Trondheim-based Norcod is making plans for farming cod on an industrial scale, anticipating a robust global demand for seafood.
The company sees a generally favourable environment ahead, with projected strong demand for fresh cod plus a static rate of supply from the global capture market. Norcod promises a stable quality of cod nurtured in its natural habitat and plans to ramp up production to an industrial scale over the next few years.
Norcod chief executive Rune Eriksen points out that cod is one of the healthiest protein sources available, with a feed conversion ratio (FCR) of 1:1.1.
‘Lean cod is basically a fantastic product,’ he said. ‘Farmed fish grow considerably faster than their wild counterparts and the goal is to deliver fresh, white meat year-round.’
He commented that no cod is being farmed industrially anywhere in the world today, although there are other players farming cod in Norway, but on a limited scale.
‘Now it’s possible. We have the chance to write history as the world supplier of farmed cod,’ he said.
The project will span the entire production cycle from fry through harvesting, processing and distribution.
Solid demand and price levels have already been established by professional seafood marketing company Sirena, which will support Norcod’s mission by securing sales at the highest prices through its global organisation and customer network. Sirena trades solely in sustainable product.
According to Rune Eriksen, previous attempts to farm cod in Norway during the most recent effort from 2004 to 2012 ran aground due to fundamental mistakes and immature biology. This included a mixture of wild and bred stemfish, with high mortality and cannibalism in overcrowded nets, followed up with a lot of waste and escapes.
There was a lack of seasonal planning and clearly defined commercial strategies while concessions were bounced around at overinflated prices. Norcod spent a lot of time examining what went wrong and what has to be in place to ensure success this time around.
‘The situation is completely different today,,’ he said, commenting that this is especially due to now massively improved biologic material promises much higher yields.
In addition, the only existing providers of cod fry in sufficient quantity are both based in Norway. Genetics work has experienced quantum leaps since the early 2000s, achieved by individually selecting the best fish to improve characteristics and disease resistance. The stemfish are now in their sixth generation.
‘It’s a completely different fish and a highly stable product,’ Rune Eriksen said, adding that the fish are largely domesticated and accustomed to confinement.
He explained that the smaller head of today’s generation is a game changer, resulting in much higher yields, while in wild cod the head can account for up to 40% of body mass
Norwegian government-funded R&D aquaculture institute Nofima has been at the forefront of this since starting their cod farming research program in 2002. The programme was recently proposed extended in the national budget for 2020.
Norcod intends to apply the same principles of ecological salmon farming in Norway including limitations on the number of fish in each net, new cages designed to hinder escapes and optimised feeding systems.
‘We’re taking all the great things developed in salmon farming over the last ten years; the latest sophisticated technology and equipment,’ he said, commenting that one advantage of cod is that you can use more by-product. Norcod aims to utilise 100% of the fish including offcuts, which embeds the company firmly in the circular economy amid the drive to minimise waste.
Norcod has licenses in hand for two facilities in Mausund north-west of Trondheim that are being upgraded. Its first batch of 260,000 fry is in production and ready to be transferred to the sea in December 2019. A further batch of juveniles is scheduled to arrive the same month. According to Rune Eriksen, the fish are showing uniform size growth well ahead of expectations.
He emphasizes the long-term nature of the project and its intention to expand production in a measured way. Norcod is aiming for an annual capacity of 9000 tonnes in 2021 and a year-round supply of 25,000 tonnes from 2025.
Rune Eriksen said that state-administered concessions are easier to secure if you already have access to fry, which should bolster its plans to acquire additional operational sites from 2021.
Norcod firmly believes the market is ripe for industrial-scale cod farming.
‘It’s a really exciting adventure,’ Rune Eriksen said. ‘We’re absolutely determined to be a global business.’