Go for live fish and hook-based gear!

Around 20,000 – 30,000 tonnes of live trawl and Danish seine catches, combined with extra quotas for trigging and long-lining, can rapidly increase values in Norwegian cod fisheries, says Nofima divisional director Magnar Pedersen.

This article was last updated more than two years ago.


Nofima recently published a new report in which the scientists summarized the economic consequences of variable quality of fish raw materials. The most striking example was the comparison between Norwegian and Icelandic salted cod in the Portuguese market. Icelandic cod won by knock out against Norwegian cod by more than one Euro per kilo. If the quality of the Norwegian cod had matched that from Iceland, the export value to Portugal would have been nearly NOK 130 million higher.

Too high quanta

“Norwegian salted cod and bacalhau have a significant position, not least in the Portuguese and Brazilian markets. These are mature products and there is no key for taste. There is also a market for the fish that is not of perfect quality. Problems arise when within the space of four hectic winter months too high quanta of cod are landed with excessive stomach content, are poorly bled or have other damage. During the most hectic period, there is quite simply not enough cod that can build new markets with white and unblemished cod fillet,” says Magnar Pedersen.

Straight from the industry

In January this year Pedersen started in his position as Director of the division Fisheries, Industry and Market at Europe’s largest food research institute, Nofima. He come to Nofima from the position of CEO at Nergård AS, Norway’s second largest fisheries company in whitefish and third largest in pelagic fish. In addition to his significant role in the fisheries industry, he was the senior manager for five trawlers and part-owner of 10 coastal fishing vessels. Prior to being employed at Nergård AS, his career included a period as Assistant Director of the Norwegian Fishermen’s Sales Organisation.

Capture-based, technology and control

You were on the Norwegian Seafood Research Fund (FHF) Board that took the initiative of starting the cod programme in which Nofima is one of the research institutions. Just before you took up your position at Nofima, you said roughly the following at the Arctic Frontiers conference: The Norwegian whitefish industry needs to find its solutions for the future in the following areas:

1. Live capture and capture-based aquaculture of cod

2. Automation in production based on the model of pelagic fish and salmon

3. Public quality control

30,000 of 1 million tonnes

This year Norway and Russia are sharing a cod quota of one million tonnes. How can the problem relating to quality be solved by live capture of 20,000 – 30,000 tonnes of the Norwegian quota for capture-based aquaculture and feed enhancement in sea cages?

“It will never be relevant to capture all the cod live. What we are talking about to start with is 20,000 – 30,000 tonnes. It will take away the peak of the main season. It will contribute to not so much being produced for Portugal and Brazil that the price falls to rock bottom,” says Pedersen.

“At the same time a live quantum of cod, spread over the year, will give the industry the possibility of developing markets for top quality white cod fillet. For a period, fresh cod loins were a flagship product. But this market fell because far too much must be sold during a short season and because it is difficult to maintain a top quality,” he says.

“With 30,000 tonnes of live cod in cages, we would be able to position ourselves in the market in a completely different way,” says Pedersen. But the long-term goal must be a much larger quantum of cod kept alive in capture-based aquaculture before harvesting.”

Iceland concentrated on hooks

You are implying that fishermen using long-lining and trigging should possibly receive a quota bonus on the same level as fishermen who engage in capture-based aquaculture. There have already been discussions when the Norwegian Fishermen’s Sales Organisation has paid above the minimum price for catches using hook-based gear.

“The politicians have an opportunity to control this. In Iceland the politicians introduced a form of quota bonus for hook-based gear for the coastal fleet, and our recent research report states amongst other things that Icelandic cod producers on the whole attain higher prices than their Norwegian counterparts,” says Pedersen.

He adds that prioritizing hook-caught fish may stimulate net-based fishermen to change. By switching to long-lining, the fishermen will receive both larger quotas and higher prices for quality.

Not blaming gear

However, he is cautious about putting gear types up against each other.

“In the discussions about quality, the net-based fishermen are most often blamed for crushing injuries, poor bleeding and bruising under the skin. But the picture is more nuanced. Even fish caught by long-lining and trigging may be of poor quality if the correct procedures are not followed. When trawlers and Danish seine vessels take large catches, the quality is as may be expected. For Danish seines, it is of decisive importance that pumps designed for whitefish rather than pelagic fish are used. Large catches and the use of the wrong technology can make the Danish seine vessels the villains, but there is potential for high live quality,” says Pedersen.

“The net fishery has perhaps the largest challenge. There is a limit to how long fish can remain in the net before the condition deteriorates to the extent that they quite simply are unable to be bled properly. A net-caught fish may have a nice appearance on the outside but already generated bruising under the skin. A trial involving trawled fish demonstrates that fish transferred for reconditioning in sea cages produce far better quality that traditional processing,” he says.

In the first phase he believes that the Danish seine fleet and also trawlers are in the best position to catch cod live.

“Providing large catches are avoided, it’s completely possible to operate live capture of fish by trawl. New trawlers should be designed for live capture.”

Automation and control

For many years, the fisheries industry battled to end quality control by the Directorate of Fisheries. Automation does not sound non-controversial either, but you want to have both?

“When it comes to quality control, I have supported the position that this must be a matter between the seller and the buyer. But with long experience from the industry, I have come to the conclusion that there are fundamental conditions in the interaction between the various actors that are not functioning,” says Pedersen.

“Consequently, I believe that we need to have in place a supervisory body that has the specific task of ensuring that the actors perform in such a way that the quality of the raw material is taken care of in the best possible manner. If we want to best the world’s best seafood nation, we need to do something about the current situation.”

“Most people believe it’s right that a fishing boat skipper should be punished for dumping a batch of fish at sea. But the fact that his colleague can deliver a large batch of fish after leaving the net out for too long without receiving the slightest reaction must also be wrong,” says Pedersen.

When it comes to automation, he sees no reason why the Norwegian whitefish industry should be alone in not adopting modern technology to cut costs.

“The pelagic and salmon industries are already successfully automated. Whitefish offers some physical challenges, but technology is now being developed, also for whitefish, whereby finely adjusted water jets can do the cutting job that until now has been done with a knife by “the girl filleting the fish,” says Magnar Pedersen. “It’s just a case of supporting this technology development until we get a breakthrough.”

Five-year research programme

Increased profitability in the cod sector is the heading for a five-year research programme that the Norwegian Seafood Research Fund (FHF) is financing for the period 2011-2015. Nofima.no has links to 26 different reports, lectures and articles connected to the programme. The research in the cod programme is organised in five work packages:

1. Political and institutional regulations

2. The sector’s framework conditions and regulations

3. Economic framework conditions in Norway

4. Market-based harvesting

5. Environmental challenges and profitability conditions

The objective of the research programme is to develop increased knowledge about why the cod sector has over time had weak profitability. Such knowledge will provide the basis for proposals of measures that can contribute to increasing the profitability in the cod sector.

 Capture-based aquaculture  

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