Kloegga gjør seg klar til å hente levende torsk som har stått 30 døgn i ventemerd. Foto: Bjørn Tore Forberg/Nofima

Revolutionizing a 1000-year-old tradition

For the first time in history cod of “live quality” is hanging on the drying racks.

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Halvor and Helge get in a great mood when they see fish from capture-based aquaculture on the drying racks.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing the quality of stockfish based on cod from capture-based aquaculture. This is the future. We will get this fish on the menu of Ristorante Frosio in Bergamo in Italy,” says Halvor Hansen of Halvors Tradisjonsfisk AS.

Along with the food research institute Nofima and Lofoten company Nic. Haug in Ballstad, he is part of a research project involving live storage of cod.

Both Helge Haug from Nic. Haug and Halvor Hansen are pleased that white quality cod originating from live storage is hanging on the drying racks to become stockfish. The pair already has soaked quality stockfish on the menu at Ristorante Frosio, which has one star in the prestigious Michelin Guide. The quality is becoming even better thanks to live storage. This has never happened before.

A third player is fishing boat owner André Reinholdtsen from Myre in Vesterålen. Reinholdtsen has collaborated with Nofima on capture-based aquaculture for a decade. He is now supplying top quality cod via Ballstad and Tromsø to Italy.

Modern 1000-year-olds

“Halvor Hansen and Helge Haug are both extremely preoccupied with ensuring that everything they produce is of the most outstanding quality. It is very exciting that in collaboration we are modernizing a 1000-year-old product through concentrating on cod that is captured and kept alive right up to the time of production,” says Nofima Senior Scientist Kjell Midling.

He also manages the National Centre for Capture-based Aquaculture. The research on cod from capture-based aquaculture is being performed in close collaboration with the Norwegian Seafood Research Fund (FHF).

“The modern version of Norwegian live storage of cod came in 1987 when Knut and Jens Arild at Alta Sjøfarm started with capture-based aquaculture of cod caught in Danish seines, fed whole herring and transported directly to the fish market by truck,” says Midling.

Since then, Nofima and the Institute of Marine Research have engaged in research involving capture-based aquaculture.

Double 50 % bonus

“Today we have a solid Danish seine environment from Lofoten/Vesterålen to Båtsfjord in Finnmark that practices capture-based aquaculture from the most hectic cod fishery in the spring for sale to the industries at times of the years when there is little access to raw materials,” says Midling.

He provides an example of a fishing boat owner keeping 100 tonnes of cod captured in April alive until June by practicing capture-based aquaculture. If the minimum price per kilo of gutted/headed cod is NOK 15, the fish would be worth NOK 1 million if they were delivered in April.

In practice, it has proven to be the case that in July it is possible to achieve the same price for round as for gutted/headed fish, consequently NOK 1.5 million. In addition, there is a bonus for capture-based aquaculture of cod of a 50 % increase in quota. As such, it is possible to achieve a double 50 % bonus.

Minister’s target

“In recent years 700 – 1500 tonnes of cod have been moved from the hectic spring season to the autumn. This involves reducing some of the pressure during the hectic fishery of spawning cod in spring, and at the same time it is possible to supply quality fish to the industry in a period with limited access to raw materials,” says Midling.

“But there is still a way to go to achieve the target set by the Minister of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs, Lisbeth Berg-Hansen, of 30,000 tonnes of cod transferred to capture-based aquaculture from the spring until the autumn.”

Midling points to plans for increased live storage of fish in the Danish seine fleet, trawler fleet and the coastal fleet. In collaboration with the Institute of Marine Research, trials have been carried out involving live storage in the long-line fleet and extremely promising trials have been carried out by the coastal fleet using two-chamber fish pots in its cod fishery. Overall, this can bring the industry closer to the Minister of Fisheries and Coastal Affair’s ambitious quality target.

Rejoicing in white stockfish

Helge Haug, managing director of fishing industry company Nic. Haug in Ballstad, says he is rejoicing when he sees the white quality of the split cod which in April he hung on the drying racks from live storage on the fishing boats “Ballstadøy” and “Kloegga”.

“We have previously supplied live-captured cod to the fresh fish market and have received extremely good feedback. We have traditionally split our production three ways; salted cod, stockfish and fresh fish. Owing to the market situation salted cod has reduced while fresh has increased. For more than a decade we have had good cooperation with Halvors Tradisjonsfisk supplying split cod and stockfish fillet. All the focus is on quality. What is now completely new and exciting is that the stockfish is produced from cod that was kept alive after capture and transferred to capture-based aquaculture,” says Haug.

Wants bonuses for more

Nic. Haug has long had plans for capture-based aquaculture of cod. But Helge Haug believes the risk to date has been too high. He concentrates on purchasing cod from other live storage fishing boats.

The company is planning its own sea cage to have a buffer of live cod. The focus now is on transferring the live captured cod from the hectic cod fishery before Easter to sea cages until the climate sets a deadline in April/May for hanging out cod to dry.

“Bonus quotas are currently given to those who catch fish and keep them in their own sea cages. I believe a bonus should also be given to those who supply live cod, for instance a 10 percent increase in quotas. It is important to attract as many as possible and in this way contribute to raising the quality of Norwegian white fish to the markets,” says Haug.

Quality going in wrong direction

This is a point of view shared by collaboration partner Halvor Hansen of Halvors Tradisjonsfisk. Step by step his company has reached an annual turnover of more than NOK 6 million.

He has now gone that whole way from supplying high quality to the domestic market to soaking quality stockfish and exporting it to Italy, where the response has been extremely positive.

“This year we have experienced record quantities of cod that were to be landed within a short space of time. This coincided with a crisis in the markets and bait in the cod. In times of crisis we should pay extremely close attention to quality but this year has been opposite. We still have a long way to go,” says Hansen.

Danish seines and fish pots

Coastal fishing boat owner André Reinholdtsen has supplied six tonnes of the cod that will now be tested in the markets Halvor Hansen is targeting, including Italy.

At present he is participating in the spring cod fishery in Finnmark with his combined Danish seine and well boat “Kloegga” (23 m). He is limiting his Danish seine catch to 6-8 tonnes in order to treat the cod as gently as possible on the way up from the seabed to the tanks on board the boat and then to capture-based aquaculture in a leased sea cage in Tufjord.

“In collaboration with the Institute of Marine Research, we carried out an extremely successful trial in the spring involving the use of fish pots. The cod receives extremely gentle handling in the pots. It is not hauled up rapidly and can recuperate during the entire process. We achieved an average catch of 70 kg per pot. It may be possible to increase the catch to 100 kg. In comparison with the long-line catch, we used about half the amount of bait for the same quantum. We also avoid our own expenses,” says Reinholdtsen.

He believes boats as small as 30-35 foot will be able to fish for live cod using fish pots as an alternative to longlines or nets. “The use of pots will be able to make a significant contribution to the quantity of live stored quality cod.”

Opting for hybrid

He is collaborating with SINTEF on the building of a 50 foot boat for hybrid operation for fishing with pots and autoline in coastal waters.

“In the main it involves live storage, but we need autoline in order to take by-catch species and be able to operate in a profitable manner when the conditions are not suitable for pots. I have a strong belief that capture-based aquaculture will strengthen the Norwegian fishing industry. But this is reliant on work involving the product in the markets. In order to be able to justify the additional costs of capture-based aquaculture, the price to the fisherman must be NOK 5 plus for live fish,” says Reinholdtsen.

Capture-based aquaculture  

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