"I’ve heard they eat the fish raw in the East?" is the question the Norwegian fishing industry asked themselves almost 25 years ago.
In 1985, there were not many people who had heard of, let alone eaten sushi in Norway. When the first sushi bar opened in Oslo the same year, they demanded the fish to be cooked before serving. However, people in the aquaculture had been aware of the Japanese custom of eating raw fish and they asked themselves, could this be a new market for Norwegian salmon?
Led by the then Minister of Fisheries Thor Listau, a twenty-strong delegation traveled to Japan, and in the luggage they brought a fresh Norwegian salmon.
The scepticism was not unfounded by the Japanese sushi chef. Pacific salmon as the Japanese knew was in practice unsuitable for eating raw. However, according to the Director of Niofima Market it was the right product and the perfect timing. “Salmon have a fresh colour, proper sushi consistency and it is considered healthy and exotic,” he said back then. At present, Norwegian salmon is the most popular fish for sushi, not only in Japan but also in the rest of the world.
The fisheries and aquaculture industry in Norway is today one of the world’s largest exporters of seafood reaching over 150 countries and producing 3 million tons of seafood each year. For the ninth year in a row the Norwegians have hit record highs in seafood exports.
According to Lars Fredrik Martinussen, head of communication at Seafood, we can thank our clean, cool and productive oceans. The expansive sea areas off the Norwegian coast are ideal for harvesting seafood. “The waters here are very cold and as a result, seafood grows slowly and is extra tasty and juicy,” he said.
“Norwegian seafood industry is a modern industry that produces and delivers healthy, safe and good seafood to more than 130 countries every year,” he said. “The world demands for seafood, and Norway is in a unique position to deliver it.”
“Norway has managed to become one of the world’s premier seafood nations taking course about many things, but it is essential to highlight the natural advantages, the sustainable management and the expertise in the practice of aquaculture, fishing and manufacturing seafood,” Martinussen explained.
Because of the growing population, with more mouths to feed, The World Food and Agriculture Organisation have expressed that the needed increased food production must take place in the oceans. The reason is because the wild fish stocks are fully exploited, there is a shortage of fresh water resources, and there is a shortage of agricultural land in a world of increasing environmental problems and a growing population. The world cannot be filled with salmon alone, but the world may be filled by aquaculture technology developed in Norway.
“Though it may not be the total answer to the future challenges, it represents that the seafood industry is a renewable resource than can create substantial value in Norway,” Martinussen said. “But only if we are able to manage our resources in a sustainable manner,” he said.
However, research scientist of the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, Line Sundt Hansen claims that there are also downsides within the industry. “Salmon farming affects many species, both in the sea and in rivers,” she said. “In the ocean there are aquaculture with a negative impact on the local environment due to the excess food that sinks to the bottom and change the flora and fauna there,” Hansen said, and added that this could be a threat to biodiversity.
“Stricter requirements for aquaculture in terms of protection of plants in relation to evacuation and limiting quotas,” is her answer when asked on what could be done differently. “Last but not least, learn from research and use the knowledge that scientists have attached. It often costs money to go green, but it always pays in the long term and in a larger perspective,” Hansen said.
The Norwegian salmons worldwide success rests precisely that it is a product of aquaculture. While many other food commodities from both land and sea is related to regular seasons, fresh salmon stands on the menu year round.
Every 20 minute, every day of the year a trailer of salmon crosses the Norwegian border. In 2013 Norway exported salmon for nearly 30 billion NOK, almost seven times more than in 1990. This corresponds to 14 million meals every day, which can be enjoyed in more than 100 different countries. This February Norway exported seafood worh NOK 5.1 billion, this represents a 6 per cent reduction compared to the same month the previous year.
73,250 tonnes of salmon were exported from Norway last month, an increase of 11 per cent compared to the same time last year, according to figures from the Norwegian Seafood Council in February 2015. France, Poland and the UK are the biggest importers of salmon from Norway.
The goal is to continue an improving progress for the seafood industry.
“Everything can be done differently, and just the desire and ability to evolve and improve is perhaps the most important prerequisite for Norway to reach the goal of becoming the world’s leading seafood nation,” Martinussen ended.
Photo credit: Aaron May