Consumer Expectations Must Be Met By Aquaculture Industry

The Fish Site
by The Fish Site
26 September 2006, at 1:00am

NORWAY - Norway's Minister of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs, Helga Pedersen, has urged the Aquaculture industry to ensure that consumers expectations are met in terms of their products taste and quality, whilst highlighting the governments responsibility in fish health and food safety.

Consumer Expectations Must Be Met By Aquaculture Industry - NORWAY - Norway's Minister of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs, Helga Pedersen, has urged the Aquaculture industry to ensure that consumers expectations are met in terms of their products taste and quality, whilst highlighting the governments responsibility in fish health and food safety.

In her speech at Aqua Vision 2006 in Stavanger, Norway, Ms Pedersen said that while the Aquaculture industry has moved from a cost-efficient production and harvesting focus to more market- and consumer-oriented production, the industry cannot rest on its laurels.

Speech By Helga Pedersen, Minister of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs

The history of aquaculture
Globally, aquaculture has a diverse history and is thousands of years old. The history of Norwegian aquaculture, on the other hand, is short. Neverthless the last 40 years salmon farming in Norway has been an exceptional success story.

Today Norwegian aquaculture is an expanding, dynamic export industry. In fact, it is one of Norways most international industries. This is illustrated by the fact that more than 95 % of our total production is exported to over one hundred countries.

The markets are worldwide, while production takes place in small communities along most of the Norwegian coastline. These communities are dependent on aquaculture and related industries for employment and income it generates.

The Norwegian aquaculture industry has developed rapidly. There are several reasons for this: the efforts of eager entrepreneurs in the initial phase and the willingness on the part of society to focus on this industry. There has been a close partnership between private and public capital, with an all-out effort in research and the development of know-how. This will also be important in the future, as we concentrate on new marine species.

So much for the historical background, but what about prospects for the future? In my opinion the overall task of the aquaculture industry is to feed the world with with food produced in a safe and sustainable way.

The market for aquaculture products
The global market potential for aquaculture products is indisputable. The worlds population continues to rise, and populous countries as China and India are seeing economic growth and increasing purchasing power. A significant trend amongst the consumers in this growing market, is increased awareness of food safety, as well as environmental and ethic concerns. On the other hand, this global market potential also gives increased market possibilities for new aquaculture species.

The major salmon farming countries differ when it comes to important parameters. Norway is fortunate to be located close to the European markets. On the other hand, Norway is a high-cost country.

The situation for Chile is different. Although the Chilean industry is distant from important markets, it has lower production and labour costs. This means that the two countries strategies and government policies will have to reflect these differences. In this regard, it is important to capitalise on any national comparative advantages.

Although aquaculture countries situations differ, they face similar challenges.

Sustainability is no doubt the key to the long-term success of the aquaculture industry. The challenges of sustainability and of environmental concerns must be taken seriously.

The government has to consider the industrys impact on the society at large and on the local communities close to the farms as well as its environmental impact. Both benefits and adverse affects must be uncovered, discussed and dealt with.

One example of the challenges we face in Norway, is the number of escaped fish from the farms. The government therefore works continuously to improve the regulatory framework and to strengthen the system of monitoring and control.

We have an action plan aimed at reducing to a minimum the number escaped fish, but are also aimed at making sure that a maximum of the escaped fish is recaptured before it spreads in the sea or into the fjords.

The plan includes new requirements for equipment technology, and a Commission to investigate incidents of escaped fish has recently been appointed. One escaped fish is one to many, and I expect to see positive effects of these measures in the years to come.

The industrys reputation
We know that the aquaculture industry is based on extensive research and is strictly regulated, with regard to industry practices as well as to product safety.

Still, farmed salmon is a frequent subject of heated discussions in the media. One factor that explaining why this is so, is that industrialised aquaculture takes place in an environment where there was no farming just 40 years ago.

This poses challenges to the environment and affects established public perceptions of how fish should live and die. The sheer success of aquaculture ensures that the world will watch the industry closely.

Sometimes criticism of the industry arises out of a general dislike of fish being farmed, and sometimes it reflects an accurate criticism of factors in need of improvement.

I would like to stress that the opinions of consumers must be taken seriously. We are all consumers, and we know that we want our opinions regarding food quality and origin to be heard and taken into account. Information from consumers, whether criticism or praise, is generally valuable for the development of the industry.

The industry, however, has shifted its focus from cost-efficient production and harvesting to more market- and consumer-oriented production. The consumer's interest in the origin of products, the environmental impacts of the industry and ethical aspects of production are increasingly being taken into account.

However, the fact that aquaculture has solved many of its environmental problems and problems concerning the health of the fish does not mean that the industry can rest on its laurels.

Consumer expectations have to continue to be met by the industry. And it is the industry's responsibility to ensure that the products are tasty and delicious as the consumers wants them. But questions related to seafood safety, fish healthetc is also an important responsibility for the authorities.

The Norwegian government is working systematically through research, inspection and supervision to document the conditions of our seafood, and to secure that Norwegian seafood is safe, healthy and of good quality.

The government sets standards for food safety and the sale of food products. We make sure that food safety rules reflect internationally accepted standards, and we apply regulations based on independent risk assessments from scientific institutions, both in Norway and abroad.

The authorities also need to be able to answer accurately when situations arise and the answers we give must be absolutely frank. The challenges posed by allegations of the presence of various contaminants in salmon serve to remind us of the importance of conducting regular and reliable monitoring and sampling. We need to be able to document scientifically the condition of the products we export all over the world.

Documentation of every stage in the production process is important, along with an apparatus for dealing with and communicating the problems that arise. And they will continue to arise.

The industry and governments have different roles in making sure that the family father in Hamburg, Tokyo or Brighton chooses seafood and not chicken when planning the menu for the family dinner.

We want him to do so, not only because he knows that the omega 3 fatty acids in seafood helps reduce the risk of heart disease, depression and cancer! Seafood is also easy to prepare, delicious and tasty. Its simply the best food there is!

Concluding remarks
The prospects for the global aquaculture industry are bright. The need for good and wholesome food to feed the worlds growing population support this view.

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