* Russia says inspectors not let in
* Norway, farmers deny charge
* Russia among top markets for farmed salmon (Adds Norwegian authorities, Marine Harvest comment, background)
MOSCOW/OSLO, Dec 12 (Reuters) - Russia authorities said on Thursday they were considering a ban on salmon imports from Norway if they confirm that specialists were barred from inspecting fish farms, a charge which Norwegian authorities and farmers deny.
Norway is the world’s largest exporter of salmon and Russia one of its biggest markets.
“The situation is rather serious,” said Alexei Alekseenko, spokesman for Russia’s Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance Service (VPSS).
“Some firms did not grant access for our specialists to their farms, so we are considering restricting all (salmon) imports (from Norway),” he said, but declined to elaborate.
In 2012 Norwegian companies exported salmon, trout and pelagic fish to Russia worth 5.5 billion crowns ($900 million), but sales could decline by 20 percent this year because of higher prices, Norwegian authorities said.
Major farmers include Marine Harvest, the world’s biggest fish farmer, Cermaq and Salmar.
VPSS, also known as Rosselkhoznadzor, may impose the ban from Jan. 1, Sergei Dankvert, head of the service, told Interfax news agency earlier.
“Preliminary feedback shows that our specialists have not been given access to fish farms. If this is confirmed then we will proceed as planned,” Dankvert said. “If they are not letting us in, it means they have something to hide.”
Norwegian authorities said Russian inspectors were welcome and the difficulties arose because they changed their plans “at the last minute”.
“When the team arrived they wanted to visit completely different places than what was originally planned and agreed upon. This is a pattern that we see with all Russian inspections,” said Bjoern Roethe Knudsen, the official in charge of relations between Norway and Russia at the Norwegian Food Authority.
“We have not heard anything about a ban from Russian officials. But in the past we have experienced that there is a big difference between these initial signals and what is the actual content of official messages,” he told Reuters.
Ole-Henrik Leroey, chairman of Marine Harvest, said the accusations by Russia were unfounded.
“We do not accept these accusations at all,” Leroey told Reuters. “All our customers and foreign authorities are at any time welcome to inspect all our installations.”
Marine Harvest shares, were down 0.94 percent just before the news and down 1.46 percent at 1413 GMT. Cermaq shares were up 0.47 percent and Salmar was unchanged.
$1 = 6.1205 Norwegian krones Reporting by Polina Devitt in Moscow and Joachim Dagenborg and Gwladys Fouche in Oslo; editing by Douglas Busvine and Jason Neely