Norway has been in the vanguard of aquaculture for decades. The focus has traditionally been on salmon but there is also recognition of the immense commercial potential of farmed cod.
One aquaculture player pursuing this opportunity is Trondheim-headquartered Norcod. The company promises a stable quality of cod nurtured in its natural habitat and plans to ramp up production to an industrial scale over the next few years.
Cod is one of the healthiest protein sources available with a feed conversion ratio (FCR) of 1:1.1. “Lean cod is basically a fantastic product,” said Norcod chief executive, Rune Eriksen. Farmed fish grow considerably faster than their wild counterparts and the goal is to deliver fresh, white meat year-round.
No cod is being farmed industrially anywhere in the world today. There are other players farming cod in Norway but on a limited scale. “Now it's possible. We have the chance to write history as the world supplier of farmed cod,” Eriksen said. The project will span the entire production cycle from fry through harvesting, processing and distribution.
There have been previous attempts to farm cod in Norway but the last push from 2004 to 2012 ran aground due to fundamental mistakes and low biology knowledge. The only existing providers of cod fry in sufficient quantity are both based in Norway. Genetics has experienced quantum leaps since the early 2000’s achieved by individually selecting the best fish to improve characteristics and disease resistance. Broodstock are now in their sixth generation. “It's a completely different fish and a highly stable product,” Eriksen said.
The current cod generation has a smaller head resulting in much higher yields. Wild cod’s head can account for up to 40% of body mass. Nofima has been at the forefront of this research since the beginning of the cod farming research program in 2002. The program was recently extended in the national budget for 2020.
Eriksen is proud to be heading up the endeavor to build a trusted brand rooted in responsible methods and transparency. Norcod will apply the same principles of ecological salmon farming in Norway including, for instance, limitations on the number of fish in each net, new cages designed to hinder escapes and optimized feeding systems. He adds that one advantage of cod is that you can use more by-product. Norcod aims to utilize 100% of the fish including offcuts, which embeds the company firmly in the circular economy amid the drive to minimize waste.
Two facilities in Mausund, northwest of Trondheim, are being upgraded. Its first batch of 260,000 fry is in production and ready to be transferred to the sea in December 2019. A further batch of juveniles is slated to arrive the same month. Norcod is targeting an annual capacity of 9,000 tons in 2021 and a year-round supply of 25,000 tons in 2025.