Norwegian lore has it that cod tastes best in the months containing the letter “R.” The seafood industry hopes to make it a year-round treat by building cod hotels along the coast of Norway.
Norway is currently experiencing a cod bonanza. The country agreed in 2012 with Russia to a record setting Barents Sea cod quota, which increased Norway’s catch by more than 100,000 to 472,000 tons last year. As a result, Norway exported NOK 5.8 billion in cod products in 2013, a record in tonnage, but not price.
The recent bounty in cod stocks has made it necessary for the industry to think differently about how it markets cod. Fresh cod costs an average 25% more than frozen and accounted for only about 20% of total cod exports last year. Instead of selling frozen cod products during the summer, the seafood industry could store the fish live and extend the availability of fresh cod up until the autumn through the use of so-called cod hotels along the coast.
“We are not used to these huge stocks and quotas,” says Kjell O. Midling, senior scientist at the National Centre of Expertise (NCE) for Capture-Based Aquaculture in Tromsø. “Higher quotas led to lower prices for the fishermen.”
Norway’s Minister of Fisheries Elisabeth Aspaker recently expressed the government’s support for these future cod sites through both increased R&D funding and quotas for live cod from 1,000 to 4,000 tons this year. The aim is to increase the value of the country’s cod catch. If the concept is successful, it could raise the amount of live cod sold more than tenfold by 2020.
“You can sell cod in July which still has high quality, and which fetches a better price than a frozen product,” said Aspaker at the Seafood Council’s annual export figures presentation in Tromsø this January.
The ministry is part of several backers behind a pilot cod hotel project initiated by André Reinholdtsen, the owner of Myre Havbruk. His proposal is to test the possibility of keeping cod healthy and happy in temporary sea storage locations along the western coast of Norway.
Myre Havbruk would own the infrastructure facilities and the project, which is being coordinated by development company Fiskeriparken at Myre in the country of Vesterålen. The goal of the trials is to store 30,000 tons of cod by 2020. They will also cooperate with Norwegian salmon producers Gunnar Klo and Øyfisk, the latter of which tried raising farmed cod in 2000.
There have been previous attempts at storing cod live for later sale, but not on a large scale. Norwegian seafood company Sjøfisk purchased 1,000 tons out of a total 1,700 tons of live stored cod delivered by seven boats in 2013. However, there is industry interest in developing a common facility run by experienced personnel.
“In order to reach the national authorities’ ambitions for full-year production to increase profitability and value creation, there is a need for infrastructure at sea which makes acclimatization and temporary storage over a longer period,” said Reinholdtsen in his proposal plan from December 2013.
Myre Havbruk’s plan is to keep wild caught cod in steel cages at sea for two days until they are transferred into specially built pens that will serve as a cod hotel for the next 12 weeks during the period February 1 to June 15. Afterwards, they are sorted and delivered to well boats, specialized vessels used for transport of live fish, in particular salmon and trout, over long distances.
The project has an initial agreement with five fish receiving stations in the counties of Lofoten, Vesterålen and Vest Finnmark for temporarily storing the cod live. Røst Sjømat, Nic Haug, Gunnar Klo, Myre Fiskemottak, Sjøfisk, and Norway Seafoods would pay NOK 1 per kilo for Myre Havbruk to house the cod, while the fishermen pay NOK 1 per kilo to keep their catch there. The project also has agreements with six other Norwegian seafood actors to buy live cod if they are successful in establishing an infrastructure facility.
The project has the support of the Norwegian Fisherman’s Sales Organization (Råfiskelaget), Innovation Norway, and Norway’s Ministry of Fisheries. Norwegian Food Research Institute Nofima, the overseeing authority for the NCE in Capture-Based Aquaculture, strongly supports the idea of establishing an ‘independent’ facility to restore, grade and store live cod. The support includes funding for scientists and technicians during the season as well as support in writing applications.
The project will have to overcome some hurdles. Norway has faced many challenges with live cod storing in the late 1980s and early 1990s, says Midling. Researchers strived to understand the fish’s tolerance and threshold. Since then there have been a few breakthroughs, such as cage technology, to help lower the mortality rate. It’s also become increasingly more important with fish welfare.
Reinholdtsen believes the industry has built up competence in this field and lowered live cod mortality rates to less than 10%. The focus in the future will be on finding more cost effective and less cumbersome feeds than herring and capelin that are more similar to the ones used in large-scale salmon farming. Each cod consumes about 300 grams of food per day. However, the real challenge will be solving the market hurdles.
“The problem is that there is so much Skrei now in Vesterålen that (fishermen) don’t use any energy thinking about May and June,” said Reinholdtsen after a recent big haul in February. “The main point is to get buyers to understand that they have to get future contracts. Cod that sells for NOK 10 per kilo now can sell for NOK 25 in September.”
Caption: Norway’s seafood industry plans to establish cod hotels along the coast.