Grand opening of broodfish facility of the future in Salten
Investors, customers, business partners and people from the local area came together for the opening ceremony in Sørfjorden in May.
“It is companies such as this that make people want to stay”, commented Kjell Børge Freiberg, the Norwegian Minister of Petroleum and Energy (Progress Party), who had been given the honour of counting down to the official opening of the facility. The opening of the high-tech broodfish facility was marked by the firing of blank cannon rounds, which rang out across the fjord.
The first spade was put into the ground to mark the start of work on the Salten facility in 2016. The first fish arrived in November 2017, and one year later the entire facility was complete. From the summer of 2019, the facility will be fully operational with the capacity to produce 150 million eggs annually, which is the equivalent of approximately half a million tonnes of harvested salmon – produced in an environment with the highest standards of biosecurity available. The facility will produce eggs from broodfish that spend their entire life in tanks on land, which means the company is in complete control over all environmental parameters.
“The health situation in the open sea and the annual variations in environmental conditions make it challenging to produce salmon eggs from fish that have spent their entire lives in open cages”, explained Stig Joar Krogli, General Manager of the site, when he took Ferd’s owner, Johan H. Andresen, its CEO Morten Borge, and the Minister of Petroleum and Energy, Kjell Børge Freiberg, on a tour of the facility.
“We have the equipment for the task here. In this room, we have full control over egg production”, explained Stig Joar Krogli when they were in the plant room, which is equipped with a range of powerful heat pumps that control the entire facility. “We have all four seasons here”, he commented. “And if one of the heat pumps goes on strike, another one takes over”, he explained.
According to Stig Joar Krogli, the philosophy is simple.
“If we are kind to the fish, they are kind to us. And this fish is perfect!” he exclaimed pointing to a tank containing 12 tonnes of salmon each weighing 6 kg. There was, however, a room in which Ferd’s owner and CEO and the government minister were not allowed to set foot – namely the room containing the breeding nucleus.
“Our breeding nucleus is our gold mine and our future. Only the Norwegian Food Safety Authority and vets are allowed in there”, commented Krogli firmly but cheerfully.
Avoiding illness through DNA analysis
Genetic engineering essentially involves putting the theory of evolution into a closely monitored system where markers for different characteristics are identified using careful DNA analysis. This allows individuals with the strongest genetic profiles to be selectively bred for continual improvement.
“We are reducing illness, using less chemicals and antibiotics, and improving growth, welfare standards and survival. This is an answer to the need to produce food for an ever-increasing population”, concluded Jan-Emil Johannessen, Head of the Benchmark Genetics division, during his talk to the opening ceremony’s attendees.
He also showed that producing seafood has a minimal impact on the environment relative to the meat industry, which is in itself a good reason to invest in the industry for a greener future.
The art of genetics
Animals and plants have been selectively bred for years. The problem is that they are often only bred for one or two characteristics – for example growth to maximise profitability – and without concern for what is best for the animal or the environment. But fish farming has a considerable advantage.
“Fish have an incredibly large number of offspring, meaning it is much easier to select and breed the next generation”, explains Jan-Emil Johannessen.
Until 2000, fish farmers had to rely on the appearance of their fish. Family breeding programs were then introduced, which were followed by QTL selection, which involves selecting fish on the basis of a small number of genes that determine an inheritable characteristic. In 2014 the industry started, with Benchmark leading the way, to use genomic selection. In simple terms, genomic selection represents a more holistic method than QTL and is more suited to characteristics that are managed by multiple genes.
“We breed fish that do not become sick, and over the long term we will probably be able to breed fish that are resistant to lice and other diseases”, explained Jan Emil Johannessen.
An investment in a sustainable future
More than thirty years ago when Ferd and Johan H. Andresen Senior invested in the salmon industry, which was at that point struggling, the world was a very different place. Three years ago, Ferd ventured into the industry once again when it took a stake in Benchmark, in what was the biggest ever investment in broodfish and salmon egg production in the history of Norway. The grand opening of the new facility was thus a big day for Ferd’s owner Johan H. Andresen, its CEO Morten Borge and the Ferd Capital team of Kristian Eikre, Danjal Haaland Danjalsson and Tone Bjørnstad Hanstad.
“No-one has ever lost as much money investing in this industry as my father. It was not like him at all, but he gave up”, commented Johan H. Andresen in his speech during the opening ceremony, adding that we have not had the perfect cure for disease – until today.
“If my father were here today, he would say ‘We’re back’”, commented Johan H. Andresen with a big smile on his face before stepping down from the stage.
Sustainable seafood industry
Benchmark’s ability to focus on innovation, sustainability and profitability while also bringing together various different disciplines represents the most important reason for significant investment in the seafood industry to be safer than it was thirty years ago.
Ferd Capital’s Tone Bjørnstad Hanstad was in high spirits and seemed sure that the right investments had been made. “The seafood industry is struggling to grow, and I think that the key to finding solutions for growth lies largely in genetic developments. With a bio-secure environment for the broodfish and eggs, the salmon get the best possible start in life – they are free of disease and parasites”, he commented at the event in Salten.
Tone Bjørnstad Hanstad also explained that healthy fish and good welfare standards have a direct relation to Benchmark’s bottom line and future growth.
“When sustainability is directly connected to a company’s core operations, there can be zero greenwashing. I believe that the Salten facility will make an important contribution to the sustainable development of this industry”, he stated.
Read more about Benchmark and its genetic technology in the latest edition of Ferd Magazine (only available in Norwegian)