Norway has never exported so much fish as in 2021.
Exports set a new record of NOK 120 billion, equivalent to 42 million meals a day, according to fisk.no.
But the ocean is a treasure trove of other nutritious resources that we don’t think of as seafood.
How can products like sea urchins and seaweed be exploited to feed the world’s population?
And is it possible to do this profitably on a large scale, without harming the environment? This exact issue was recently debated at Arendalsuka, Norway’s largest political rally, which has been held every fall since 2012.
Unique access to “blue” food
Norway is in a unique position to develop both human and animal nutrition from seaweed, seaweed, kelp and species at the bottom of the marine food chain. And some companies have succeeded.
“We are now exporting tons of krill products for animal and human consumption. It is one of the protein sources with the smallest climate footprint,” said Matts Johansen, CEO of Aker BioMarine.
But developing new resources from the sea is difficult, bordering on impossible, he says.
It took 16 years to get here, he said.
Approved as seafood
It takes years of research to prove that the products are suitable as dietary or nutritional supplements and without negative health consequences.
The next step is getting regulatory approval to sell and export products, and can be a test of patience. Applying and getting approved can take years.
A bright spot this year was that seaweed and kelp were approved as seafood under Norway’s seafood export regulations.
These kinds of small changes can encourage more innovation, the panelists said.
Will reduce the climate footprint of farmed salmon
The Norwegian aquaculture industry imports 90% of its fish feed. The industry’s goal is to produce more of this food in Norway, to reduce the industry’s climate footprint. Krill can help here.
Aker BioMarine has now developed a number of products in close collaboration with researchers in Norway and abroad.
“We have developed several protein and omega-3 products, all from the same raw material – krill,” Johansen told sciencenorway.no.
Positive consequences for salmon feeding
The first product to hit the market was a protein supplement used in the diet of farmed salmon. Krill is a type of small shrimp that salmon like to eat. It contains many nutrients that salmon need.
“The supplement makes the salmon more robust in their cages and less prone to disease,” says Johansen.
The research that demonstrates this was conducted in collaboration with the Norwegian food research institute Nofima.
Requires entirely new technology and consumer acceptance
Nofima researchers follow coastal industries closely.
But is it possible to extract more food from the sea, without harming the environment?
“I’m a technology optimist,” said Nofima researcher Sissel Rønning.
She believes it is possible to produce more environmentally friendly food if we change the way it is produced.
“This will require consumer acceptance and completely modern, revolutionary technology to produce good, safe food,” Rønning said.
“Blue” foods are part of the solution
“We are on the verge of surpassing the limits of what the planet and its biological and biophysical processes can actually tolerate. As the UN secretary-general says, we have reached ‘code red’ for humanity,” said Javad Mushtaq, who works for the non-profit organization Eat and who was also in Arendalsuka.
He and his colleagues at Eat believe that seafood must be part of the solution to providing the world’s population with healthy and sustainable food.
But this use requires effective management.
Aquaculture can destroy habitats and threaten wild fish
A third of marine fisheries are overexploited and some fishing technologies have serious consequences for ecosystems, climate change and wildlife.
“Aquaculture can also have significant effects, destroying habitats, polluting water and relying on wild fish and agricultural crops for food in unsustainable ways,” says Mushtaq.
The WWF also believes that people should eat more than just one group of marine species.
“At the same time, we have to make sure that the sea can tolerate this resource extraction. And the seafood production method of the 1970s is unsustainable,” said Karoline Andaur, Secretary General of WWF, World Wildlife Fund Norway.
Exports 50,000 tonnes of krill products
After 16 years of development, research and approval applications, Aker BioMarine has established a billion dollar industry with the United States as one of its largest markets.
The company now exports 50,000 tonnes of various krill products per year.
Food for salmon farming accounts for about half of these exports. The rest is sold in the form of omega-3 dietary supplements, mainly in the USA.
Unlike cod liver oil in fish oil form, krill products contain a type of fat that doesn’t need to be absorbed by the liver, according to Aker BioMarine’s Johansen.
Today, the company is building a factory in Follo, south of Oslo, to produce protein supplements.
“These supplements can be used both by bodybuilders and by the sick and elderly,” Johansen said.
New krill products
The company is also working on developing products that it claims can play an important preventative role for different health conditions.
Aker BioMarine is listed on the stock exchange with Aker as its main owner, with Norwegian billionaire Kjell Inge Røkke on its board of directors.
“Røkke is confident that we will succeed in developing krill-based products for the global market. He is personally very involved in the day-to-day operation,” said Johansen.
The company now has 550 employees, including 15 PhD holders.
The company collaborates with researchers in Norway and abroad, including England and the United States.
Research to develop the first products was carried out in collaboration with Nofima, the University of Bergen, the Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø, as well as German, English and American universities.
Translated by Nancy Bazilchuk