Can cleaner fish such as lumpfish and Ballan wrasse be used for human consumption after completing their job as a lice eaters? So far, the answer is uncertain.

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Anne-May Johansen  

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Two Nofima projects have been looking at the sustainable after-use of cleaner fish. The objective is human consumption. This will be the most sustainable solution.

South Korea

Market researcher Gøril Voldnes put Norwegian chefs on the case. They made good dishes, but stated that lumpfish was very difficult to work with. It is rather tasteless and has a special texture.

An interdisciplinary research project has looked into the collection, nutritional content, processing, regulations, residual raw materials, profitability and market possibilities of these cleaner fish. Nutritional content tests show that the fish have a good fatty acid composition and are a good source of vitamins B and D.

“The first test market was South Korea. Whole, frozen cleaner fish were sent to Seoul and distributed to chefs and industrial buyers. The task was to make dishes that complemented the fish and Korean food culture”, says Voldnes.

The respondents were then interviewed about appearance, taste, texture, the fact that they have eaten lice and the potential for use in their food culture.

“They made many exciting dishes. Fish in a spicy pepper sauce and in soy sauce, they deep fried it, shallow fried it and took some great pictures”, says Gøril Voldnes.


But what do they actually think of it?

“They did not like the appearance of the fish at all. They thought it was rather scary looking and very unappetising”.

The respondents perceived that the fish didn’t have much taste, the texture was too soft, there was little filet, and the story about them eating lice was  unpleasant.

“The results of the market test in South Korea show that the sale of whole cleaner fish for human consumption can be a bit challenging”, the researcher states.

The respondents proposed processing before export. Dried or semi-dried fish is a very popular product in South Korea.

“The most important thing to reveal a suitable solution for after-use sothat cleaner fish do not lose their value when they are finished as lice eaters”, says Gøril Voldnes.


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