The Danish government has banned further growth in sea-based fish farming, claiming the country had reached the limit without endangering the environment. A marine biologist says it is a misguided policy for both economic and ecological reasons.
“They’ve got the oil in the North Sea, but don’t let Norway get all the pink gold too…”
That was a headline of a recent OpEd in Danish daily Politiken, arguing that misguided environmental concerns are giving neighboring Norway a monopoly on the lucrative salmon industry.
With the global human population expected to reach 10 billion by 2050 and more people shifting to a healthier diet, the demand for fish is expected to double in the coming three decades — and salmonid families (that include salmon, trout and others) are the world’s most popular fish.
Fortunately for Denmark, its strong-current open waters provide for some of the cleanest trout production in the world… So what’s the issue?
8 billion in profits
In 2019, the Danish government made a decision to not support any further growth in sea-based aquaculture, claiming the country had reached the limit of the number of fish that can be raised at sea without endangering the environment.
In fact, since around the time that the EU published its Water Framework in the year 2000 — a directive that commits member states to achieve good qualitative and quantitative status of all water bodies — no permits have been granted for new aquaculture projects in Denmark.
Business is booming
Meanwhile in Norway, business is booming. Since the first salmon farms were set up in protected fjords in 1960, Norwegian salmon production has reached roughly 1.4 million tons per year — about half of the global total — and brings in €8 billion in annual profit. In Denmark, aquaculture companies produce approximately 12,000 tons of large trout per year to a far more modest total of €50 million.This discrepancy, suggests marine biologist Johan Wedel Nielsen in Politiken, is a result of environmental concerns that are either misguided or don’t apply to Denmark. For example, fish have an inherently small impact on the environment
As trout and salmon are cold-blooded — adjusting their body heat to the water temperature — they can channel a larger portion of their energy into growth, which means they need fewer calories from food than any commonly farmed land animal.
Norwegian salmon production has reached roughly 1.4 million tons per year
Opportunities in Baltic Sea
The marine impact of a salmonid farm located far from the coast in freshly flowing water is also 10-100 times less than in areas with slower water changes, while the environmental impact of a modern farm is limited to its surrounding area. In Denmark, all combined aquaculture now occupies a mere one square kilometer.
If the government changed its stance, Nielsen argues, Denmark could eventually establish 150 new farms in the Baltic Sea — some of the world's best waters for aquaculture of large salmonids. Such an initiative would produce some 500,000 tons of trout per year with a value of €2.7 billion and employ tens of thousands in the region.
But the Danish government has so far given no indication of allowing any addition to Denmark’s 19 existing farms. Rather, with Norway’s new Labour-led coalition government planning to increase funding for the country’s aquaculture, Denmark might have to continue to import half of its yearly seafood consumption — in the form of salmon — from its northern neighbor.
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