across Europe because of the extent of the cloud and the
danger it presented to air traffic.
Norwegian fish farmers usually send about 10 to 15 percent
of their volume by air, feeding the growing sushi industry,
with the bulk going by refrigerated road and rail shipments.
Spokesman Jorgen Christiansen said the volume reduction was
something Marine Harvest would have had to do regardless of the
ash cloud, as high demand from European customers had led to
fish farmers harvesting at a lower weight than optimal.
Last week, the company harvested salmon as light as 3.8 kg
(8.6 pounds) against an optimal weight of 4.5 kg.
"Due to low seawater temperatures off Norway during the
first quarter (which curbed fish growth), and high demand in
Europe, we are currently selling fish that are below optimal
weight," he said. "This is the best timing to reduce volumes."
Marine Harvest said it had flown fish out of central Europe
as well as Scandinavian airports over the past few days to
deliver to customers in the United States and Asia.
"Even if this situation (with flight bans) drags on, demand
is still very strong and farmers will have to match the demand
to their supply," Christiansen said.
Marine Harvest has roughly a fourth of Norway's fish farm
industry, followed by Cermaq CEQ.OL, Leroy Seafood (LSG.OL)
and Austevoll (AUSS.OL).
With the ash cloud impeding air traffic between Reykjavik
and Europe, Iceland has been forced to put 13 percent of its
foreign-bound fresh fish on ice, the country's trade council
said on Monday.
No-fly zones across Europe have kept Iceland's fresh cod,
halibut, plaice and haddock from reaching markets in Belgium,
the Netherlands, Germany and France.
"This is a nuisance because we've been building up these
markets for fresh fish," Jon Asbergsson, Icelandic trade
council general manager, told Reuters. "It's now feeding into
the frozen fish industry. It's being diverted into frozen fish
for a little less value."
DEAL TO RESTART FLIGHTS
Most of Iceland's fish exports, worth an annual $2 billion
or about 10 percent of the country's gross domestic product,
are sent abroad on ships and have been unaffected, Asbergsson
Flight bans are taking an increasing toll on the industry,
but on Monday, the European Union agreed to gradually lift
flight restrictions imposed because of the ash cloud.
The agreement is due to go into effect from 0600 GMT on
Curbs last week may have cost the Norwegian salmon industry
some 30 million crowns (US$5.15 million), said Klaus
Hatlebrekke, an analyst at DnB NOR Markets. European salmon
prices declined to 38 crowns per kg from 42 crowns.
"A week or two is not so serious but if disruptions last
longer it can have major consequences for the entire sector,"
Hatlebrekke said. "At some point in the summer the fish in the
sea must be harvested and the inventories reduced."
MORE EXPENSIVE SALMON?
The United States has become an increasingly important
export market for Norwegian producers, taking market share from
Chilean farms hit by fish disease, analysts said.
Some U.S. fishmongers and retailers are bracing for
shortages of fresh salmon if shipments from Norway, Iceland and
Scotland remain grounded. [ID:nLDE63F11N]
A spokeswoman for U.S. grocer Whole Foods Market WFMI.O
said the company's East Coast stores get salmon from a farm in
Scotland and that the supply could be limited this week.
Restaurant goers may also see the effects on menus.
"Right now salmon is somewhat off the market. People are
relying on North America for farmed salmon," said Nick
Branchina, spokesman for Browne Trading Company, which supplies
fresh fish and other seafood to many of New York City's top
If supplies remain constrained, he said, international
salmon prices could rise.
Shares in Marine Harvest, Cermaq and Austevoll fell between
0.68 and 3.14 percent on Monday, when Oslo's benchmark index
.OSEBX logged a decline of 1.28 percent.
For related stories, see [ID:nLDE63F189]
($1=5.828 Norwegian Crown)
(Additional reporting by Joachim Dagenborg in Oslo and Lisa
Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Michael Shields, Toni