By Mike Urch, SeafoodSource contributing editor
Published on 26 September, 2013
Fish that do not require fish protein in their feed will become important in tomorrow’s aquaculture. So says modern fish farming pioneer Bjørn Myrseth who will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Global Aquaculture Alliance’s GOAL 2013 conference in Paris, France, next week.
“I will continue to work with marine fish that can be grown in cages, but at the moment I am also interested in taking a look at the herbivore or omnivore fish that are sold at low prices such as tilapia and pangasius,” said Myrseth.
During his long career in aquaculture, Myrseth has worked with many different species. He started off by farming first rainbow trout and then salmon in Norway in the early 1970s, then farmed sturgeon in California, seabass and seabream in Spain and Greece and finally cobia in Belize and Vietnam. He is now looking at farming other tropical species in tropical countries.
“I suppose I am just curious by nature,” he said. “I like to learn new things and my knowledge which has been built up over the years can be transferred to other countries and other species. However, it takes time, and one has to adapt things to the local environment. I also think that it is important to keep an eye on ‘fish welfare’ as well as disease.
“Plus, of course, profitability – fish farming must be profitable.”
Myrseth began in Norway’s fledgling salmon farming industry in 1971 by working for shipping magnate Jacob Stolt-Nielsen who wanted to farm lobsters. That idea was soon abandoned and the company Sea Farm (later re-named Stolt Sea Farm) was formed a year later to farm salmonid species with Myrseth as CEO.
As the company grew and was faced with restrictions on farming salmon in Norway in the mid 1970s, Stolt Sea Farm set up operations in Scotland, the USA and Canada. Opportunities also arose to expand the range of species, which by then included farming sturgeon in the U.S., into turbot, bass and bream. This again expanded the number of countries the company became involved in to include France and Spain.
Myrseth left Stolt Sea Farm in 1986 to set up his own business. This was called Lax (after the Norwegian word laks which means salmon in English), but then became Marine Farms which Myrseth ran until it was acquired by Morpol in 2010.
In 1987, Marine Farms became a partner in Salmones Huillinco and by transferring smolt production technology from Norway produced smolts for the Chilean salmon industry. The same year Myrseth began farming seabass and bream in Greece through Galaxidi Marine.
However, Marine Farms is probably best known for farming salmon in Scotland under the Lakeland banner and seabass and seabream in Spain through Culmarex. These companies were very successful and production was built up to 10,000 to 12,000 metric tons (MT) of salmon, and 9,000 MT of seabass and seabream.
It was while CEO of Marine Farms that Myrseth started farming cobia.
“At the end of the 1990s I attended a conference in Taiwan where much of the focus was on cobia. This looked like a great fish with a good potential. It was apparently easy to farm, very much like cod, so my interest was awakened,” he said.
After setting up farms in Belize and Vietnam using Norwegian sea cages and employing Norwegian technology, Marine Farms was then purchased in 2010 by Morpol, the world’s biggest salmon processor. Not surprisingly Morpol was more interested in the salmon side of Marine Farms so Culmarex was sold, but the cobia operation remained, although that had also been put up for sale.
In 2012 Myrseth became chairman of Morpol ASA. But then Morpol itself was acquired by Marine Harvest and the cobia operation will be bought by Jerzy Malek, Morpol’s founder, when the Marine Harvest takeover is complete, most likely sometime in the third quarter of 2013.
When asked what drives him on when he has reached the age where most people have retired, Myrseth said: “Perhaps I am hyperactive; I like to have something to do and to use my knowledge to develop new ventures.”