Can Norwegian fish farming help create global food security?

A seminar at the UN’s most recent climate conference explored how the current development of sustainable solutions in Norway’s aquaculture industry may hold the key to meeting the future needs of international food production.

15 Mar 2024

There were a plethora of seminars about the coming challenge to feed rising population levels at COP28, the United Nations' 2023 climate change conference in Dubai, but very few like “Havbruk – enabling increased food production in our oceans”. Hosted at the Swedish Pavilion on December 9 and led by Pär Larshans, Chief Sustainability Officer at Ragn-Sells, it focused on the current efforts to develop a fully circular value chain for fish farming in Norway – which has potential applications around the world.  

Larshans began the seminar by reiterating the forewarned pressure of projected population growth on global food supplies. “We know in 2050 that we will be 10 billion people on the planet,” he said, then explained the challenge in terms of aquaculture as: “how we can produce more food in our oceans [while] at the same time…utilise [it for] resources.” 

Waste reclaimed for feed and biogas 

In Norway, efforts are already underway to increase the output of the Scandinavian country’s long-established fish farming industry (“havbruk” in Norwegian) and develop infrastructure for extracting resources from aquaculture facilities’ waste.  

Such waste, consisting mostly of fish faeces and feed residue, contains chemicals that have already exceeded planetary boundaries. Recycling it is not only circular but also aligns with paragraph 35 of the UN’s global stocktake, the assessment of progress made toward mitigating global warming, which encourages member countries “to preserve and restore oceans and coastal ecosystems and scale up, as appropriate, ocean-based mitigation action.”  

According to seminar panellist Irja Sunde Roiha, CEO of Ragn-Sells Havbruk, waste sludge from fish farms is rich in resources such as phosphorus and methane, which can be reclaimed for agricultural products and biogas energy.  

– If you look into Norway, there is enough sludge that is produced every year to provide energy for 600,000 households… If we manage to extract the phosphorus, it's equivalent to 11,000 tonnes that could be reused for new feed ingredients, she explained. 

And although Norway is home to only 3% of the world's fish farms, this technology has the potential to help the entire global aquaculture industry. 

‘Green and sustainability-linked financing’ 

While there are obvious environmental benefits of more sustainable fish farming, the seminar also highlighted the additional advantages of attracting necessary financing.  

Increasing future food production through aquaculture won’t be cheap. As Anne Hvistendahl, Global Head of Seafood at the Norwegian financial services group DNB, explained at the seminar, fish farming is a capital-intensive industry, with operations needing lots of upfront financing for equipment, licences and so on. And fish farms that incorporate sustainability, like via processes for reclaiming resources from waste, are more appealing for investment to the financial sector.        

– We are doing a lot of what we call ‘green and sustainability-linked financing’ at DNB. We have arranged for more than 10 billion US dollars of that for the seafood industry, always focusing on CO2 emissions and also on fish welfare. So, I think this green financing tool is really important. There are so many investors out there with the green mandate, said Hvistendahl. 

No climate action without sustainable aquaculture 

The seminar also included a presentation by Dr. Manuel Barange, Assistant Director-General for the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, who explained how fish farming has become essential to solving food insecurity around the world in recent decades. He noted that foods from aquaculture and ocean fishing will need to increase by 22% by 2050 just to maintain current consumption levels. He also stressed that fish farming operations need to be sustainable and are critical for effective climate action.  

 – We have brought this into the discussion on the climate agenda and this is absolutely essential. We cannot fix the climate and forget about food security, said Dr. Barange. It's much more than oceans. It is about the food of the planet.  

Dr. Manuel Barange, Assistant Director-General for the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization

Watch the full video Havbruk – enabling increased food production in our oceans from COP28.