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No Catch - Ahead of its Time?

by Ellen Hardy
11 April 2008, at 1:00am

SCOTLAND - It seemed like a great idea. Wild cod stocks under threat - then why not grow the fish in cages, organically of course, to cash in on the green consumer who holds sway in the modern supermarket, writes Pete Bevington.

His article in Shetland's Marine News, says that “No Catch…Just Cod” had all the ingredients for success - a great marketing slogan and a ferocious publicity campaign It won 14 awards after the brand was launched in May 2006, so why two years on is the company in the hands of the receivers?

The dream of “the world’s first sustainable white fish” came crashing down on 19 February when the administrators were called in, confirming rumours circling for months throughout the islands that this firm was in big trouble. Debts of £40 million. No cash.

The company was set up in March 2005 after city investment firm Milestone Capital financed a £21 million management buy out from Vidlin salmon farmers Angus and Ivor Johnson in the middle of the crisis when salmon prices were collapsing and companies were going broke.

Former windsurf entrepreneur Karol Rzepkowski had brought in City financier Laurent Viguié to help him, even though neither had any fish farming experience.

Rzepkowski had hit on the idea of growing cod after seeing how well some Texan customers had received a consignment, which the Johnsons had looked after on behalf of some aquaculture students at North Atlantic Fisheries College, in Scalloway.

They raised another £15 million and pledged to grow 30,000 tonnes of cod by 2012, satisfying 10 per cent of UK demand, while earning green credentials from the Organic Food Federation, Friends of the Sea, the RSPCA and the Marine Conservation Society.

Ahead of the Game

At the start, business sounded good with No Catch boasting it's cod was hitting the shelves of 640 supermarkets in Switzerland and being sliced up in Japanese sushi bars in London.

Listening to joint administrator Daniel Smith it sounds like No Catch were ahead of themselves, failing to understand the scale of the challenge they were taking on. “There is no doubt they tried to run before they could walk,” he confided.

No one had grown cod on this scale in the UK before; no one had grown cod organically like this anywhere. Although the business looked great on paper – complete control from hatchery to fish cage to factory to supermarket shelf bearing the company label all the way - it was a very expensive operation. In the first year the company lost £3 million, rising to £7.5 million and finally £10 million, three times their £3.4 million turnover last year.

Unfortunately, by the time administrators were called no one was interested in the cod farming. Buyers, Hjaltland and Scottish Sea Farms are only interested in the assets which will be used to farm salmon in Shetland, even though Hjaltland’s owners Grieg Seafoods are a major player in Norwegian cod farming.

View the Shetland Marine News story by clicking here.

Further Reading

- To read our previous report on the No Catch aquisition clicking here.

Ellen Hardy