Share this article
Recently, we reported about the launching of the Iceland Aquaculture & Oceans Forum (IAOF), a new industry association in Iceland with the main objective of supporting sustainable aquaculture in the country. A few days later, with the support of Arion Bank, the association organized a conference where representatives of Icelandic aquaculture companies met not only with local authorities and institutions but also with foreign experts and investors, as well as representatives of the three main feed companies. “What was interesting about the conference was the general positiveness around farming in Iceland today,” Árni M. Mathiesen, IAOF board member, senior advisor to the Iceland Ocean Cluster, and former Icelandic Minister of Fisheries, summarizes for WeAreAquaculture.
Not to make the same mistakes
“A forum to discuss,” is how Mathiesen defined the IAOF in the days between its launch and the start of the conference. “It’s very much the industry reaching out to others that have a leadership role or an influencing role, and are willing to discuss and find solutions,” he explained. Although it had been born a few months earlier, at the end of 2022, until then the association had remained in the background waiting for the right moment.
That moment came to present its conference which aimed to be a kind of “head” for the Government’s consultations on the creation of the guidelines that will outline the future of the sector. Shortly before that it had been published the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) report on ‘The State and Future of Aquaculture in Iceland’, commissioned by the government to be the basis on which those guidelines would be drawn. The Arion Bank & IAOF Conference served to present the report to the industry and the foreign experts and investors that accompanied them.
“It is important for the investors and for us not to make the same mistakes as we made in the past,” the former Icelandic Minister of Fisheries told us at the time. “We have to acknowledge that even though it’s been the most successful food-producing sector in decades it has still made mistakes and when it expands into new territories, there is a new need to make sure that we have avoided both old and new.”
Aquaculture in Iceland is going through its momentum and the IAOF and its conference did not want to miss out on being part of it. Judging by Árni M. Mathiesen’s first sentence when we now asked him for an assessment of how it went, he and his fellow association members had got it right. “What was interesting about the conference was the general positiveness around farming in Iceland today,” he tells us. “And that is, of course, in addition to the feelings or the business acumen of many other people taking part in it.”
New economic pillar in Iceland’s economy
The IAOF Conference, which took place over two days and six sessions, was by invitation only. It brought together operators, their key suppliers, and current and potential investors. “So, I think they probably got a better in-depth and more open discussion that they would otherwise have,” says Mathiesen. The ultimate intention was that the investors who were there to gather information would make the most of their time.
The first day was entitled ‘The Future of the Ocean and Aquaculture in Iceland’. It was attended by political and industry leaders and also had the collaboration of the Boston Consulting Group and the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC). According to our interviewee, it was a look at the future from an administrative, but also technical, economic and leadership point of view, using the experience of both Iceland and the rest of the world to, he says, “sort of set the stage.”
Earlier, at the opening session attended by Benedikt Gíslason, CEO of Arion Bank, Svandís Svavarsdóttir, Icelandic Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, and Kiartan Ólafsson, Chairman of IAOF, the latter two agreed in paraphrasing the same sentence from the conclusions of the BCG report: “Aquaculture could be a new economic pillar in the Icelandic economy.”
Mathiesen himself had come to the same conclusion in his presentation of an earlier report on the Icelandic Ocean Cluster in recent months. Seeing that the Minister made the same point was particularly satisfying for him. “I wasn’t surprised that it came from the Chairman but as a pleasant surprise to see the Minister use the same line question,” he tells WeAreAquaculture.
An Icelandic feed industry?
The second day, ‘The Capital Markets Day’, served to introduce the main local aquaculture-related companies in Iceland – both producers and suppliers -. The sea cage farmers talked about their experience, then it was the turn of the land-based producers, and, finally, a session was dedicated to new horizons, focusing on offshore aquaculture and, especially, on the possibilities of the feed industry in the country.
As Arni M. Mathiesen explained to us in our article about traditional aquaculture in Iceland, in the country they catch a lot of small pelagic so, they produce a lot of fish meal and fish oil. “And maybe it’s not necessary for us to export that and then import the fish feed afterward,” he told us then. “Maybe we could produce it ourselves, but to do that, the industry needs to reach a certain size. And we could foresee that we would reach that size in a few years’ time. But not so far into the future that it’s not worthwhile starting to think about having more feed production in Iceland.”
The feed panel was attended by the three main producers: Cargill, Skretting, and BioMar. “There was a discussion on that and all the three major feed producers were there, yes, and that obviously relates to the production of fish meal and fish oil in Iceland, which still is a very important part of the feed,” Mathiesen says now. So important, we add, as to cap off the two days of discussion at the Arion Bank & IAOF Conference.
As mentioned, just before this, they had talked about offshore farming. According to him, this panel was more of an informative session than a debate per se, but there were recommendations on how the government should approach it and it left interesting points to think about. “There is a lot we can learn from the offshore oil industry, both through their engineering issues but also with human resources issues, how people thrive,” he claims. “But the question will be how the fish will thrive, and the information that was presented to us there was very positive. I haven’t seen those figures before, so, it’s certainly something that I think is worthwhile exploring.”
Maintaining the quality of the debate
As said, the final aim of the conference was for investors to take advantage of every minute of information they received there. So, the producers at sea emphasized traditional cage farming which, according to the BCG report, remains the largest producing sector by 2032 in all scenarios. They were followed by “the new kids on the block,” land-based producers, which Mathiesen himself describes as “the big hope” although they are still on the way to scaling up the production. The mentioned discussion around feed production in the island country was the third major point discussed.
However, as the founder and board member of the IAOF tells WeAreAquaculture, there were also topics off the menu that came up during the discussions. One of these was energy, fundamental especially as it relates to the land-based sector which, to some extent, relies on it. Another was the seed, where, as Mathiesen points out, they are lucky to have Benchmark in Iceland. And finally, there was also a discussion on marketing. “How do you market it, whether you market it under Iceland or under company logos?”
“There is not one obvious conclusion to that discussion at the summit,” he confesses. However, he tells us, as in so many other things, on the subject of marketing, Iceland has the lessons of the fishing industry that in the 1980s successfully bet on marketing under the Icelandic name. But this is not his only example to follow, “our future competitors definitely market in this way,” he says. “The Norwegians are marketing Norwegian salmon, the Scottish are marketing Scottish salmon, and the Chileans do as well. So, that obviously give some indication as to what the market is, even though a very large part of both the Scottish industry and the Chilean industry is owned by Norwegians and it’s still marketed under Chilean and Scottish market logos.”
As we said at the beginning, this first Arion Bank and IAOF Conference was intended to be a forum to discuss and, according to Árni M. Mathiesen, it has succeeded in doing so. “It was, I think, a very good down-to-earth or down-to-the-water discussion on the basic issues,” he tells us, “and this was in a very constructive way,” he adds. “I doubt whether there has been another conference even in the North Atlantic area where you had so many influential people coming together for a two-half-day conference on this issue in this context,” he concludes, satisfied.
Will there be a next IAOF Conference, we asked Árni M. Mathiesen in closing. “I’m almost as sure as you could be about anything in the future, we will have another edition of this in a year’s time,” he answers. In the meantime, the Iceland Aquaculture & Oceans Forum will not stop. It will continue to organize other events and to work with its members to expand its functions and, above all, “to maintain the quality of the discussion that we got at this conference.”
Share this article