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“There isn’t much skin like this in the world, at least not yet”, says the CEO of Nordic Fish Leather, Hlynur Arsaelsson.
The Icelandic company delivers tanned fish skin to companies who, among other things, use it to make clothes, shoes and iPhone accessories. Almost all their production uses salmon skin that comes from Lerøy.
“The fact that the skin from the fish we produce can be used for new products is really exciting!”, says the head of quality and sustainability at Lerøy Seafood Group, Anne Hilde Midttveit.
The team leader for frozen salmon and trout, Thomas Paiva, clearly remembers the day a few years ago when his phone lit up with the country code +354.
“Then this guy from Iceland spoke to me. I had no idea who he was, but he wanted salmon skin”, he remembers.
There was something about the conversation with Hlynur that aroused Thomas’ interest; this was something new, something out of the ordinary.
“So we decided to start delivering skin, because something was happening here”, he says.
Thomas and his team mainly work with what are known as consequence products, meaning things other than the main product, which is often the fish meat. Instead of these byproducts ending up as trash or silage, an important strategy for Lerøy is to increase the degree of utilization of the fish by finding new areas of use and markets, so that as much of the fish as possible is utilized in the best possible way.
“Using the whole fish is important to us, and we are constantly searching for new sustainable products that can be extracted directly or indirectly from our fish”, says Anne Hilde.
For Nordic Fish Leather it’s important to be a sustainable company. Amongst other things, they only use hydroelectric power or geothermal energy to run their machines. The warm water used in the production process comes exclusively from the geysers, or hot springs, that are naturally found in Iceland. This was also a huge reason why he specifically contacted Lerøy.
“The sustainability aspect was definitely one of the reasons I contacted Lerøy. Our customers are companies who really care about sustainability, their reputation and the environment. They demand that the salmon is farmed in a sustainable way”, he says.
But it is also an industry with a lot of greenwashing, so it has been important for Hlynur to be transparent with his costumers.
“We show them the process from A to Z, including certifications and invoices to show that the fish skin we are using comes from sustainable suppliers, like Lerøy”, he says.
Sustainability was also the most important factor for Thomas.
“This use of the fish skin increases the degree of utilization of our fish”, he says.
In relation to its thickness, salmon leather is much more durable than both bovine and pig leather. This is due to the cross fibers in salmon skin, and it is the reason why fish leather has been used as a resource over the years: few types of leather are as strong.
“The cross fibers or threads go in all kinds of different directions, which is what makes it so strong”, says Hlynur.
Tanning fish skin is not a new invention. The Norwegian Vikings brought this knowledge with them when they settled in Iceland.
“Throughout the centuries, people in Iceland have used fish skin to make simple shoes they filled with wool or straw to keep warm”, tells Hlynur.
“Even in more recent difficult times, when there was a shortage of other goods, fish leather has been used as an important resource”, says Thomas.
“During the war it was used for everything from lampshades to shoes and clothes”, he adds.
Tanning the fish skin, on the other hand, is something that was first experimented with on a small scale 20 years ago. A couple of years ago, Nordic Fish Leather took over and continued the process, but it has since continued experimenting.
“We have now reached the stage where we can commercialize it as a high-end item”, says Hlynur.