Global demand for protein-rich seafood continues to rise, yet there is little or no room for growth in international wild harvests. Three fourths of the world’s major marine fish stocks are currently being harvested to their maximum limits, creating an ever-widening gap between catch supply and consumer demand. Aquaculture, as evidenced by its rapid worldwide expansion, is now in a prime position to bridge this gap.
The potential of modern aquaculture is so colossal that the U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development is touting it as a means for both global food security and income generation, for the present and the future. The commission’s latest report encourages the immediate establishment of environmentally sound, sustainable fish farming programs, especially in lesser-developed nations.
To reduce production costs and thereby make this valuable food source available to many, the aquaculture industry must produce types of fish that grow quickly from a modest amount of feed, while at the same time providing a quality product desired by consumers in the various world markets.
Planning for Success
Finding the right site is a crucial factor in determining the sustainable production limits – and ultimate success – of any aquaculture operation. Proper location is also a key to avoiding auto-pollution of the farming site and epidemic outbreaks of fish diseases. Several Norwegian companies have expertise in locating optimal sites around the world for fish farming that is in harmony with nature. Elements that need to be assessed include sediment conditions, water quality, current speed and direction, exposure to wind and waves, industrial and other discharges to the environment, and risk of fish disease transfer.
Norwegians have already contributed enormously to the efficiency of modern aquaculture, through applied research in key areas such as feeds, selective breeding and fish/shellfish reproduction cycles, and with the development of durable, high-quality equipment. Having built up their own aquaculture industry from virtually nothing 30 years ago into the world’s largest exporter of salmon and trout, Norwegians now offer their successful products and hard-earned expertise to fish farmers worldwide.
Each and every fish farming operation must be managed according to the principles of sustainability. Norwegian companies provide a vast range of expert services for the implementation of biologically efficient, sustainable, intensive aquaculture (see “Wisdom of the Waters”). Norway is also a world leader in supplying the equipment for aquaculture. The Norwegian array of hardware is being continually enhanced with innovation; this implies products spanning the entire scope of equipment needed in every aspect of production, transport, slaughter and processing. An added plus for modern aquaculturists is the healthy competition among Norwegian suppliers, which serves to keep prices down and quality up. When it comes to fish feeding technology, for instance, Storvik, Betten Maskinstasjon and Sterner AquaGroup are continually refining their respective cost-saving feeding systems.
Species for Future Farming
Even though most people associate Norway’s industry with salmon only, Norwegians have amassed a wealth of knowledge within aquaculture for a number of species. Atlantic salmon is the driving force behind the Norwegian aquaculture boom, and salmon and trout will no doubt continue to play starring roles in Norwegian fish farming for years to come. But Norwegians are well aware of the demand and potential in the marketplace, and have been lining up other species to complement and diversify their industry.
Cod farming, for example, is being aggressively researched in Norway. Cod is an extremely popular product, regarded as an excellent, versatile table fish in many parts of the world. Intensive research has recently paid off with major advancements in fry production, the trickiest aspect in production of this species, making researchers confident that large-scale cod farming will succeed in the very near future. Production technologies are also in advanced stages of
development for spotted wolffish and turbot, and these species look very promising. Arctic char, popular with gourmets, has been farmed for some time on a small scale, both in the sea and in freshwater. Catfish (Anarhichas spp.) are also being studied with a view to farming them in the future.
There are no sure bets in developing new species for farming, however. One of the greatest challenges is that of mastering the species’ reproductive cycle in captivity. Halibut is a good example of this predicament. A delicacy as the largest member of the flounder family, halibut is a favourite on the market. But fry production problems have been persistent. Finally, after 15 years of painstaking R&D, researchers are optimistic about realizing halibut farming’s huge potential.
When it comes to shellfish cultivation in Norway, mussels are a real success story. This is a new but steadily growing industry to which innovations are continually being applied. The mussel larvae attach themselves to vertical tapes suspended in the water by buoys and ropes. Interestingly, mussels are not fed, subsisting instead on natural populations of algae in the sea and growing to harvesting size in about two years. Mussels are a very popular food in Europe; in fact, Europeans consume more mussels than salmon, a fact that bodes well for the growth of shellfish farming. Oysters are also being cultivated in Norway on tidal flats and shallow coastal areas. And cultivation trials are currently in progress with scallops, which are large seabed shellfish in great demand by an increasing number of consumers. Scallops in the wild take about five years to reach a marketable size of 10 cm.
The use of antibiotics in Norwegian aquaculture has virtually been eradicated, replaced instead by effective vaccines, selective breeding for disease resistance, nutritious and health-promoting feeds, and close attention paid to every aspect of the fishes’ living environment. Farmed fish in Norway have never been healthier.
Including seafood in their diet makes people healthier, too. The omega-3 fatty acids, for example (found in fatty fish such as salmon, herring and mackerel), are known to fight cardiac disease and Alzheimer’s. Studies have also shown that eating fish can even help people avoid depression. Add to this the need for raising nutritional standards worldwide among our planet’s exploding population, and the case for more seafood on the menu is clear.
Since finfish and shellfish from the wild cannot satisfy the rising global demand for seafood, aquaculture will assume an ever-increasing role in feeding the world. But to be sustainable for the long haul, this “blue revolution”, as the aquaculture boom has been called, must also be “green” enough to protect our precious environment for the future.