If all cod catches were without major injuries, the fishing industry could increase its profits by hundreds of millions every year.

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Catching injuries creates great losses for the fishing industry. The filleting industry is the biggest loser, with a loss ratio of 13%, which corresponds to around NOK 100 million, based on export value in 2013.

“We must emphasize that it is extremely difficult to estimate the financial consequences of poor quality. However, our analyses show that it is possible to extract greater value from cod by ensuring that the raw material has a consistently high quality,” says researcher Marianne Svorken.

On assignment from the Norwegian Seafood Research Fund, Svorken and her colleagues at Nofima have estimated the export value of cod as if everything had optimum quality. By deducting the actual value, they have been able to establish the loss in sales value. The researchers have used statistics from contract notes and export, and have interviewed processing businesses. Market fluctuations and any cost changes are uncertainty factors that have been left out.

The estimates have been made for the filleting industry, salted fish, dried fish and fresh fish products.

Sustained problem

Despite the fact that the authorities, organizations and research have had a strong focus on quality in recent years, Nofima’s research shows that a relatively large share of cod catches in 2014 arrived at shore with reduced quality. A report in December established that the share of fish with poor quality is at the same level or worse, compared to catches in 2004.

Line and jig caught cod are best, and the share of fish in the categories “good”, “reduced” and “poor” has remained stable since 2004. Trawl and seine caught cod result in the highest share of poor fish, and the trend is negative for seine net.

“The main problem is that the catches are too large, not the type of gear used. We have seen that seine net is best suited for the storage of live cod, which proves that we can obtain very high quality from seine nets,” says Sjurdur Joensen, one of the researchers who has visited quays around the country to document fish quality.

“Keep the catches smaller and preserve quality,” is his advice.

The quality of cod can be degraded at several stages, both during catching, handling on board, slaughter and bleeding, during further processing on land, through storage and during transport. The researchers call for more comprehensive understanding and responsibility for quality throughout the value chain.

Cooperation for better quality

The filleting industry loses the most due to catching injuries that are not visible externally.
The filleting industry loses the most due to catching injuries that are not visible externally. Photo: Sjurdur Joensen/Nofima

“For individual producers, for example a filleting plant, it is significant that the raw material is of the best possible quality when it arrives. Catching injuries are not always visible externally, but for every fish where the best part has to be discarded due to injuries, the filleting business loses money. Closer cooperation, with a bonus for high quality, should also be reflected in prices,” Svorken says.

Dried and salted fish producers also export variable quality. The combined loss of value for these two categories is estimated to comprise around NOK 50 million.

However, some of the loss in quality is not evident until the fish has been soaked and desalted. It is difficult to estimate losses in sales value for this, but the researchers believe it is reasonable to assume that if the quality was predictable and at a stable high level, it would also be possible to increase prices.

In order to achieve better insight into this invisible loss, more market research is required in the area.

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