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Aquaculture giant Marine Harvest is cutting up to 60 jobs around the Campbell River, British Columbia area to cut costs as a global product glut pushes down farmed salmon prices.

So far, 20 employees, mainly administrative staff in the company’s Vancouver Island base in Campbell River, have been laid off, spokesman Ian Roberts said Monday.

Plans call for another 30 to 40 production staff to be cut, Roberts said. "That will take place over the next 12 months as we don’t stock certain farms. We are hoping and expecting that most of that is just through regular attrition."

The company is hoping the situation is temporary.

"We expect to be back to where we are today within two years, if the market does what it typically does. It is pretty cyclical," Roberts said.

Oslo-based Marine Harvest is the largest salmon farmer in the world. In B.C., it employs about 500 people on 30 to 35 active farms as well as freshwater hatcheries and processing plants.

To shave expenses, three million fewer Atlantic salmon smolts will be stocked this winter and the next season at six to seven farms in the Campbell River-Sayward area, Roberts said. The winter period runs from November through to May.

He does not yet know which individual farms will be affected.

The cutback in fish stocks equates to 30 per cent of the smolts that normally go into cages, he said.

"When times are tight and the budgets are tight and you are just recovering costs, you need to tighten the strings," he said. "Our intention here is to ensure we are building a stronger business for years to come."

The global supply of farmed salmon has increased by 20 per cent since June, largely from Norway and Chile, Roberts said. Chile had pulled out of the market for three years because of fish health issues.

Vincent Erenst, Marine Harvest Canada managing director, said in a release the rapid increase in production has resulted in "significantly reduced prices for salmon . . . To ensure the long term strength of our business, we have to take measures to temporarily reduce our volumes and control production costs."

The company expects the increased supply levels to continue into 2012 and, in response, the company will decrease stocking levels by up to 30 per cent in 2012 and 2013.

Coleen Dane, spokeswoman for the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association, said Marine Harvest is the first company in this province to respond to the market by layoffs.

"There’s no doubt that everybody is looking at their expenditures right now and paying close attention."

Fish farming companies are responsible for 2,800 direct jobs in B.C. and produce about 75,000 tonnes of fish (live weight when harvested) annually, Dane said.

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