The plane truth: Norway salmon sector must reduce air transport
Improvements on farms are welcome but can’t compensate for emissions caused by flying whole fresh fish abroad, claims fish farmer Roger Hofseth
Converting fish farm feed barges from diesel to electric power is a good thing, but the CO2 savings are just a drop in the ocean compared to the emissions reductions that could be made by reducing the volume of salmon air freighted to export destinations, a Norwegian producer says.
Roger Hofseth is managing director of Hofseth International, which grows salmonids at six farms in the Storfjord, Norway’s fifth-longest fjord, and slaughters them at its own processing plant in Ålesund. It also carries out secondary processing.
Speaking at a conference in Solstrand, Norway last week, Hofseth turned the spotlight on sustainability, explaining that the company had invested in a new processing line at its slaughterhouse, and spent NOK 1.3 billion on Hofseth Biocare in Misund, which utilises the residual raw material.
He said farmers often boast that they have electrified a feed barge, which he said was desirable but offset little of the CO2 produced by flying salmon to foreign markets.
You can brag as much as you want about how sustainable we are, but in the big picture this means nothing when you keep putting the fish on the plane
“We at Hofseth have electrified around 80%, and if you look at our ESG (environment, social, governance) report, we saved 632 tonnes of CO2. But to be completely honest, this represents 68 tonnes of air freight. You can brag as much as you want about how sustainable we are, but in the big picture this means nothing when you keep putting the fish on the plane.”
Hofseth pointed out that the climate footprint of salmon has changed to the extent that chicken now has a smaller footprint.
“Much is due to the high mortality rate the industry has had, and if we fly our fish to the United States or China, then our climate footprint ends up on the same level as cattle.”
2 million tonnes of CO2
He referred to figures from Sjømat Norge (Norwegian Seafood Council) which show that last year 363,000 tonnes of whole fish including salmon were exported by air. Hofseth wants to see more producers carry out secondary processing of salmon in Norway before it is exported, like his own company does. It has three factories with the capacity to produce 35,000 tonnes a year of fresh salmon and trout portions and fillets, 33,000 tonnes of frozen portions in bags and multipacks, and 16,000 tonnes of speciality smoked and sliced salmon and trout products.
“There are two million tonnes of CO2 just on the fish that have been flown, and then the fillets and all that come on top. The fish were flown whole (head on gutted) to the United States and elsewhere in the world and no one makes use of the remaining raw materials. In order for us at Hofseth to become the world’s most sustainable company, it is precisely these things that I must address,” he said.
Hofseth said the Norwegian salmon sector must have the courage to address issues such as the environmental impact of air freight.
“Take and fix the simple things. Like air freight, for example, which is a horror story in terms of sustainability. Around 60% of all our turnover was air freighted (fresh fish) some time ago, and today this has decreased to 2.9%.”
Speaking to Fish Farming Expert’s Norwegian sister site, Kyst.no, Hofseth also addressed the challenge of sea lice and is looking at production both in closed cages in the sea, and on land, but sees improved sustainability as an equally important target.
“The second challenge is less talked about, but here we see great opportunities to reduce the footprint,” he said, and pointed to small and large measures that have both been taken and will be taken throughout the value chain to help the company move further in that direction.
“We must succeed globally by thinking locally, we must be at the forefront of technological development and focus on creating healthy food with as little environmental impact as possible. At the same time as we develop the company, we must work politically to ensure framework conditions that develop the industry in Norway and reduce the risk in a ‘green shift’,” he concluded.