BMFA Conference Hailed A Success

The Fish Site
by The Fish Site
9 October 2006, at 1:00am

UK - This year's British Marine Finfish Association (BMFA) conference in Shetland has been hailed as the best ever, with an excellent turnout of delegates. Interest was further spurred by a series of fact-finding trips to cod and halibut farms, and a cod processing plant.

BMFA Conference Hailed A Success - UK - This year's British Marine Finfish Association (BMFA) conference in Shetland has been hailed as the best ever, with an excellent turnout of delegates. Interest was further spurred by a series of fact-finding trips to cod and halibut farms, and a cod processing plant.

Opening the event, BMFA chairman Alastair Barge reminded members of the extremely useful support work the Association carries out on their behalf, including sponsoring research & development, including important cod-vibrio vaccine work. It is also an active participant in the Scottish Aquaculture Research Forum (SARF) and the Federation of Scottish Aquaculture Producers.

He also took the opportunity to praise recently retired BMFA secretary Jim Buchanan, who had been a stalwart of the association for many years.

"Jim presided over the growth of the association and one of his many successes was the introduction of our annual workshop, which brought in other researchers and stakeholders," he said.

Richard Slaski, the new secretary, told delegates that marine finfish farming was not an easy industry and still faced a steep learning curve in terms of biology and production systems. A major challenge was to try and attract significant outside investment so as to help the industry grow.

"We are probably 15 years behind the salmon sector, but consumers are hungry for our products and the future is looking good," he said. Focusing on news species farming in Norway, Mike Thomson of Marine Harvest said farmed cod exports from Norway were 800 tonnes in 2004, which had risen to 2,300 tonnes the following year. Marine Harvest accounted for 60% of this figure.

The majority of this cod goes to multiple retailers in France, although a good amount is also exported to Denmark, mainly to processors. The main issues that need to be overcome are potential problems with Francisella bacterial disease and the lack of reliable control over the maturation of cod.

Halibut exports from Norway amounted to 250 tonnes in 2003 and this had risen to 500 tonnes in 2005. Marine Harvest is currently producing between 10-15 tonnes per week, with the UK being the main export market, followed by the USA and Sweden. There has also been significant growth in the Norwegian retail market.

John Goodlad of Shetland Halibut provided an overview of marine finfish farming in Shetland and praised the pioneering work of Johnson Seafarms in producing cod.

"It is a wonderful product and many people in Shetland who know about fish acknowledge that farmed cod has a superior taste compared with wild caught fish."

He said that there is potential in farming other species such as haddock, monkfish, plaice and wolf-fish. But for such ventures to succeed there needed to be more research work and he criticised the decision by the NAFC Marine Centre in Scalloway to close its hatchery 18 months ago as part of a cost cutting measure. It should, he said, be playing a pivotal role in the development of new species farming - apart from cod and halibut, as work was already well advanced on these species.

"The hatchery closure by NAFC was the wrong decision to take and it should be brought back into operation as it could play an important role in looking at new species. Shetland is in a tremendous position to take forward a new industry and the college has to support these new developments."

Moving onto cod farming, and Lesley McEvoy of Johnson Seafarms (JSF) outlined plans for a major 1.7m expansion at its Nufish hatchery in the south of Shetland. Phase 1 of the project, which will involve the installation of 16 larval tanks, will see annual output increase to 1.5 million juvenile fish and once phase 2 is completed, this will rise to 3 million fish.

Alan Bourhill of JSF told delegates that the company was now harvesting to order seven days a week and its customers were getting a hand-processed product of the highest quality. However, he said a number of challenges still lay ahead and JSF was keen to build upon its links with academic research institutes and industry partners.

Key areas of research over the coming years will be on production technology, health management strategies, maturation and processing technology.

An important part of the success of JSF lay in the positive response its farmed cod had received in the press. The PR campaign has been co-ordinated by ING Media and its managing director, Leanne Tritton, told the conference of some of the successes achieved and how site visits by food and environmental writers to Shetland had proved particularly important in the campaign.

Feed sustainability was the focus of a presentation by Dr Graeme Dear, managing director of Skretting UK&I. He was upbeat about the prospects of the feed industry being able to meet the huge demands of a rapidly growing aquaculture sector. The increased substitution of feed with vegetable oils will be the most significant development over the next five to 10 years, he said.

The final presentation of the conference came from Karen Galloway, marketing manager of Seafish. She focused on the key issue of seafood and health and outlined current work in promoting the health benefits of seafood, particularly to children.

The message is beginning to hit home and consumer awareness of healthier foods is growing, with there being a move away from processed to more natural products. People under the age of 35 are also showing a trend of returning to cooking rather than relying on processed foods.

Seafish is putting particular emphasis on its 'two-a-week' message and a successful initiative in Scottish schools aimed at getting children to eat more seafood has now been rolled out into England.

Sponsors of the BMFA conference were the Scottish Executive, EU, Johnson Seafarms, BioMar, Dana Feed, Ewos and Skretting.

TheFishSite News Desk