Norwatch: Halts imports of fish oil

Norwegian fish oil importer GC Rieber today announced that they have stopped all imports of fish oil from Morocco and occupied Western Sahara. After their biggest customer did not longer want to buy the controversial oil, the importer has chosen to stop further purchases from the region. Norwatch, 14 April 2010.

Published 14 April 2010

By Erik Hagen

Read story on Norwatch's homepages:

Norwatch has followed the fish oil trade since 2006 – a trade which has taken place in disregard of the recommendations of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The trade is criticised for supporting the Moroccan occupation of the territory.

In March, the case got new attention, after a Swedish TV documentary revealed how a series of Norwegian tank vessels have transported the oil to Norway.

The fish oil imports from Western Sahara and Morocco have taken massive proportions. From 2000 to 2009, the value of the oil imports went from 587.000 euros to 12 million euros. This appears from trade statistics that Norwatch has put together. The peak year was 2008. That year, Norway imported fish oil from Morocco/Western Sahara for a value of 17 million euros. It is probable that all the imports were done by GC Rieber in Kristiansund.

Norwegian salmon 50% Saharan
The clearly biggest customer of GC Rieber has the last years been the aquaculture feed provider Ewos, making feed for the salmon industry in Norway. Ewos is owned by the partially Norwegian government owned aquaculture firm Cermaq.

Last year, Ewos purchased 20.000 tonnes of fish oil from the region. Each kilo of salmon that Cermaq produce under the label 'Mainstream' contains “half a kilo fish from occupied waters”, Friends of the Earth Norway has calculated. They write that 20.000 tonnes of fish oil equals 240.000 tonnes of processed fish.

The last weeks, a number of organisations have exerted pressure on the industry to halt the fish oil imports, and to make the Norwegian government to intervene. During the Easter week, Minister of Trade and Industries, Mr. Trond Giske, got involved. Through the government’s ownership in Cermaq, the minister expressed that the government was not content with the imports.

Ewos, which until then had defended the trade, turned. This week-end, the partially government firm announced that they would halt the giant purchase of fish oil from the territory.

“We have been crystal clear from day one. We are glad that they take this into account and it is now in accordance with our recommendation”, stated deputy trade minister Rikke Lind to the newspaper Dagbladet.

In March, the German firm Cognis also halted its Omega 3-purchaces from Rieber over ethical concerns.

“Without Ewos as a customer, the financial basis is not longer present for GC Rieber Oils to maintain this trade. It will not longer be possible to uphold a sound and profitable logistical and quality control without the volumes that this firm represented”, GC Rieber wrote on its webpages today.

“On this financial basis, GC Rieber Oil will thus halt all further purchases of oil with Western Sahara origins”, Rieber wrote.

GC Rieber wrote that they thereby stop an assessment of the trade which they had already ordered from DNV. Norwatch in March wrote that DNV's assignment in Western Sahara could potentially undermine the Norwegian government's policy on Western Sahara, since the mandate was elaborated on a different opinion of the international law than the UN and the MFA had.

Norwatch has previously written about GC Rieber investments in a fish oil factory in South Morocco, while the Norwegian fisheries newspaper FiskeribladetFiskaren has mentioned that the firm might also have invested in factories in El Aaiun within occupied Western Sahara. What GC Rieber choses to do with these investments, is not mentioned in the release.

GC Rieber, which is owned by the head of the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise, explains that they "will maintain their work" in the region - thus in violation of the recommendations of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

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