The Norwegian Board of Technology recommends a new strategy.
Fish farming is Norway’s third largest export trade. – The aquaculture industry has come a long way since the first trials in the late 60s. Today, the industry employs around 20,000 people and has become the backbone of many coastal communities. Internationally we are at the forefront of technology and development, and farmed fish from Norway is highly sought after for its quality, says Jon Fixdal, project manager of “The Future of Salmon Farming”.
Despite the decrease in salmon lice per fish and improved security against escapes, lice and escapes remain the industry’s biggest challenges. Their contribution to the overall burden on wild salmon is so great that there is a temporary halt in the granting of new licenses until the government finds that the industry is in control of the issues.
– The Parliament and Government have expressed a desire for sustaining a robust salmon farming industry that operates within the framework set in the Government’s strategy for sustainable aquaculture. As of now, we see no clear solution for how this can be done.
This put Norwegian salmon farming on the radar of the Norwegian Board of Technology. The Board asked whether new technology can contribute to meeting both the sustainability criteria, as well as the continued development of the industry.
– Our review shows that Norway may be about to reach a point where there will be a need for a technological leap, changing the fundamental technology. This happens in all industries at regular intervals, he continued.
– No one can say with certainty which technologies are required for aquaculture to ensure sustainability, and to remain world leaders in 10 and 20 years.
He believes the industry may end up in a situation with a noticeable need for new solutions. – If efforts have not been made to prepare for such a shift in technology, it can have very unfortunate consequences for the industry itself, for Norwegian coastal communities, and for the Norwegian economy.
The Board’s expert group has identified several interesting technologies. Closed containment in the ocean, presenting a dense physical barrier between the fish and the surrounding environment, may be an alternative to open net pens. By creating a closed barrier, the danger of lice infection and escapes may be reduced.
– There are some interesting on-going projects regarding closed containment, but there is uncertainty associated with energy requirements, fish welfare and system reliability, and the extent to which the problems with lice and escapes will be solved, among other things. So far, the lack of empirical evidence on production in closed containment in the ocean has led to an oversimplified and not very informed public debate.
Fixdal believes this has made it virtually impossible to develop policy and promote a wise use of these technologies, and that there is an urgent need to systematically test their potential.
– One could say that the industry is at a crossroad. One option is to continue along the main road it has followed until now, focusing on continuous improvement of all factors affecting salmon production in open systems. But what happens if this does not ensure control of the industry’s challenges, and operations in line with the Government’s sustainability criteria? The alternative is to systematically identify the potential of closed containment. We believe this is important and right, he concludes.
The Norwegian Board of Technology recommends a two-tracked strategy:
- New focus on immature technology. Systematic investigation of the potential for closed containment and other immature but potentially promising technologies. There should be an ambition to try out 3-4 different concepts with proven potential within five years.
- Strengthen the further development of existing technologies, feeding systems, biological solutions, improved operational practices, vaccination methods, etc.