Global demand for Norwegian aquaculture research

The world's population is expected to top 9 billion by 2040. Providing enough food for everyone will be a global challenge. Aquaculture -- and Norwegian know-how -- can play an important role in meeting this need.


Norwegian researchers and aquaculture equipment manufacturers have joined forces to make an efficient industry even more efficient, by improving fish farm conditions and fish welfare. Norwegian authorities are encouraging this initiative by adapting regulations and providing necessary funding. One result has been the establishment of the research-based innovation centre called CREATE.

Salmon farming is one of the most efficient ways to produce protein for human consumption: Researchers at Akvaforsk, a Norwegian aquaculture research institution, have shown that the production of today's farmed salmon is twice as efficient as chicken -- which is generally considered the most efficiently lproduced meat overall.

In the late 1970s, fish farming represented roughly one per cent of the total meat production in Norway. Today, it represents 70 per cent. This major expansion is the result of close cooperation between industry, researchers, and the government. Norway’s landscape is also an important player: the country's deep, protected fjords provide a superb environment for growing fish.

Norwegian research with global significance
CREATE was one of 14 special cooperative programmes selected by the Research Council of Norway in 2006 to be a Centre of Research-Based Innovation (in Norwegian, Senter for forskningsdrevet innovasjon, abbreviated SFI). This designation means the centre is given a steady flow of basic funding of MNOK 10 million per year for 8 years. That amount is matched and more by participating industry.

CREATE's objective is to supply the Norwegian aquaculture industry with new technology and knowledge that can be used both at home and abroad. The goal is to enable Norwegian aquaculture equipment manufacturers to continue supplying global markets over the long term. One focus is developing knowledge that will be useful in building new technologies to help young fish grow to maturity.

Arne Fredheim Fish welfare yields higher profitability
Producing healthy and high-quality farmed fish is crucial in enabling Norwegian fish farmers to compete in the global marketplace. For this reason, researchers have set environmental aspects of fish farming at the very top of their agenda. Fish welfare has also become a highly important topic for the Norwegian fish farming industry. If fish are "happy", they grow well and taste good. Understanding fish behaviour and needs enables researchers to develop equipment that will enhance fish welfare. This kind of interdisciplinary interplay -- between engineers who design equipment, and biologists who understand fish behaviour -- results in innovative designs that also translate into business profits for cooperating industries.

”We see a clear connection between fish welfare and financial profit,” said Research Centre Director Arne Fredheim, whose special research area is factors affecting the quality of farmed fish.

Control through sensors
CREATE is using sensors on experimental fish to measure how much they move and their cardiac activity. If the fish are stressed, they tend to move around more. Fish movement may also provide information about water temperatures and currents. This information allows researchers to determine the best time to feed the fish, even though this varies among species. Some fish species need feeding once a day, others four times. In general, fish need a good oxygen supply when eating.

Equipment that can monitor fish behaviour already exists, but it is somewhat rudimentary. Research by CREATE scientists should change that.

Illustrasjonsbilde/FOTO Escapes may threaten wild salmon
Fish farming is not without its environmental problems. The three biggest are fish farm escapees, disease and nutrient pollution, all of which are being investigated by CREATE researchers. Typically, only about 1 % of all farmed fish escape, but that still represents a substantial number when you consider that Norway produces more than 150 million salmon a year. Escapees are a concern because they can spread disease, reduce a wild stock's reproductive success, and dilute its genetic stock.

This last is a particular problem in Norway because it is home to the most genetically diverse Atlantic salmon population on the planet. Of 452 different populations originally found in Norway's wild salmon rivers, 10 percent have already been lost, with another 32 % under threat from a number of different environmental problems. The goal is to eliminate these threats, including those posed by farmed fish.

Yet another problem is fouling. The nets in the cages stiffen in salt water and provide fertile conditions for various plants and organisms. The denser the growth, the less water that flows through the mesh, reducing the oxygen supply for the fish, which leads poor fish welfare.

Stable conditions in deeper waters
There is increasing interest in moving fish farms from the shoreline to deeper waters, where the water quality is better. Temperatures in the open sea are more stable than near the shore, and the oxygen supply and the water flow is better. However, it is common in Norway to take advantage of the shelter offered by the country's topography, and to place net cages in the shelter of an islet.

Other countries don't share the same benefits offered by Norway's topography, so applying Norwegian technology abroad results in other demands. In the Mediterranean, for example, weather conditions are fairly stable, with only an occasional storm. Here, the solution could be to lower the cage deeper into the water during rough periods. That would reduce the risk of the cage tearing loose during a storm. The Norwegian coast, on the other hand, is exposed and has rough weather over longer periods of time. Here, keeping a net cage deep in the water will result in difficult operating conditions. This varying environmental factors require adaptations in technologies.

Illustrasjonsbilde/FOTO International differences
When marine fish farming was first introduced in the early 1970s, Norway was one of the pioneers. The first species used was trout, but salmon gradually became more common. Norwegian researchers are working to develop a viable cod farming industry, which is now gradually expanding, but salmon remains the most sought-after species.

On average, each Norwegian employee produces 300-400 tonnes of fish. In other countries this figure is usually under 100 tonnes per employee. The difference is due to different work cultures, the high skill level of Norwegian workers, and more extensive use of technology in Norway. The Norwegian aquaculture industry’s access to research and technology is also an important factor. On the other hand, the industry has a hard time recruiting new staff because young people do not find aquaculture exciting enough as a career. The aquaculture industry today is mainly located in rural areas, which means that migration to urban areas is a problem forat to the industry.

Growing markets
Norwegian equipment manufacturers export about 30-40% of their products. The largest market is Chile, which produces approximately the same amount of salmon and trout as Norway. However, the infrastructure in Chile is very different from Norway, so logistics poses a challenge there. Several other countries are in the market for Norwegian equipment: Scotland, Ireland, and Canada also farm marine fish. The USA would like to expand its rather modest fish farming industry, and Asia is in the process of developing marine fish farming. This is particularly true in China, as it faces a rapidly growing need for food supply. The only problem is that large parts of Asia have very unstable sea temperatures, which is a challenge for fish farming. Some Mediterranean countries, such as Greece and Turkey, are also interested in intensifying their aquaculture activities.

Last updated 21 April 2009


Name of Centre:
Centre for Research-based Innovation in Aquaculture Technology – CREATE

Host institution:
SINTEF Fisheries and Aquaculture

Research Centre Manager:
Arne Fredheim, SINTEF Fisheries and Aquaculture

The centre is focused on 10 research areas: the reduction of escapes and nutrient pollution; fish welfare; monitoring and control of water quality; sea loads; reduction and control of fouling; handling net cages; feeding systems; sorting and handling live fish; control and optimizing of production; traceability.

NTNU, The Institute of Marine Research, Akvaforsk, AKVASmart, Helgeland Plast, Egersund Net, Erling Haug, Ørsta Aqua Systems.

Total budget:
A total budget of NOK 160 million over 8 years, including funding from partners and SINTEF.

Postal address:
SINTEF Fisheries and Acquaculture
NO-7465 Trondheim

Offices and laboratories:
Brattørkaia 17b, Trondheim, Norway

Contact person:
Research Centre Director Arne Fredheim
Tel: (+47) 934 59 721

Centres for Research-based Innovation

The establishment of the Centres for Research-based Innovation demonstrates Norway’s long-term priority of encouraging R&D in the business sector. NTNU was awarded 3 of the 14 centres that were established in 2006, and is a major partner in 7 other centres.

The main objective for the centres is to enhance the capability of the business sector to innovate, by focusing on long-term research based on close alliances between research-intensive enterprises and prominent research groups. In the long run, however, this basic research will also benefit small and middle-sized enterprises that lack their own research departments.

The total budget for the 14 CRIs is expected to reach roughly NOK 2 billion over the next eight years, of which the Research Council of Norway will contribute NOK 1 billion. Host institutions and their partners are expected to contribute another NOK 500 million or more.