From Stockfish to Aquaponics: Hanseantic Innovations in the Fish Farming Industry

In medieval Northern Europe, merchants of the Hanseatic League dominated the fish trade. All over the region, from London and Bruges in the West to Novgorod in the far Northeast, it played a key role in the economy of European cities.

The Norwegian city of Bergen lay at the very centre of this profitable trade. Norwegians had been renowned for centuries for having mastered the art of preserving fish: catches were quickly gutted and hung on large A-shaped open wooden frames called a hjell and left to dry for months until fish became stiff as wood boards.

The drying of fish was a revolutionary technique that enabled Hanseatic merchants to export from Norway dried cod, herring, and salmon all over the Hanse region.

Today, European fish trade remains dominated by ex-Hanseatic players: Norway, Sweden, Denmark and the United Kingdom are by far the largest exporters. But fisheries also hold an essential place culturally and economically in smaller ex-Hanseatic states such as the Netherlands, Iceland, and Ireland.

Fish exports are still one of Norway’s most lucrative trade and forte. Salmon aquaculture exports accounted in 2017 for 54.8% of global production (1.2 tons) and generated about 6 billion euros according to the Norwegian statistics bureau.

Despite salmon aquaculture having a relatively low carbon footprint compared to other sources of meat products, growing concerns raised by consumers about its sustainability and eco-friendliness has forced the industry to adapt. This has given a completely new breath of dynamism to salmon aquaculture – as for other types of fish farming.

Projects are blossoming all over Europe. Saumon de France is currently experimenting within Cherbourg salmon aquaponics (a combination of breeding fish and using their waste to grow vegetables or fruits in a circular system). The company is planning to implement about 50 similar farms around the country and the project could eventually serve as a model for a franchising of the concept.

In Bergen, Norway, Lerøy the second-biggest salmon producer worldwide is experimenting with lumpfish in order to reduce their use of pesticides against salmon louse – a parasite that is a major threat to salmon farmers. 

Finally, Cermaq a company farming salmon and trout in Norway, Canada, and Chile, is trying to reduce its impact on global fish stocks by diversifying their fish’s diet with ingredients from sustainable agriculture, algae, and insects.

Such projects are certainly interesting business ventures or investments. The growth in demand for salmon in Europe and Asia, and its high market price (going from 5.90 USD in March 2016 to 9.00 USD in September 2018 for one kilogram) has not gone unnoticed. Norway, for instance, will increase its salmon production by auctioning off eight new farming licences, amounting to over 400 metric tons of fish biomass.