Tuesday, September 5, 2017

the interview: Bjørn Myrseth, President, EAS (European Aquaculture Society)

Bjørn Myrseth is a Norwegian biologist and businessperson. He is currently serving as the President of EAS (European Aquaculture Society), where he was also one of the founding members.
The EAS website describes the idea for establishing the ‘European Mariculture Society’ being launched at the occasion of the Tenth European Symposium of Marine Biologists, which took place in Oostende, Belgium, 1975.
The website explains that, “The founding meeting took place on April 29-30, 1976 in the office of the Institute for Marine Scientific Research (IZWO), that has supported the society and has provided office space for the EAS secretariat until the late 1980s.”
“The original name “European Mariculture Society” was changed into “European Aquaculture Society” in 1984 to better reflect the activity field of the society,” it enlightens.
Mr Myrseth was educated in fishery biology from the University of Bergen, (where he went on to become an Associate Professor) and was a co-founder of Stolt Sea Farms in 1972, where he was CEO until 1987. He then sold his stake in the company and founded Marine Farms, where he remained as CEO until 2011. Mr Myrseth originally founded marine Farms in 1976 as Lax AS, for his ownership in Stolt Sea Farm. After the shares were sold in 1987, the company started making its own investments in fish farming.
Due to his long tenure and considerable expertise, he is considered by many as one of the pioneers of the modern fish farming industry.
He now works on project development and a board member in various companies related to aquaculture.

Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I have always been interested in fish. As a boy I liked fishing and kept tropical aquarium fish - I always wanted to become a fishery scientist.
I graduated from the University of Bergen with a Masters in Fishery Biology. During my studies, I had worked as an assistant on marine research vessels and in the summer of 1970 I worked on a Danish trout farm. I noticed the emerging fish farming activity in Norway and in 1971 I got a job at a company owned by a ship owning company, Stolt-Nielsens Rederi. There I become in charge of developing a fish farming company, Stolt Sea farm.

Can you tell us a bit more about this company?
After initial problems, the company specialised in smolt production. There was a great shortage of smolts and the company became a huge success.
I became a 10 percent owner and made money when the company was listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange in 1985. This was the first fish farming company in the world that became a public traded company.
Sea farm expanded and started operations in Scotland, USA and Canada. For various reasons, it was delisted in 1991. The next company that became listed was Pan Fish AS in 1997.

You were one of the founding members of The European Aquaculture Society in 1976 and were an active Board member for years. What sparked your interest in this society?
I soon realised that there was a lot to learn from what other countries were doing in aquaculture and EAS was an excellent opportunity to meet other people working in the industry and scientists doing important research.
The Aquaculture Europe meetings of EAS are still the most important forums to learn about developments in aquaculture. This conference and trade show attracts more than 1000 participants every year. It is a fantastic place for meeting people and to learn.
This year the AE2017 is in Dubrovnik from October 17-20, 2017. Next year it is in Montpellier in France in late August and is an event organised in cooperation with the World Aquaculture Society. In October 2019, the meeting will be in Berlin.

Sea bass and sea bream farming also became an area you are involved in?
This happened after Sea Farm acquired a UK company, Sharewater Fish farming, that had experimental operations in Greece, Spain and France. I saw that the cage farming technology we used in farming of Atlantic Salmon could be used for farming of sea bass and sea bream. The hatchery technology was different and more difficult.
But once that was learned, farming in cages was a big success. I left Sea Farm in 1987 and started Marine Farms, investing in sea bass and sea bream farming in Greece in 1987 and Spain in 1990. This was the start of Galaxidi Marine Farm in Greece and Culmarex in Spain.

Did this mean that you left farming of Atlantic salmon?
By no means. Marine Farms invested also in Atlantic salmon farming in Chile and in the UK. In Chile, this was a joint venture with Foundation Chile and two other local companies.
It specialised in smolts of Atlantic salmon and I believed that having diversified would help us through the ups and downs we always had seen in farming of Atlantic salmon. This proved to be right. The cycles in salmon, sea bass and sea bream have never happened at the same time.
There have been great synergies as the salmon farming industry always has been the first to develop better methods and technologies we have been able to transfer to the sea bass and sea bream industry.

What happened to your company Marine Farms?
To get access to capital to grow faster, the company was listed in 2006 and in 2010 Morpol purchased it. They kept the salmon part and sold off the other companies.

Given your lengthy tenure in the industry, how do you see it developing over the coming years?
We all see the challenges the industry faces with sea lice and escapees and I believe discharge from cages is another emerging threat. Producing big smolts on land has become more and more common as it reduces the time in sea cages and the risks in the sea. We will see more of that and I believe we will see more smolts produced in closed floating containments. 
To produce market size fish in closed containments inshore will be the next step as well as production in offshore cages. Closed containments give the fish a stable environment. This is something fish like and I believe that this will solve the issues related to sea lice, escapees and discharge (as the sludge can be collected). Also, pushing water is much cheaper than lifting it into land based systems. With the environmental problems taken care of, the industry can grow and I expect to see three million tonnes being produced in Norway by 2030, using a number of various systems. With variable fees on the various systems, the authorities can steer the industry in the direction they want.
I see continued growth for this industry.

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