In 33 years of his career, Rocky Boschman, managing director of Grieg Seafood BC, has never seen such a unique challenge that the COVID-19 pandemic ushered in for the seafood industry.
“We’ve faced a lot of challenges for sure, but not a universal challenge that has affected communities on so many different levels,” said Boschman of the pandemic.
With 22 farms on Vancouver Island, Grieg BC had to make aggressive and immediate changes to their operations, which included risk analyses early on in March.
Even before the term ‘bubble’ became a part of public lexicon, Boschman claims that Grieg BC had already started the process of introducing little bubbles to protect their workers at all their sites on the Island.
Interactions between work groups were limited, offices were shut down early on and adjustments were made for people to work from home.
At the fish farms, all visitors and contractors were limited from entering, the movements of workers between work sites was also limited and all of Dr. Bonnie Henry’s provincial health guidelines were put into effect religiously.
“We have not had any infections in our company, at any of our operations,” said Boschman.
While safety protocols were being implemented, sales and marketing techniques were also redesigned to pivot fish supply simultaneously.
“The biggest change during this covid period has been the evolution of sales and marketing,” said Boschman.
In March, when most hotels, restaurants and food services shut down in the province, the 50 per cent of sales from fine dinning, casinos, airlines, hotels, banquets, was impacted.
Since production of fish had not halted even then, the company had to pivot and merge their sales into the retail segment. Grieg BC is licensed to produce 23,400 tonnes of salmon annually to North American and Asian markets.
“We farm living creatures and we are locked into production plans that have been in play for sometimes five years, so we can’t tolerate too much interruptions into that plan,” Boschman said. “So very quickly we had to adapt to continue to move our volumes of fish into retail- grocery chains all across North America.”
By far that was the “most profound adaption or evolution” that took place for Grieg BC during the pandemic, according to Boschman.
Early on in Canada, fish farming was deemed an essential service which means that growing, harvesting and moving fish to the market continued during the pandemic.
“We continued to sell fish in a very challenging situation. This proved that that the public sees tremendous value in seafood and farmed salmon. Even during challenging times that’s something people want to go out and spend money on. We found creative ways to bring it to them so that even if they could not go to their favourite restaurant and buy salmon off the menu, they could buy it off at grocery stores.”
But while the demand for fish has been stable throughout, revenue and profit did decline during the pandemic.
The prices for farmed salmon are historically low but that’s another challenge that the fish farmers are going to get around.
|Rocky Boschman, managing director,Grieg Seafood BC.|
The quarterly report released earlier in August by parent company Grieg Seafood ASA, showed the market stabilizing from what it was in the first quarter, despite the pandemic continuing to impact the market.
The Grieg Seafood Group harvested 23,910 tonnes GWT in Q2 2019, compared to 21,802 tonnes in Q2 2019 – a 10 per cent growth. Total revenues during the quarter amounted to NOK 1.4 billion, down from NOK 1.5 billion in the second quarter of 2019.
Chief Executive officer, Andreas Kvame had said that the second quarter of 2020 was impacted by the pandemic, with more disruptions in the U.S. market which is mainly supplied by B.C. “However, lower prices in the U.S. have been matched by improved biology, lower costs and increased competitiveness in B.C.,” said Kvame.
At the same time the company did not lay off any of its employees in B.C either. “We hired an additional 25 people during the pandemic,” said Boschman.
This year also marks the 20th anniversary of Grieg BC’s operations in B.C. And the future looks “fantastic” to Boschman as the aquaculture market keeps expanding year after year and a growing population opts for salmon as a source of protein.