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Catch question: Is live a better option?

NORWAY - Capture-based aquaculture will give Norwegian seafood a competitive advantage. However, uncertainty about profitability means that few fishermen are opting for live catches, says a Fiskeriforskning study.

There is an increasing demand for fresh fish. However, large seasonal fluctuations in the fisheries mean there are long periods with insufficient supply of fresh fish products.

The Norwegian fishing industry can gain a competitive advantage by landing more live fish.

Capture-based aquaculture is being seen as an important solution in achieving continual supply. Despite this, figures for 2006 show a reduction in the quantity of live cod taken ashore.

Of an annual cod quota of around 212,000 tonnes, only 800 tonnes was delivered live, even though the average price was 25 percent higher than with traditional methods.

Uncertainty and time restraints

Uncertainty about profitability means that fishermen are choosing to retain traditional catching methods, shows the study carried out by Fiskeriforskning for the Fishery and Aquaculture Industry Research Fund.

Vessels utilising purse seine were selected for the study as they are relatively well adapted technically to handle live fish.

The boat owners did not see technical adjustments or cash infusion as obstacles, and believed catching methods and their own skills did not prevent starting with live fish deliveries.

"About half the boat owners believe the higher prices offered for live fish are not enough to provide better profitability than traditional catching methods," says researcher Øystein Hermansen.

The boat owners also point out that this method will take longer time as the catch must be handled gently and the vessel can load less fish.

Weather conditions must also be more favourable than during traditional catches, which provides further uncertainty.

The fishermen also say there are too few plants able to receive live fish, which leads to increased transport costs. Capture-based aquaculture will reduce time for other fishing and, as such, reduce incomes.

As live cod deliveries have so far occurred in spring, the fishermen say this offers economic uncertainty as they must wait to take the fish. Last winter, cod prices were higher and many opted to take the cod in the traditional manner early in the season.

Strategy for fresh fish

The Government is now preparing a strategy to increase the delivery of fresh fish to the industry. One of the means proposed is increasing the cod quota by 10 percent when fish is delivered live.

"The effect of this means relies on the fishermen perceiving this as economically attractive compared to traditional catches," says Hermansen. "If there is little effect, it's possible to make it more attractive by further increasing the additional quota."

Spread knowledge

The study shows many boat owners had little knowledge about time use or economic conditions for delivering live fish. Such knowledge is important in order to increase deliveries of live cod.

"It's important there is a systematic collection of information about this method and that such knowledge is passed onto fishermen and the industry," says Hermansen adding: "This can also prevent vessels unsuitable for capture-based aquaculture investing in unprofitable rebuilding."