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  Yahoo News 6 Feb 07
After salmon, Norway's fish farms set their sights on cod
by Francis Kohn

PlanetArk 7 Feb 07
Can Fish Farming Save Depleted Cod?
Story by Simon Rabinovitch

LONDON - Cod, a mainstay food from Britain to Brazil, all but disappeared from Canadian waters in the 1990s after years of overfishing, and scientists say a similar fate awaits the shoals of the North Sea.

But fish farms are putting cod back in North Sea water, at least within enclosed sea pens, easing the strain on wild fisheries and, fish farmers say, protecting a species that would otherwise be fished into extinction.

Off the Shetland Islands in northeast Scotland, Johnson Sustainable Seafoods is providing what it says is a model of good farming practice.

Given more space to roam around their pens and fed a natural diet, the Shetland cod farm has won the backing of Britain's Organic Food Federation.

"Fish farming can be the saviour," said Karol Rzepkowski, managing director of the company. "It takes a little bit of left-field thinking, having the right ethic and the right ethos, and it can be done right," Rzepkowski said.


The Shetland farm expects to harvest 2,500 tonnes of cod this year and aims to double its output in 2008.

Other producers include Pan Fish in Norway, which recently acquired Marine Harvest to become the world's leading fish farming group. Much more is needed, though, if cod farming is help redress the decline in the wild population.

Globally, the wild catch has plunged to about 1 million tonnes a year from 4 million in the 1960s. Stocks in northern waters, especially the Barents Sea, remain strong, but the World Wildlife Federation and others warn that overfishing is changing that.

Experts say it will be a long time before farmed cod production rivals the wild catch.

"I don't think at this stage we are anywhere close to that," said Barrie Deas, chief executive of the Britain's National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations (NFFO).

Farmed cod will also be hard pressed to match the popularity of farmed salmon, more than one million tonnes of which were consumed last year, say aquaculture analysts at Norway's Kontali Analyse.

Salmon is better suited to aquaculture and its distinctive pink hue offers a marketing advantage over cod's white anonymity, Kontali Analyse noted.


For now, attracting more attention than production figures is Johnson's claim that it is raising the world's first organic, sustainable cod.

One staunch opponent of the aquaculture industry is Bruce Sandison, chairman of the Salmon Farm Protest Group, based in Scotland.

Barely pausing for breath, he reels off a list of problems: diseases have spread in crowded sea pens; farmed fish have escaped and damaged wild stocks; the farmed product is less healthful for consumers.

"The same thing is going to happen with cod," he said, pointing out that a disease called Francisella decimated about half the cod in a Norwegian fish farm in 2005. "What we're playing with here is a wild species that has existed on the planet since probably the end of the last ice age. We're pushing that towards extinction, and we're going to replace it with a totally artificial species."

Questions have also been raised about the sustainability of fish farming.

It takes a huge cull of smaller wild fish, about four tonnes worth, to feed every single tonne of the captive population.

The Shetland farm has found a way around this problem. All its cod are fed with the "off-cuts" -- scraps destined to be discarded -- of wild fish already caught for human consumption.

"I doubt if that would be practical if the kind of expansion that is envisaged takes place," said Deas of Britain's National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations.

Aware of this limitation, researchers are beginning to consider alternative food sources, raising a distant prospect of truly sustainable fish farming.

And if organic farms are also successful in curtailing harm to the broader environment, aquaculture could win over more of its critics.

"There would not be a lot left for us to moan about," said Tom Pickerell, a fisheries policy officer at the World Wildlife Fund-UK.


In the meantime, Johnson's Shetland cod has been able to lure a growing number of customers.

Sold under the No Catch brand name, it is available in hundreds of Tesco and Sainsbury's supermarkets across Britain. "It allows people to enjoy cod but without having any sort of guilty conscience about where that cod is coming from," said Joanna Keohane, spokeswoman for Tesco.

The avoidance of guilt is clearly a powerful influence in some markets: British shoppers are happy to pay a premium for the farmed cod over its wild brethren.

Yahoo News 6 Feb 07
After salmon, Norway's fish farms set their sights on cod
by Francis Kohn

TROMSOE, Norway (AFP) - After perfecting the art of salmon farming, Norwegians now hope to repeat the success with the trickier cod, which has been fished to near extinction in some parts of the world.

"The success of the farmed salmon is part of the reason for the optimism we see in cod farming today," says Jens Oestli of the Norwegian Institute of Fisheries and Aquaculture Research in Tromsoe in northern Norway.

This Scandinavian nation began salmon farming in the 1960s. It now exports three times more farmed salmon than wild salmon, attaining 383,085 tonnes in 2005. Cod farmers are now gambling on a similar boom.

In parts of Canada and the United States, restrictions have been placed on cod fishing for more than 10 years due to the depletion of stocks. In December the European Union slashed cod quotas by up to 20 percent due to fears that overfishing would lead to extinction.

While Norway is not a member of the EU and its cod stocks are not threatened, its fish farmers are keen to supply a hungry market, after overcoming initial fears about high production costs.

"With the drop in total allowable catches we have seen the last years, this convinced investors that there is a market for much more cod than what is available," explains Oestli.

But cod -- a staple in Britain's much-loved fish and chips or dried and salted as in many traditional southern European dishes -- is much more complex to breed than salmon.

"Salmon is very simple compared to cod. It has a larva 100 times bigger. For cod we have to have live feed, and that is a science in itself," says Atle Mortensen, the head of the centre's breeding programme.

Cod farms began popping up along Norway's west coast in 2000, and while the country is the most important player on the market the industry is still in the early stages.

"We are in the beginning of the cod farm. We do not know everything ... there is much to learn and study," says Margrethe Esaiassen, a researcher at the Tromsoe centre says, noting that the death rate of codlings remains high. "But we are advancing fast," she adds.

About 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Tromsoe, nestled at the foot of a lush snow-covered fjord beyond the Arctic Circle, a large hangar houses one of the institute's production facilities.

Inside is a typical laboratory with microscopes, a bevy of centrifuges and basins of different sizes. The unmistakable odour is the only indication of what actually goes on here.

"These are the lucky ones, the survivors," says Mortensen as he points with pride at the adult cod splashing around in a greenish basin. "The juveniles, that's really our main problem," he says as if he were talking about a bunch of delinquents.

"The mortality rate is tremendous, about 90 percent just for the larva. But it may not be very different from nature," he explains, noting that there is a bit of margin as each female produces millions of eggs at a time.

Researchers stumbled to find the best nutritional diet for the codlings after a 20-day incubation period. The breakthrough came with a mix of rotifer, a microscopic plankton, for the first three weeks and then artemia, a small crustacean. The diet has done wonders.

"We had to adjust the protocols and we are still experimenting but we are improving every year," according to Mortensen. In 2003, the Tromsoe centre successfully produced the first "family" of cod, a cycle which takes three years.

But other problems remain to be resolved: some fish are deformed with pointy backs, some become cannibals if they are underfed and some yield an unpleasant mushy texture rather than the usual prized firm, white flesh.

Another hitch according to researcher Torbjoern Tobiassen is that farmed males become sexually active too early -- at the age of one year instead of three years in the wild.

"We're aiming to slow down this process because a fish that spawns is not suitable for sale, it is too slim because he spends a lot of energy," he says.

One aspect that has not been an issue is the taste -- consumers cannot tell the difference between farmed and wild cod. "People will have a different perception when they know in advance if it is a farmed fish or a wild fish. But during blind testing, people cannot tell the difference," insists Oestli.

Mortensen is convinced that cod farming will flourish in coming years, and has the numbers to back him up.

In 2000, 1,000 tonnes of farmed cod were produced in Norway, a number that surged to 7,000 in 2005 and which, according to forecasts, could total 10,000 tonnes in 2006.

"This is going to explode. Production could be limitless and it will be up to the market to see how much it can swallow," he says.

Related articles on Global: marine issues
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