A salmon fillet. Photo: Jon-Are Berg-Jacobsen, Nofima.

Researchers seek to put salmon back in the pink

The colour of salmon fillets is one of the most important quality criteria and paler salmon with paler colour are downgraded, resulting in financial losses for fish farmers. Norwegian research institute Nofima wants to find out why some fish are paler, and what can be done about it.

Published Last updated

“If we can find the main reasons for poor pigmentation in commercially produced salmon, the industry could work on production improvements in a more targeted manner,” said Trine Ytrestøyl, a senior researcher at Nofima.

There is not much documentation available about the extent and prevalence of poor pigmentation both geographically and timewise. This will be looked at during the “Pigmentation Knowledge Mapping” project, which will continue until 2024. It is being funded by the Norwegian Seafood Research Fund (FHF).

Trine Ytrestøyl wants to find out why salmon are paler, despite getting more astaxanthin in their feed. Photo: Nofima.

Paler pigmentation

It is widely believed that the colour of salmon fillets in Norway – the world’s largest Atlantic salmon farmer - has deteriorated during the last 10 years. At the same time as levels of the pigment astaxanthin in fillets has dropped, astaxanthin levels in salmon feed have increased during the sea growth phase.

“During the same time period that pigmentation problems have occurred, the composition of feed has been changed, there has been an increase in handling as a result of problems with salmon lice and larger juvenile fish are being produced in land-based facilities compared to previously. All this can affect pigmentation, so it is important to obtain information about production conditions so that we can identify the possible causes of poor pigmentation,” explained Ytrestøyl.

In order to obtain details about the extent of the problem and developments in pigmentation, the researchers will be collecting data from commercial production facilities from as far back in time as possible and from different regions and countries.

Causal relationships

Interviews and surveys conducted with industry could reveal both objective quality data and experiences. Armed with such information, the researchers will be able to identify causal relationships and recommend measures for improving pigmentation.

Nofima will also invite those concerned to attend several open seminars on pigmentation during the project period.

“We hope that this project will help to increase industry expertise about pigmentation and how different methods of measuring the colour of salmon fillets could provide different answers,” said Ytrestøyl.