The plane truth: Norway salmon sector must reduce air transport

Roger Hofseth at the Solstrand Conference last week.

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

Roger Hofseth

“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 COjust 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%.”

Great opportunities

Speaking to Fish Farming Expert’s Norwegian sister site,, 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.

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