Big plans

Norcod box

Cod farming has been tried before but this time the industry looks set for growth, reports Vince McDonagh

Norway’s cod farmers are going all out for growth. The industry has set itself the ambitious target of 150,000 tonnes annual production within the next six years.

Given recent government restrictions on new cod farming projects, the figure may appear unrealistically high – and probably is – but there is no doubt that the sector is determined to expand big time.

To put that ambition into perspective, it is six times the entire North Sea cod quota of 24,500 tonnes for this year and not so far short of Norway’s share of the Barents Sea 2024 quota of 212,000 tonnes.

The industry body is the Norwegian Cod Cluster, which is promoting innovation and research, and is also proving to be a driving force for growth.

Norcod Sirena pack

Norcod Sirena pack

Demand for cod remains strong, with British fish and chip shops still among the main buyers, but it is also becoming increasingly popular in Mediterranean countries such as Spain.

But the Cluster is now eyeing the United States as the really big market for the future. Chefs over there seem to like the white fish.

The two principal sources of trawled cod are Iceland and the Barents Sea, shared by Norway and Russia, but they cannot provide all the world requires, and farmed cod is now starting to fill part of the gap. The seafood sector likes farmed cod because supplies are not so likely to be interrupted by bad weather, as so often happens during the winter.

The turnaround in cod aquaculture fortunes has been remarkable. Some 40 years ago, it looked as if cod farming would never get off the ground. Previous attempts had been dogged by seemingly insurmountable technical and biological problems.

The industry, including a start-up in Shetland as well as several companies in Norway, all but collapsed. Now, innovation and research over the past decade has brought it back to life.

The first commercial slaughter of this new era farmed cod took place less than three years ago. Since then, the sector has grown impressively, with existing companies expanding and new businesses starting up.

Norcod farm

Norcod farm

The Cod Cluster, which merged with the Cod Network last year, has been active even before the first new era commercial harvest in 2021. It organised a trip to United States in 2019 and was politely told to come back when it had a product to sell.

The Cluster says: “With increasing investment in farmed cod, we were finally ready to follow this up in 2024.

“The seafood fair Seafood Expo North America is held in Boston every year and was a natural destination for us. We spent time walking around the fair and talking to both Norwegian and American players.

“One of the most interesting experiences we had at the fair was the very positive attitude towards Norwegian cod, regardless of whether it was farmed or wild caught.

The Cluster adds: “There is great potential for Norwegian cod in the American market, but predictable and stable delivery is required.

“It was also interesting to note that there was no significant difference between farmed and wild, which may indicate that these two can complement each other throughout the year.

Ode cod farm useof light

Ode cod farm use
of light

“More important seemed to be Norway as the country of origin. Sustainability and responsibility were a consistent focus at the fair, something we are happy to say that Norway responds well to.”

The Cluster says tasting events in Boston earlier this year have gone very well, but the predictable delivery offered by farming, which trawlers cannot always provide, is a key advantage for the farmers.

A round of visits was also made to various US grocery chains to see the selection of cod in the stores, and what competition the Norwegian cod faces.

The Cluster says it was interesting to find that the prices of frozen cod were largely the same everywhere in the US, regardless of whether the fish was from Iceland, Norway or other countries and regardless of the type of store.

It adds: “The variations on fresh fish, however, were somewhat greater.”

Boxed cod

Boxed cod

Government applies the brakes
The main stumbling block to growth may, however, come from within Norway rather than from external market forces.

A couple of months ago the Norwegian authorities called a halt to further cod farming applications especially at new locations.

Mattilsynet, the Norwegian Food Safety Authority, says the industry has been growing so fast that it wants time to look at risks and biological implications.

Also there is a growing ecological body in Norway, especially on the Left, that would like to see cod (and salmon) farming stopped altogether.

These groups are unlikely to get their way, but that doesn’t mean the sector will not be faced with the sort of restrictions that hinder ambitious growth.

Cod farming Mark Two has huge potential for the country, particularly in coastal areas where salmon has done so much to improve the local economy.

Cod farming is also catching on outside Norway. AquaFounders Capital, a company set up by former Kingfish Company CEO Ohad Maiman and former Atlantic Sapphire founder Thue Holm, are reported to be planning to farm Alaskan black cod at a new land-based facility in the Netherlands.

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