Marlborough Express - Lessons to be learned from Norway

Monday, June 27, 2016

I recently travelled to Norway to attend AquaVision, a global conference on aquaculture. Held in Stavanger, a coastal region in the south of Norway, the conference attracted representatives from more than 40 countries.

The trip also gave me the chance to see firsthand how the Norwegians not only farm salmon, but encourage and manage regional development with respect to the aquaculture industry.

This is a country whose wealth has largely been built on the oil and gas industry - which has been used very sensibly to underpin their good standard of living. However, now Norway must look to other industries like aquaculture to support its economy in the future.

Norway's aquaculture industry is substantial. It produces more than 1.2 million tonnes of salmon per annum; in comparison, New Zealand produces 12,000 tonnes.

The salmon farm I visited comprised of five, 200-metre circular pens but I was surprised at the minimum visual impact they had. This farm produced the equivalent of almost half of New Zealand's total salmon production.

I also visited a feed research facility which is similar to, but 10 times bigger than, the one proposed for Okiwi Bay. This facility was nestled in a small cove, surrounded by holiday homes and full-time residents.

Finally, I was taken to a salmon processing factory and smolt farm. The latter used a water recirculation method which is environmentally friendly, but relies on constant and close monitoring of water quality. This enables them to grow the salmon in tanks for as long as possible to minimise the time the fish are exposed to sea lice, which is the industry's biggest problem. This is however a very expensive option.

Norway farms Atlantic salmon, which are particularly susceptible to sea lice. New Zealand farms King Salmon, the largest of the Pacific salmon (also called Chinook) which has a natural immune response to sea lice.

Other options for the control of the sea-lice threat is the use of "cleaner fish" in salmon cages - lumpfish and Ballan wrasse which are bred for this purpose - which predate on sea lice, picking them off the salmon and the nets. Another method is to put the salmon into fresh water for a short time, killing the lice. It is likely that a combination of some or all of these methods will be used.

Globally, aquaculture really is the way of the future in terms of feeding our growing population in a sustainable way.

In fact, the AquaVision conference's main underlying message was that aquaculture is an industry that can be a realistic part of the solution to the global paradox where 1 billion people do not have enough to eat, while another 1 billion people are obese.

Farmed salmon, with its high omega content, is a good, healthy, functional food that does not impact on our wild fisheries, many of which are in decline.

New Zealand's own aquaculture industry, while smaller than that of Norway, can nevertheless stand out in the global market with a high-quality product.

Our aquaculture industry, as does Norway's, has a very bright future indeed.