Marine Harvest: Bringing Up the Best in Fish Farming

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Combine internationally leading expertise in aquaculture with focus on local employee empowerment and marine biology — and you have the Faroese version of the world’s largest supplier of farmed Atlantic salmon, Marine Harvest.

[Bui Tyril]

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With the Faroe Islands’ rising profile in the global fish farming business, the country’s aquaculture industry is rapidly gaining significance, and status, at home. No wonder: over the last few years, farmed Atlantic salmon has increasingly reinforced its position as the largest single source of export revenues.

Make no mistake, the natural environment of Faroe is as tough as it is well suited for fish farming, and so is the business climate—well consolidated, highly competitive, while maintaining good collaboration between the players.

For Marine Harvest Faroes on the third year in a row to win both of two coveted prizes awarded annually by the Faroese Fish Farmers industry organization, is not merely just another feather in the hat. Winning the ‘Best Smolt Farm’ category by a clear margin, for a mortality rate as low as 0.8 percent compared to the runner-up whose figures were at 4.04 pc, is quite a feat. Likewise taking home the ‘Best Fish Farm at Sea’ category, the company scored the highest effectiveness index points as measured by growth-to-feed ratio, for a fish farm located in the northern part of the Sound Area between Streymoy and Eysturoy—an area otherwise known for being relatively hostile to aquaculture due to the presence of aquatic parasites.

“You don’t always get what you expect,” managing director Hans Jákup Mikkelsen noted. “Some of my colleagues seem surprised by the results we achieve irrespective of the prevalent conditions in locations such as the northern part of the Sound Area.”

Mr. Mikkelsen offered a threefold explanation: one, the corporate resources dedicated by Marine Harvest to research and development give subsidiaries around the world, including the Faroe Islands entity, access to a wealth of knowledge and data that is hard to match by the competition; two, the special blend of competencies successfully put together under Mr. Mikkelsen’s management, with a relatively high degree of employee autonomy and an associated localized expertise, has produced what is recognized as a winning team; and the strong Faroese focus on marine biology and the environment further underpins and reinforces the sense of resourcefulness, deep knowledge and spirit of solidarity and responsibility.

After all, Marine Harvest is known as the world’s largest supplier of farmed Atlantic Salmon, satisfying as much as one fifth of global demand. The company spends multiple millions every year on R&D, much of which is shared with the Faroese industry and relevant authorities, often free of charge.


“We bring some valuable information to the table and we’re proud of that,” Mr. Mikkelsen said. “Perhaps we’ve been lucky as well in the Faroes,” he added. “Our people happen to be very competent, knowledgable and enthusiastic about their work, yet finding the right people for the job is generally not easy. We’ve had some highly skilled and informed persons with us for quite some time, who’ve been able to develop continuously along with their coworkers, and I think their qualities have had a tremendous effect on the whole team. All of this has become an integrated part of our understanding and handling of all the processes involved, the places, the conditions and so on. We’ve probably had some luck in finding the right balance for organizing and operating this business. Meanwhile, it’s no secret that empowerment has been our key management concept and it has worked for this organization—encouraging employees to take ownership of their work.”

The main export markets for Marine Harvest Faroes are Russia, United States, China-Singapore, and the European Union.

Recent investments include a 100M dkk development of the company’s smolt farm at Hellurnar. Key to the thinking is having juvenile fish grow as much as possible before introducing them to sea cages, thereby reducing exposure to sea lice. Every on-growing pen has about one lumpfish for every ten salmon—in the fight against the parasites, Marine Harvest Faroes in recent years, like other industry majors, has introduced lumpfish to sea cages to naturally feed on sea lice. At the same time anti-lice ‘skirt’ coverings have been fitted on cages to filter inflowing water and thereby reduce the influx of lice.

In another recent investment, the company has partnered with fish processor Delta Seafood to keep Sandoy Seafood running, an important local employer on the island of Sandoy. Off the southwestern coast there, at Sandsvág, Marine Harvest Faroes is pioneering fish farming in an environment where strong currents combine with high waves, promising lower environmental impact although at higher risk from the onslaught of the elements.

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