Norwegian Fisheries Minister Bjørnar Selnes Skjæran: Norwegian aquaculture needs to be a “trailblazer”

Norwegian Minister of Fisheries and Ocean Policy Bjørnar Selnes Skjæran.

Norway’s seafood industry passed a significant milestone in exporting more than NOK 150 billion (USD 14 billion, EUR 13.3 billion) worth of seafood in 2022, but it must strive to achieve much more alongside incorporating new methods, technologies, and species, according to Norwegian Minister of Fisheries and Ocean Policy Bjørnar Selnes Skjæran.

Speaking at the start of the North Atlantic Seafood Forum 2023 in Bergen, Norway on 8 March, Skjæran said the story of Norwegian seafood is one of continuous development.

“We have better methods, better technology, better management, better products, and better marketing, and the key to it all is better knowledge and understanding,” he told the conference, adding that he believes 2022’s record export value is testament to the great people in the industry, its hard work, and its ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

However, Skjæran said the value of these exports is currently very much linked to both higher food prices due to global inflation and a decrease in the Norwegian kroner’s value.

“If there’s one thing we know, it’s that we must be adaptable in terms of market development, and also when it comes to the production itself,” he said. “We must continue to develop with new production methods, new technologies, and even closer cooperation. And our approach must be more holistic and more sustainable.”

Calling salmon farming “a big engine in the Norwegian seafood economy,” Skjæran said the sector can be grown further. This, he said, should be achieved by setting “even higher standards of sustainability,” and by addressing challenges like feed input emissions, sea lice, the genetic impact on wild salmon and other threats to the natural ecosystem, and, not least, the welfare of the fish being farmed.

To this end, he said the government’s so-called “traffic light system,” which was established for the purpose of the sustainable management of the aquaculture industry is being developed further, based on new knowledge. The Norwegian government has also been investing in initiatives to develop more locally-produced feeds to help reduce the industry’s carbon footprint and accelerate the movement towards a more circular economy. 

Additional efforts are underway to address the issue of fish welfare, Skjæran said, with new and future consumer expectations of more-ethical production methods.

“We also need to develop new production methods and locations like offshore fish farms,” he said. To this end, the government recently established a basic regulatory framework for offshore aquaculture and will continue to develop it to secure its progress, he said.

“But moving forward is not just about tackling the challenges that we see today. It’s also about blazing a trail to the aquaculture of tomorrow. We need to expand into new products and make use of new species,” Skjæran said. “About 3 million metric tons (MT) of food from our waters are exported to the world’s markets…but we must imagine an even higher number because that’s what the world really needs.”

Higher prices contributed to Norway posting a seafood export value of NOK 12.8 billion (USD 1.2 billion, EUR 1.1 billion) in  February 2023.

According to Norwegian Seafood Council (NSC) analysis, this value represented an increase of 14 percent or NOK 1.6 billion (USD 149.8 million, EUR 142.1 million) versus the corresponding month of 2022. However, the total volume in the 28-day period fell 17 percent year-on-year to 207,000 MT, with NSC saying this was the sixth month in a row gross tonnage has fallen.

The council also calculated the decline in volume negatively affected February’s total export value by around NOK 600 million (USD 56.2 million, EUR 53.3 million).

Within the wild-catch sector, the declining volume trend was partly attributed to lower quotas and poor weather in February. NSC said February’s cod export volume hadn’t been as low for 10 years, with Norway exporting 7,927 MT of fresh cod valued at NOK 488 million (USD 45.7 million, EUR 43.3 million), including 1,404 MT of skrei worth NOK 101 million (USD 9.5 million, EUR 9 million).

Norway also shipped 5,246 MT of frozen cod worth NOK 292 million (USD 27.3 million, EUR 25.9 million) to overseas markets, with the volume and value declining 32 percent and 16 percent, respectively.

The only upturn in the cod trade was with farmed products, with 868 MT of fish generating sales of NOK 41.5 million (USD 3.9 million, EUR 3.7 million) – up 66 percent in volume and 88 percent in value.

There was also a decrease in Norway’s farmed-salmon export volume in February. But while the 81,645 MT of products exported is 8 percent lower than a year previously, the value of this trade increased 15 percent, or NOK 1.2 billion (USD 112.4 million, EUR 106.6 million), to NOK 8.8 billion (USD 824.1 million, EUR 781.5 million).

Salmon export prices have reached new highs thus far in 2023 at NOK 148 (USD 13.86, EUR 13.14) per kilogram for fresh fillets, and NOK 102 (USD 9.55, EUR 9.06) per kilogram for whole salmon.

The U.S. was the top market for Norwegian salmon last month, followed by Poland and France. Indeed, the States maintained its position as the top overall destination for  Norwegian seafood exports, increasing its February intake by 56 percent, or NOK 440 million (USD 41.2 million, EUR 39.1 million), year-on-year.

In volume terms, Norway shipped 10,246 MT of seafood to the U.S. market, which was 17 percent more than February 2022. This included 6,604 MT of salmon, up 41 percent.

NSC Seafood Analyst Paul Aandahl said increased purchasing of Norwegian salmon in the U.S. is the result of rising demand combined with a strong currency, while salmon production from the market’s other supplier nations has weakened.

Also in February, Norway exported 2,946 MT of trout worth NOK 325 million (USD 30.4 million, EUR 28.9 million), with the volume and value falling by 26 percent and 1 percent respectively against February 2022. The United States, Thailand, and Japan were the largest markets for the species, with the export price for fresh whole trout reaching a record NOK 106 (USD 9.93, EUR 9.41) per kilogram. 

In the pelagic category, Norway exported 27,412 MT of herring worth NOK 408 million (USD 38.2 million, EUR 36.2 million) in February, with the volume falling 20 percent and the value climbing 1 percent. It was also the last full month of the season for Norwegian spring spawning herring, with around 56,000 MT landed, compared with 88,000 MT in February 2022. However, 40,000 MT more was landed in January 2023 than in the corresponding month of 2022.

NSC said the currency situation, access to large herring, and high demand in individual markets resulted in the highest-ever prices for whole frozen NVG herring, with an average of NOK 12.35 (USD 1.16, EUR 1.10) per kilogram.

Norway also exported 31,015 MT of mackerel with a value of NOK 608 million (USD 56.9 million, EUR 54 million), representing increases of 24 percent and 26 percent, respectively.

Norway’s mackerel season ended at the start of February. As a result, just 1,700 MT was landed, compared with 3,700 MT in February last year. A total 368,000 MT of mackerel were landed in the 2022/2023 season, compared to 355,000 MT in the previous season, an increase of 3.7 percent.

Photo courtesy of Norwegian Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Fisheries

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