Ocean Quality points finger at staff in China export case

Ole Alexander Saue

Grieg Seafood business, Ocean Quality, has turned aside criticism of its management following a scandal that affects its ability to export fish from Norway to China. Grieg chief executive, Andreas Kvame, suggested the subsidiary handled things the right way by suspending two employees who kept the ill-health of China-bound salmon from health inspectors.

“We have zero tolerance for the improper use of documentation, and we strongly apologize for it having happened. Ocean Quality has suspended two employees which the company understands have been involved,” company chairman, Oyvind Fossoy, declared earlier this week.

Fossoy told SalmonBusiness that the falsifying of documents was likely done inadvertently. However, suspicions persist: Four years ago, a Grieg Seafood employee was given jail time for knowingly falsifying sea lice counts.

Jail time
Grieg Seafood is the 60-percent owner of Ocean Quality. Grieg chief exec, Andreas Kvame, has largely been silent about the case, turning down offers to provide real comment.

Ocean Quality went public and said two employees with minor positions in the company had strayed from the company’s guidelines on export documentation. Could that be called a shirking of responsibility and a governance issue?

“In this case, I’m the representative of a large shareholder. The chairman of Ocean Quality has my full support for the way the issue was handled. I leave it to the chairman of Ocean Quality to comment.

Read Ocean Quality didn’t cut corners

How comparable is this to the lice case at Grieg Seafood a few years ago?

“In the case that you’re referring to from 2014, the (Norwegian) Supreme Court decided it was an environmental crime. The case the (Norwegian) Food Safety Authority has reported-in to Ocean Quality is about the incorrect reporting and relation to the export of fish to China which had once been infected with PD (or pancreas disease). Otherwise, this PD case is still being investigated, and I can not comment further until the results of that investigation are presented,” Kvame told SalmonBusiness.

Ocean Quality’s headquarters in Bergen, Norway

New controls
Ocean Quality’s Fossoy, too, seemed to see no real link to the company’s employee training or follow-up routines. He said they’ve had the same document routines for seven years without ending up in a similar tight spot.

“According to what we know, the deviance has occurred for a short period, and when the Food Safety Authority discovered it, we immediately put in place new controls so that this cannot happen again. Judging by what we know, two people were involved and the police are investigating. We strongly regret via the Food Safety Authority to our customers in China that this has happened. Fortunately, Food Safety found this out, so that we can tidy up the case,” Fossy said.

Just the facts
Do you agree that the impression might be given that two people were thrown under the bus in a case about corporate management?

“We’ve done well by the facts as they’re known today is all we’ve done. The facts as we know them today are that two employees are suspended for improper use of declarations that were used by (Food Safety officials) to approve health certificates on false grounds, so that fish with PD were sent to China.

“Management is cooperating with the Authority and the police to get all the facts on the table in this case,” he said.

“We don’t know the motive of the accused and we don’t know what they were thinking when they did this. It has been investigated by the police. What we know is (the suspended employees) are very sad about what happened,” he concluded.