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Norwegian salmon farming moves to cleaner indoor waters

Hundreds of thousands of salmon swim against the current in southeast Norway -- in massive indoor tanks away from the nearest river as the controversial industry increasingly embraces greener land-based facilities.

Norwegian salmon farming moves to cleaner indoor waters
Salmon farms are being moved indoors. Photo by Brandon on Unsplash

The fish live in two gigantic pools inside an inconspicuous industrial building in Fredrikstad owned by a company that plans to raise salmon in similar settings even further afield, in the United States.

By raising the salmon on land, the industry is attempting to move away from the river or sea cages that have invited criticism over a slew of issues.

The problems run from costly mass escapes to fish infected with sea lice treated with chemicals to mounds of faeces and feed piling up on the seabed below the farms.

“At sea, you depend on the almighty for many things. In a land-based farm, we are suddenly the all-powerful one,” Fredrikstad Seafoods general manager Roger Fredriksen told AFP.

“Here we control everything: temperature, oxygen, pH, CO2,” he said as he gave a tour of Norway’s first land-based salmon farm, opened in 2019.

Pumped from the nearby mouth of Norway’s largest river, the salt water that feeds the facility is treated with UV light to eliminate viruses and bacteria and afterwards it is cycled and filtered through a loop for repeated use.

Under a faint blue light, designed to trigger their appetite, the salmon swim day and night as they are fed food pellets from an overhead dispenser.

When they reach between four and five kilograms (nine and 11 pounds), they are harvested.

“The fish have a very firm consistency,” said veterinarian Sandra Ledang, head of production at the adjacent abattoir.

“That’s because it swims against the current all its life, from the moment it arrives in our facilities until it is slaughtered. It exercises absolutely
every day,” she added.

As populations are expected to increase, with almost 10 billion mouths to feed by 2050, food production needs to be optimised.

While salmon, which is rich in protein, is still a luxury in many places, it is finding new customers among the growing middle class, particularly in Asia.

Matthias Halwart, a senior officer in the fisheries department of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), sees clear benefits to recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS), like those tested in Norway.

“You have fully controlled environment for the fish, a very low water use, a very good disease control, a very efficient land use, you can optimize your feeding strategies and you can have a very good proximity with the market,” Halwart tells AFP.

READ ALSO: Norway fails to agree fishing quote deal with the UK

Proponents say that although land farms require a lot of energy, their proximity to consumers reduces the use of transportation, making them better for the environment.

Land-based farming projects are already spreading around the world and soon salmon now primarily raised in Norwegian, Chilean, Scottish and Canadian waters will also be produced in Japan, Florida or China.

Nordic Aquafarms, the parent company of Fredrikstad Seafoods, is working on two farms in the United States, one in Maine on the east coast, the other in California on the west coast.

The plan is to use Icelandic salmon roe to raise the fish there.

“The idea is to produce locally. No need to fly salmon over the ocean from one continent to another,” Fredriksen said.

Happy fish?

However, production costs are still higher, and land-based salmon farming is currently considered more as a complement than a substitute for sea- or river-based farming.

NGO Compassion in World Farming, which campaigns against intensive factory farming, fears that the quest for profits will come at the expense of animal welfare.

“We estimate that the minimum density necessary for profitability is 50 kilograms per cubic metre of water,” said Lucille Bellegarde, in charge of agri-food affairs for the French branch of the organisation.

But she lamented that the “average density found in existing systems is more like 80 kilograms per cubic metre” — eight times denser than what the NGO recommends.

Fredriksen said these fears are misguided as his farm cares about the welfare of the salmon.

“If the fish are not happy, they don’t grow.”

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BUSINESS

Norwegian pension fund sells off groups linked to Israeli settlements

Norway's largest pension fund announced Monday it had divested assets in 16 companies for their links to Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including telecom equipment giant Motorola.

Norwegian pension fund sells off groups linked to Israeli settlements
Oslo business quarter. Photo by Jacek Dylag on Unsplash

“Motorola and other companies risk complicity in international law violations in occupied Palestine,” KLP, which manages some 95 billion dollars (80 billion euros) worth of assets, said in a statement.

The divestment follows the February 2020 UN publication of a list of 112 companies with activities linked to Israeli settlements, considered illegal under international law.

Israel’s government has denounced the publication of the list — which included companies like Airbnb, Expedia, Motorola and Tripadvisor — as a “contemptible effort”.

“Divesting from Motorola Solutions was a very straightforward decision over its surveillance role in the occupied territories,” KLP said, arguing the company provide software used in border surveillance.

KLP also divested telecom operators offering services within the West Bank as they contributed to making “the settlements attractive residential areas.”

These included Bezeq, Cellcom Israel and Partner Communications, and Altice Europe — which was delisted from the Amsterdam stock exchange in January.

Also included are five banks that facilitated or financed the construction of housing and infrastructure in occupied territories, as well as engineering and construction groups, including the French multinational Alstom.

READ ALSO: Norway fund dumps firms linked to West Bank settlements

In total, the Norwegian fund’s divestments of shares and company bonds amounted to $32 million.

“Companies have a responsibility to respect and protect human right in all countries that they are operating in, regardless if the state itself is upholding these rights,” KLP analyst Kiran Aziz said.

“Conflict can mean a particularly high risk of human rights violations. Companies operating in conflict zones must therefore exercise particular caution to avoid involvement in human rights abuses and to protect vulnerable individuals,” she added.

In late June, KLP announced its divestment of the Indian port and logistics group Adani Ports because of its links to the Burmese military junta.

Another Norwegian fund, the sovereign wealth fund, which is the largest in the world, has also excluded several companies in the past because of their connections to Israeli settlements.

More than 600,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, where tensions often flare up between settlers and the Palestinian population.

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