While pleased with its Q4 achievements, Norcod acknowledged in its results presentation that it was focused on changes to continue to improve to achieve its market objectives. Although, in conversation with WeAreAquaculture, its Sustainability Manager, Hilde R. Storhaug, acknowledges that they have scaled back their short-term growth plan to fine-tune the production, the company is confident the latest difficulties will not affect them in the long term. "We lead the way in the work for sustainable cod farming", she recalls.
In mid-February, difficulties began for the company in the municipality of Meløy in the Nordland region, where Norcod faced suspicions of an escape. Shortly thereafter, following the discovery of sexually maturing cod, the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries ordered the mandatory accelerated harvesting of fish at three of its aquaculture facilities. One of them was also the site in Meløy and the other two were in the municipality of Frøya, in the Trøndelag region.
Sexual maturation is undesirable for companies farming cod because it affects the quality of the fish, but it also has to do with sustainability, as Hilde R. Storhaug explains. "If the fish goes into maturation the result is higher FCR and reduced growth", she says. "This overall reduced feed utilization increases our carbon footprint. Furthermore, there is no acceptance of the risk of affecting the wild fish population. Therefore, the preventive measure by virtue of accelerated harvest has been implemented".
Despite the promptness with which the company developed and implemented a new plan executing this accelerated harvest and informing the market of it, the truth is that its difficulties did not end there.
Shortly before, the Directorate of Fisheries had informed Norcod that, following a DNA investigation of cod caught by a fisherman, the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research had concluded that the cod caught was, with very high probability, farmed cod closely related to the cod at the nearby farming site owned by the company.
From the outset, the company acknowledged that Norcod's is the only cod farming facility close to the site of the catch, so concluding that there is a strong likelihood that the cod originated from its facility was logical. However, 90% of all farmed cod in Norway have the same genetic origin and neither its inspection nor that of third parties detected any breakage in the nets at the site. Something that its Sustainability Manager confirms is still the case. "Everything is the same with respect to the nets. No observations of damage that could lead to escape", she tells us.
Although the fact that no breaks in the networks have been detected to date and therefore no official explanation has been given as to where the leaks are coming from, some people are calling on Norcod to take responsibility. Some have even gone so far as to rebuke some of its employees. Hilde R. Storhaug is cautious about this when asked how she would respond to those calling for such responsibility.
"It would be to undermine the ongoing process and the authority the Directorate of Fisheries possesses. We have a good dialogue and relate to the required measures. Of course, taking responsibility is always important, when it is justified, but we must have all assessments in place, and the process must be completed before we draw conclusions", she says.
Regarding the employees, although she acknowledges that there have been cases of employees who have been the subject of indecent comments in relation to the current situation, she does not wish to comment further on the matter out of respect for those affected. "Our employees are dedicated and skilled and handle the situation very well", she tells WeAreAquaculture. She adds, however, the company has made expanded HR resources available to support employees.
While everything is being sorted out, we asked Norcod's Sustainability Manager how she thinks this will affect the company in the future, and whether investors and even consumers might lose confidence in the brand or even farmed cod. "Long term, the answer is no", she claims.
"The world needs 30 percent more protein by 2050", she continues. "Sustainable cod farming can and should represent an important part of this. Cod is healthy, tasty and easy to prepare. After seven generations of breeding, the cod now thrive and grow very well. Cod farming can and will become a new and large aquaculture industry in Norway".
As for the Norcod brand, Hilde R. Storhaug recalls that it was the world's first cod farming company to secure certification according to the Global G.A.P Aquaculture Standard. "We lead the way in the work for sustainable cod farming", she points out.
Nevertheless, she acknowledges that the whole situation has forced them to take a step back to build momentum. "Short term, we are now lowering our ambitious growth plan to tune the production and then subsequently ramping up". As said at the beginning, Norcod is confident that the latest difficulties will not affect them in the future.