Is Norwegian farmed salmon sustainable?
All food production has a footprint and leave some mark on the environment around them. Thankfully, thanks to continuous focus on improvement and innovation, Norwegian farmed salmon is one of the most sustainable animal protein sources around.
As the world’s leading salmon-farming nation, producing more than half of the world’s farmed salmon, we know what we are doing and take our responsibilities – to fish and food – seriously. We believe sustainability is not a destination you arrive at: It means constantly striving for better, solving challenges along the way and always looking for ways to improve.
Since the beginning of our modern aquaculture adventure over 50 years ago, Norwegian salmon farmers have been pushing boundaries and learning plenty of lessons along the way. Norwegian salmon farming is a continuously evolving industry, considered at the forefront of the technological evolution in modern food production. This means not just producing more salmon – but making sure we do it in the most responsible and sustainable way.
What we mean by sustainability
Sustainability is more than carbon footprint. A sustainable industry is one that meets our current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In addition to natural resources, we also need social and economic resources.
The fact that Norwegian salmon producers are top of the Coller FAIRR Protein Producer Index is a great example of how aquaculture in Norway strives for best practise at all stages of production . The report looks at how the world’s largest publicly listed producers of meat, dairy and seafood perform on various risk factors relating to sustainability.
The Norwegian success with near eliminating the use of antibiotics in salmon farming is but one of the examples highlighted in the report.
Why farmed Norwegian salmon is good for you – and for the future of food
An ever-growing world population poses massive strain on our current food production systems. According to UN projections we will need to produce 70 percent more food to meet dietary needs in 2050 . To ensure a food secure future for all, the fisheries and aquaculture sector is key – and as a major seafood nation, Norway has a special responsibility to promote and pioneer sustainable practises in seafood production.
Norway has been farming salmon for more than 50 years, and in that time, we have gone from the most basic of net cages all the way to installations at the forefront of technological innovations. It has been and still is a continuous journey of tackling challenges and finding novel solutions to lower footprints, increase yields and improving fish welfare.
Norwegian aquaculture technology is being exported across the world, contributing to innovation and potential for more sustainable fish farming in other ocean nations. Our desire to promote responsible ocean harvesting is led from the highest level, with the Norwegian prime minister heading up the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy.
Carbon footprint of Norwegian salmon
Sustainability is an umbrella term that drives everything we do to ensure our salmon farming is responsible. It isn’t just about carbon footprint – but that is a big part of it.
Farmed Norwegian salmon is a very resource efficient type of animal farming, meaning the need for water and feed needed to produce edible meat is less than for most other proteins. Today, we only need around 1.15 kg of feed to produce 1 kg of salmon. Add to that the very low needs for fresh water and space in production, and salmon comes out top of class in carbon footprint terms in the animal protein category.
As a meal choice, Norwegian ocean-farmed salmon has a lower carbon footprint than both beef and pork. You can have salmon for dinner every day of the week, and still have a smaller climate footprint than just one meal of beef.
But our commitment to sustainability is also about the way we look after our fish, crack down on escapes to minimise the impact on the wider environment and how we source our feed.
Like most forms of food production, the Norwegian aquaculture industry also has environmental footprints. On a local level, emissions entail droppings of feed and feces beneath the fish farms.
This is why the seabeds beneath all fish farms in Norway are subject to environmental inspections by independent third parties. According to the monitoring program, more than 90 percent of all fish farms Norway are documented to have good or very good environmental conditions. By regulation, all farms in Norway are also subject to a fallowing (no farming) period after each farming cycle. This is in place to allow for a recovery period for the natural seabed.
Looking after fish, fauna and fisherfolk
Fish is key to Norway’s economy – and salmon is a key species – so our focus on efficient and environmentally-sound farming practices is not just about delivering a healthy meal. It is also about our own economy and ensuring our salmon farms remain productive for future generations, generating jobs and bringing life to rural communities along our long coastline. To put this into perspective, in Norway, of the 69bn NOK value to the Norwegian GDP generated by the aquaculture industry in 2019, 33bn was generated by supporting industries.
Jobs within the aquaculture sector has grown steadily as the industry has developed in Norway. Between 2016 and 2018 the number of people employed in out aquaculture industry has grown by 28 percent, and roughly 8 300 people work in the Norwegian aquaculture industry today. And for each of these jobs in the production chain, no less than three more jobs on average are created in the supporting value-chains. (Data from the SINTEF value creation study of NOrwegian seafood 2004-2019- Norwegian only.)
Sustainability in the supply chain – and beyond
Responsible farming isn’t something that ends with us: our farms have a wider impact on the world and using our power as the world’s largest producer of farmed salmon, we have taken steps to reduce our own impact and push others to do the same.
What our salmon eat is one area which is in continuously evolving and we expect to continue to see major improvements in the feed for farmed Norwegian salmon, with the introduction of novel and sustainable ingredients such as algae and insects.
All soya in Norwegian salmon feed has been purely certifiably non-deforestation soya for years, but in 2021 Norwegian farmers and feed producers announced they would go one step further and would no longer buy soya from suppliers that sell deforestation soya elsewhere. Our feed is also completely non-GMO, free from antibiotics, and marine ingredients are sourced from certifiably sustainable sources and strictly controlled for unwanted substances.
We are making the industry more sustainable too
Norway was the first – and remains the largest – Atlantic salmon farming nation. And we have remained pioneers, spending millions each year from a dedicated research fund to improve the efficiency of our farms and the wellbeing of our fish. We have learned from our mistakes, and continue to look for solutions to challenges.
And whilst we know Norwegian salmon won’t save the world, it is most certainly an important part of the solution, be it as a sustainable, tasty and nutritious protein - or as an industry promoting responsible aquaculture practises and technological innovations which will enable the shift to more sustainable food systems globally.