The year is 1969, and two Norwegian brothers, Ove and Sivert Grøntvedt, have an idea that’s so simple and practical that over the next 40 years it will revolutionize the world of fish farming. The pair built an octagonal floating cage of wood for growing young Atlantic salmon. The cage was strong yet flexible, cheap and easy to work with. Best of all, fish growth “was phenomenal,” Sivert Grøntvedt said in a newspaper interview at the time.
Fast forward 40 years, and the Grøntvedt’s wooden cages have evolved into high-tech plastic structures with volumes exceeding 20,000 m3 and holding as many as 100,000 fish. The Grøntvedt’s one innovation led to advances in every imaginable aspect of fish farming, from feeding technologies to environmental protection, spawning an industry that exported NOK 20 billion of Norwegian farmed fish in 2008.
More importantly, the Grøntvedt story shows how Norway’s embrace of technology can promote sustainable fish farming and wild-caught fisheries. Strong cooperation between Norwegian scientists and industry brings cutting edge research to the marketplace, whether it’s in developing new fish food concentrates, protecting the Norwegian coastal environment, developing international standards for sustainable aquaculture, or monitoring the health and well-being of farmed fish.
“Nature has been generous to Norway,” Norway’s Minister of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs Helge Petersen, said at a Tromsø conference in February 2009. “A large share of our national revenue comes from activities at sea. We have invested in the future by building expert research communities and the necessary infrastructure.”
Developments in aquaculture cage technology helped revolutionize the fish farming industry. Researchers are now looking at technologies that will enable fish cages to be moved from the protection of fjords out into the open sea.
© Marine Harvest
Protecting the Environment
As early as 1816, the Norwegian government acted to protect its wild fisheries with the Lofoten Act, which regulated the time of day for cod fishing and assigned long-lining and gillnetting areas. In fact, the Norwegian government has kept track of every single codfish caught commercially in its waters since 1866.
Nowadays, Norway works cooperatively with the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea to develop marine harvest quotas for wild caught fish. In early 2009, for example, concerned about declines in Norwegian coastal cod numbers, the Ministry of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs further expanded protective measures for cod that had been in effect since 2004.
Sustainability is also critical for the fish farming industry. Marine Harvest, the Norwegian-based company and the world’s largest producer of farmed salmon, is helping develop new environmental standards to reduce industry impacts. In April, 2008, the company signed a three-year agreement with WWF Norway to work to limit the ecological footprint from aquaculture. The company is also on the steering committee of an international coalition started by WWF US in 2004 on comprehensive standards, called the Salmon Aquaculture Dialogue. “I believe that by doing this, we will contribute to making salmon farming even more sustainable than it is today,” says Petter Arnesen, Marine Harvest’s vice president for feed and environment.
Research can also help reduce aquaculture environmental effects. Two groups in Trondheim, the Centre for Ships and Ocean Structures (CeSOS) at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, and the Centre for Research-based Innovation in Aquaculture Technology (CREATE) at SINTEF, are collaborating on new aquaculture structures that could tolerate the rough waters of the open ocean. Moving structures into the open sea enables nutrients from farms to be dispersed more widely, and moves farms away from Norway’s 452 wild salmon streams, which can be affected by escaped salmon or salmon lice.
“We see a trend in the aquaculture industry toward substantially larger facilities and more automation,” Professor Torgeir Moan, head of CeSOS, said in a recent interview. “When the day comes that the industry makes the major move out to the open sea, we plan to possess the knowledge that will greatly speed up the processes of innovation.” The two research groups have a number of industry partners, including Det Norske Veritas, StatoilHydro, AKVA Group ASA, Egersund Net AS, PolarCirkel AS, and Erling Haug AS.
|Attention to every aspect of aquaculture production helps limit the impact of farming fish. But producers continue to look for new ways to make the environmental footprint from fish farming even smaller than it already is.
© Marine Harvest/Steinar Johansen
International research consistently shows that consumers care about fish welfare. Aquaculture farmers care about fish welfare, too, because healthy, contented fish grow better. But monitoring fish welfare isn’t easy – and that’s where research comes in.
FishTalk, software developed by the AKVA Group, monitors fish welfare by tracking as many as 450 production variables. Fish farm managers can then relate different variables to see how the fish respond to factors such as temperature and feeding rates to optimize production.
Fish welfare is also about fish health. Aggressive research on the part of industry and the Norwegian government has helped reduce antibiotic use by more than 95% in recent decades. In 1987, for example, fish farmers used nearly 50,000 kilos of antibiotics for 55,000 tonnes of farmed fish. By 2007, fish farmers had cut this to just 649 kg of antibiotics for 816,000 tonnes of fish. A key factor has been the development of vaccines by companies such as Intervet Norbio in Bergen.
Feeding Fish to Feed the World
A key aspect of sustainability for aquaculture worldwide is fish feed. AQUAMAX is a research effort funded by the European Commission and led by Norway’s National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research, where scientists are testing different fish diets with plant oil substitutions.
Researchers at the Aquaculture Protein Centre, a collaborative between the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Nofima Marin and the Norwegian School of Veterinary Science, have discovered that salmon protein use is related to a specific enzyme. “This discovery could lead to a completely new tool for selecting individuals with exceptional ability to utilize protein,” says Professor Trond Storebakken, Director of the APC.