From egg to packaged fillet, without being touched by human hands – the end goal for Lerøy's value chain within aquaculture. This creates increased value for the Group, its employees, host municipalities and Norway as a whole.
“Lerøy makes substantial investments throughout the value chain to achieve its goal for increased efficiency of what is already the world’s most eco-efficient production of meat or fish. Sustainable growth via innovation and technological developments, in other words,” says Henning Beltestad, CEO of Lerøy Seafood Group.
In recent years, Lerøy has invested billions of Norwegian kroner in the development of what is known as RAS facilities. RAS facilities for salmon have been built in Laksefjord in Lebesby municipality in Finnmark, Belsvik in Hemne municipality in Trøndelag and Kjærelva in Fitjar municipality in Hordaland. Lerøy also has an RAS facility for trout in Bjørsvik in Radøy municipality in Hordaland.
RAS facilities produce smolt that are subsequently released to open cages in the sea to grow in to large salmon or trout, ready for sale to an increasingly large global market.
RAS facilities differ from the former flow-through facilities in several ways. An RAS facility is a recycling plant designed to re-use 98-99% of fresh water. This naturally provides dramatic reductions in fresh water consumption when compared with a flow-through facility.
Moreover, the RAS facilities are also purification plants that remove particles and have biological filters.
Lerøy now plans to further modernise this part of the value chain. The strategy at Kjærelva is to produce large volumes of large smolt, i.e. so the fish to be released will weigh more than 500 grams, compared with the current most common weight of 80-100 grams.
Production with the first eggs at the new RAS facility in Kjærelva started in 2018. This year, 25% of the smolt released by Lerøy Sjøtroll/Lerøy Vest will be large smolt. The goal is to increase this ratio further, up to 40-50% by 2021. There are also plans to extend the RAS facility in Belsvik in the near future for production of large smolt. Work on extending the plant in Laksefjord is already under way.
More robust fish
Lerøy has accumulated positive experience with the release of large smolt from its “Preline” pilot project in Samnanger, Hordaland.
“Experience has shown that we can produce fish that are more robust when it comes to the time for release to sea cages. This allows us to harvest fish that have not been subject to delousing or that have had very few treatments,” explains EVP for Farming in Lerøy Seafood Group, Stig Nilsen.
The investments in RAS technology not only allow better utilisation of fresh water and energy, they also provide significant, positive contributions to the next part of the value chain. If the goal is achieved for stronger and more robust fish, this will also provide reductions in lice, with fewer lice treatments and less disease. Moreover, the fish spend less time in the sea, with reductions in the discharge of nutrient salts and feed waste.
This takes us to the next stage of modernising the value chain, as there have been major changes in feeding in cages (to find out more about developments in feed, see separate article). Until recently, feeding was carried out locally at every one of Lerøy’s 83 active localities. Lerøy is now in the process of coordinating feeding with growth centres, where feeding at several localities is simultaneously remote controlled. Feed operators share an office, allowing for the development of a good professional environment where specialised skills related to feeding can develop.
“When operators share an office, they can exchange experience and develop these growth centres in collaboration,” explains Stig Nilsen. Communications are also simpler compared to having 83 different localities all having to communicate separately.
A hightech industry
These growth centres look like they belong to a modern high-tech industry. The operators have a bank of monitors on which they can follow feeding with a live transmission of high-resolution images. The system provides live images and sensor readings, measurements of salt and oxygen content, temperature and feed intake etc.
This provides a higher feed factor, or in other words, more efficient feeding, which in turn helps reduce feed waste. The development is very much in line with Lerøy’s strategy for increased production and improved control of feeding.
“60% of our production costs comprise feed. Our operators at these growth centres help ensure both optimal fish health, lower local eco-footprint, lower climate footprint and improved earnings for Lerøy,” confirms Stig Nilsen.
World's most modern
The next stage of the journey for salmon in Lerøy's value chain is from fish farm to processing plant. At the new slaughtering facility on Jøsnøya island in Hitra, the fish swim directly from the well boat into the facility, where they are anaesthetised. They are then transported through what is probably the world's most modern facility of its kind. This is the very peak of high technology. The facility has capacity to produce 70,000 tonnes of fish fillet per year with one shift.
With such modern technology and high volume of fillet production, Lerøy has been able to significantly reduce transport. From Jøsnøya alone, the number of trucks transporting fish to the market can be reduced substantially when the trucks are packed full of fish fillets rather than whole fish. All residual raw materials are utilised, so that the facility makes use of 100% of every fish.
From the moment the fish enter the facility until they shortly after leave as packaged fillets, they have been through a process including slaughter, sorting, gutting, 3D scanning, filleting and removing bones etc. The fish is then sent directly to transport, ready for customers worldwide.
The use of modern technology allows for modernisation of the value chain, so that no hands touch the fish from the egg stage to finished fillet.
“As such, factors relating to fish health, the environment and climate are far improved throughout the entire journey from the RAS facility, via the fish farm and to the factory. This is truly sustainable growth via innovation,” claims Henning Beltestad.