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Traditional Fish with Cult Potential?

NORWAY - Environmental challenges, health consciousness and changes in eating habits have sent the herring and mackerel industry back to the drawing board. The fish must appeal to the brain and the heart.

The value of herring and mackerel exports is constantly reaching new heights, with exports in 2007 exceeding NOK 6 billion.

However, the future for this industry is not all plain sailing, according to future scenarios prepared by Nofima (formerly Fiskeriforskning) in collaboration with the industry.

These visions of the future also show how the industry can emerge even stronger from the challenges it is facing.

Oslo 2020: Toffen and Guffen look out across the festival arena. ”I have never seen such a healthy festival crowd,” says Toffen. ”No”, says Guffen. “Who would have thought that rockers, punks and hip-hoppers would eat more herring than hot dogs and hamburgers?” The scenarios will be presented in several ways, including small stories like this.

Environment

The scientists believe factors such as where the fish come from, how they are caught and whether these methods harm the environment will come under even greater focus in the years ahead.

"Consumers want to know what they are eating," says Scientist Audun Iversen.

"In the future, consumers will become increasingly more environmentally conscious. They will also be engaged in the environmental consequences of the production and transport of food," says Iversen.

"With respect to climate change, fish comes out well compared to meat. It will be important for herring and mackerel consumers to have good environmental consciousness."

Health

Fish with a high fat content is healthy, and the focus on fatty acids such as Omega-3 won't reduce in the years ahead.

"This is where an opportunity lies for the herring and mackerel industry to exploit," says Iversen. This fish can be used as a raw material in what is known as functional food. In other words, it is possible to make food products which fulfil several requirements for consumers.

One example of functional food is adding Omega 3 to butter, and the butter will instantly become healthier.

New products

Another opportunity the scenarios point to is that the industry should have greater focus on new products.

"One of the ways forward is to go in for new products. One example is herring with the roe still in tact, which is fished in spring. Today, this resource in not well exploited, but is a product which is in demand in Japan, and maybe in new markets" says Iversen.

"If we want to enter new markets such as India, we have to have new product ideas. Can this become a cult product?"

An important factor will be to take herring and mackerel from being "only a mackerel" to becoming a trade-marked article.

"It's possible to learn from the Scots. They took malt whisky from being an invisible part of a hybrid to every single distillery becoming a visible brand," says Iversen, adding: "Arctic mackerel" and "Henningsvær herring" can make these products more attractive in a market where what you eat tells something about who you are.

Becoming larger

Last year a report on the herring and Mackerel market shows that the industry is struggling with profitability, explains that a few companies make a profit from the export which occurs. There is major competition for the raw material and the poor profitability means the companies need to be innovative.

"We are already seeing companies merging. This reduces competition for raw materials and it can also make the battle for customers a little less intense," says Iversen.

This has been a brilliant year for herring fisheries off the Norwegian coast. Time will show whether the herring and mackerel industry can move in any of the future directions which have been proposed - and whether the industry is able to turn silver from the sea into gold for producers and exporters.

The project is being funded by the Research Council of Norway, the Norwegian Seafood and Export Council and Nordea.

Ellen Hardy

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