What do Spanish bacalao, Chinese Feng Sheng Shui Qi and Japanese sushi all have in common? They all utilize Norwegian seafood. On Washington's Capitol Hill, Norwegian salmon and cod were recently featured on the menu at a special lunch for members of the US Congress. Norwegian seafood, be it dried and salted cod for bacalao, fresh salmon for Feng Sheng Shui Qi or mackerel for sushi, is making a name for itself on international plates and palates. Last year alone, Norway exported a record USD 4.3 billion of seafood to 135 countries.
From the first subsistence fishermen 11,000 years ago to the dominance of Norwegian cod during the Middle Ages, fish has played a prominent role in Norway's economy. Seafood exports skyrocketed in the course of the 1990s, and the demand for these fresh, tasty, healthy and easily available products will continue to increase exponentially. While the European Union (EU) remains Norway's most important market, 1999 exports to Asia - particularly, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and China - rose by 57 per cent and exports to the USA rose by 35 per cent. New, emerging seafood markets include the Ukraine, Korea and Thailand.
Today, fishing activities remain vital to the Norwegian industrial sector and seafood is the country's second-largest export item. Norway has one of the world's most fertile fishing grounds, created where the Gulf Stream meshes with strong Arctic currents. Over 20,000 fishermen in some 14,000 vessels harvest 200 different types of finfish and shellfish in an area extending over 27,000 square miles. While their forebears harvested the seas in simple, handcrafted wooden boats, today's fishermen boast a fleet of modern fishing vessels equipped with the latest on-board satellite and computer technology.
The seafood industry as a whole has changed dramatically in the last 20 years, transforming itself from a highly subsidized to a highly profitable industry. Greater emphasis has been placed on utilizing as much of each fish as possible. This has resulted in a wide range of derived products, including biochemical products such as fish oil extracts and marine biopolymers. Parallel to these developments, the aquaculture industry, pioneered by Norwegians in the 1970s, has continued to grow. Today, aquaculture yields are greater than the combined production of meat in Norwegian agriculture. Most of the fish being farmed is Atlantic salmon, closely followed by salmon trout. While Arctic char is the newest species to be cultivated, researchers are focusing on developing technologies for halibut, Atlantic wolffish and scallops. Always evolving, Norway's commercial fisheries and aquaculture industries are keeping pace with an ever-changing world of discovery and innovation.
"If you look 20 or 30 years into the future, the fisheries industry may well be the mainstay of Norway's welfare state," says Bjarne Myrstad, Head of the Information Department at the Ministry of Fisheries. The Ministry has set up a special task force to plan for the future of the fisheries industry, encouraging more research and improving market access through the removal of trade barriers. Sustainable resource management is key to the survival and continued growth of the industry in Norway, which has international fishing quota agreements with the EU, Russia and other nations. The challenge facing the industry, Mr. Myrstad believes, is to further strengthen the systems of quota controls already in place.
Seafood suppliers are catering their products more and more to the varied tastes and desires of today's customers. While this trend is essentially being dictated by demand, suppliers are also eager to develop and capture new markets for their finfish and shellfish. Seafood has also become gourmet food, and is being featured on more and more restaurant menus worldwide as chefs turn their attention to healthy ingredients from the sea.
High in digestible protein, fish is also rich in vitamins such as B, B12, D, A and E. Low in sodium, high in potassium, it provides necessary minerals and trace elements such as iodine, fluorine and selenium. The polyunsaturated Omega-3 fatty acids common to fish have also been grabbing headlines. Research has shown that Omega-3 protects against cardiovascular and kidney disease, chronic infections, diabetes, psychological problems and certain types of cancer. It is also considered important for the development of the brain, the nervous system and the retina, as well as for foetal and infant development. Omega-3 hinders the formation of blood clots and may slow the accumulation of plaque in the arteries to the heart. Moreover, it helps to decrease high concentrations of triglycerides, which are known to lead to heart attacks.
Salmon, mackerel and sardines have the highest amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids, while freshwater fish, particularly northern pike, walleye pike, sunfish and perch, contain lower amounts. Farmed fish that have been fed with supplemented fishmeal, regardless of the species, are especially high in Omega-3. State-of-the-art packaging and handling by Norwegian suppliers keep exposure to heat, air and light to a minimum, thus ensuring that Norwegian products maintain their high nutritive value and fresh-from-the-sea taste no matter where in the world they are sent.
Wave of Popularity
Today, the most sought-after Norwegian fish are salmon, cod, coalfish (saithe), herring, wolffish and monkfish. There is every indication that Norwegian seafood will continue to ride a wave of popularity well into this millennium, with high-quality products holding their own in the competitive international marketplace.
By Sonya Procenko
Norwegian seafood exporters offer a vast array of products to satisfy nearly any taste, from the Japanese love of the colour of salmon trout and the Hong Kong Chinese fondness for fresh cod, to the American penchant for stuffing salmon trout with prawns and the French craze for winter-spawning cod (skrei).
Having pioneered fish farming in the 1970s, Norwegian innovators like Norshell are turning their attention to cultivating shellfish such as mussels, oysters and scallops to fulfil growing worldwide demand.
High-protein, vitamin-rich Norwegian seafood adds a healthy, tasty touch to any meal.