The Endeavors of the World’s Largest Salmon Farming Company- Nurturing the Future in the Ocean that Covers 70% of the Planet’s Surface (Part 2)

The Endeavors of the World’s Largest Salmon Farming Company- Nurturing the Future in the Ocean that Covers 70% of the Planet’s Surface (Part 2)

The world’s largest salmon farming company, Mowi has set “Leading the Blue Revolution” as its corporate vision. The company has been recognized for a world-class record of achievements in sustainability. Catarina Martins, who serves as Mowi’s Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) and Chief Technology Officer (CTO), points out three key features of Mowi’s initiatives; sustainability department is directly set under the CEO, the sustainability department connects to R&D rather than CSR, and the efforts are implemented by in-house network (Read Part I).

In Part II, Catarina Martins talks about data analysis and other systems for promoting innovation, and balancing sustainability and profit as Chief Technology Officer (CTO), and her passions for aquaculture,

 

Serving as coordinator of both technology development and innovation promotion

── You also serve as the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) who oversees technical aspects. Please tell us about the roles and team structure.

The Global R&D and Technical Group is in charge of company-wide technology aspects, and is headed by the CTO. The Group has 16 members, divided among fields of expertise including fish health, seawater farming, freshwater farming, quality and safety, and data analysis.

The Group shoulders three major roles. The first is R&D and innovation. The second is technical support in the field. The Group provides multifaceted support for work sites that include handling accidents and escapes and advising on large-scale purchases of farming nets.

The third role is data analysis, which has recently taken on more importance. This work involves connecting vast amounts of data coming up from work sites around the world, looking out and reading them. As an example, the Group may be asked to analyze the past 10 years of data to find the impacts of differences in lighting and water temperature on growth and quality.

I first worked with this Group when I joined Mowi a decade ago. The company subsequently became more focused on sustainability and established a new CSO post, which I assumed. Looking at the response from investors at present, I think they were prescient.

 

Breeding and breed improvement work. The health and well-being of fish are also major topics for the Global R&D and Technical Group. (Photo by Jørn-Arne Tomasgard)

 

── As an initiative for innovation, “Smart farming,” which you’re working with the Google Group, has also become popular.

Smart farming is an automation technology for aquaculture using AI and sensing devices. Mowi uses the “innovation funnel” for innovation management. This is a long-standing approach in the field of innovation, but we change it a bit to suit ourselves.

 

Catarina explains the “innovation funnel” used by Mowi for technology innovation management

 

R&D projects pass through three stages – the proposal phase, development/experimentation phase, and verification phase – before reaching the implementation phase. Many things drop out along the way; only about 10% remain to the last.

From the beginning, projects are evaluated on the basis of revenue expected to be generated in the future. We focus on high-revenue projects as much as possible, but we also make use of low-revenue ones with high assurance of success. Here, too, the point is to prioritize issues. However, the projects are prioritized by not only the degree of revenue but also by the possibility of positive external evaluations.

 

 

Using Tidal technology developed in collaboration with X, part of the Alphabet (Google) Group, AI and sensing devices are used to turn the marine environment and fish behavior into data and advance the automation of aquaculture (Photo by Tidal)

 

Revenue and sustainability as one in aquaculture

―― Getting back to the topic of sustainability, what are Mowi’s reasons for being so focused on sustainability?

There are two big reasons. One is that this industry is innately dependent on nature. That may not be the case for all food production, but aquaculture, in particular, isn’t possible without the ocean. Nature is directly linked to the survival and profitability of the business. Valuing nature and making it sustainable is fundamental to the work of raising food in the ocean.

Another reason is the expectations of our stakeholders. Investors, business partners, workers and employees, and local communities demand initiatives aimed at sustainability. The growth of ESG funds and climate funds has been remarkable, and interest is rising in green finance as well. In particular, in the whole Europe, sustainability is demanded in a chain reaction.

―― There’s a tailwind blowing in a sense, isn’t there. Are there also difficulties you face?

Plenty of them. For some environmental issues, time is needed for investments to achieve results. Businesses always deal with quarterly revenue reporting, and sustainability initiatives can’t continue without revenue. Time-consuming actions to address climate change can be particularly difficult.

―― Some alignment is needed between the timeline of investors and the timeline of sustainability.

Our investors understand that sustainability takes time. However, they demand a plan. It’s all about planning, putting the plan into practice, and producing revenue.

―― We’ve heard that Mowi achieved its largest revenue ever in 2022. How are you able to achieve strong results in both sustainability and revenue?

The greatest reason is that contributing to sustainability directly links to success in the aquaculture business. The natural environment, water quality, fish welfare, and stocking density are all connected to productivity.

Moreover, sustainability initiatives connect directly to profit in the form of cost reductions. Particularly when energy costs are skyrocketing as they are now, the effect is enormous.

 

About 8 million servings of salmon go out every day through farming sites, primary and secondary processing sites, and sales sites worldwide

 

From marine biology to aquaculture

―― What did your interests originally lie, and what brought you to your current work?

I was born and raised in Portugal. The beach was nearby and the ocean always felt close, so I very naturally headed down the path of marine biology.

When I went on to a master’s degree in marine biology at the University of Lisbon, I discovered that I was more interested in application than pure research. This led me to choose aquaculture as my speciality. I took a doctorate in animal science from Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands, where I lived for 10 years, and also worked in research in Portugal and Austria. I always specialized in aquaculture and have worked with many types of fish, including sea perch, sea bream, tilapia, African catfish, trout, and salmon.

After that, I found myself at a crossroads between continuing professional research and putting my expertise to use in a company. There was a job offer from a company called Marine Harvest, which became Mowi after a name change in 2019. What the company sought for its global R&D and technical department was someone with the wide-ranging knowledge to engage in environmental issues and sustainability, which is exactly what I had been doing.

Even after I started working for Mowi, I wanted to learn about business and took an MBA degree for global seafood in Norway. I also studied corporate sustainability in a Harvard program. I love getting involved in a lot of things, but aquaculture is always at the core.

 

Remaining attracted to a future of growing food in the ocean

―― Why has kept you so interested in aquaculture?

I think aquaculture is the future. Even now, I remember watching TV as a child and seeing the legendary marine explorer and oceanographer Jacques Cousteau say, “The ocean will be the ranch of the future.” He said that just as human civilization progressed from hunting to agriculture, it will also grow food in the ocean.

Even though the ocean accounts for 70% of the earth’s surface, the food we obtain from it makes up only two to four percentages of our food on a calorie basis. It holds amazing potential. Growing food in the ocean – that’s the future, I thought. That was the core of my motivation.

On top of that, fish is a wonderful food that’s rich in nutrients and good for human health, with a low impact on the earth. That’s why I want to create quality products in this sector, boost production, and advance it sustainably.

Norway is the ideal place for doing this. Everything is prepared here, and there are a lot of companies that support both R&D and suppliers. Norway offers substantial programs for investment in R&D, and interaction among companies, research institutions, and universities is also active.

 

As an aquaculture researcher, Catarina has worked with different types of fish including sea perch, sea bream, and tilapia. Salmon is another of the types of fish she worked with before joining Mowi.

 

―― So, it was inevitable that you ended up in Norway.

That’s right. Even when I was working as a researcher, I came to Norway many times. For any subject related to research and development in aquaculture, there’s almost always somebody involved in Norway. That’s why I’d visited Bergen many times before living there.

What still drives me is a desire to make this industry more sustainable. From a marine biology perspective, balancing industry with environmental protection is the most important core for me.

―― That was at the core for you even before your current position and company, wasn’t it?

Aquaculture is my core and is one with sustainability. Mowi is a great company for making that a reality. It’s an international company, so I can use my experiences living in different countries, too. It’s also a company with a very pragmatic culture. It doesn’t needlessly increase time and effort, and stays clear of bureaucratic formalism. The company is performance-oriented and its decisions are simple and candid.

 

Hoping to support the transformation of diets

―― Productivity of Norway’s seafood industry is said to be eight times that of Japan*. Conditions differ between Japan and Norway, but do you have any advice for Japan in boosting its productivity?

I think one reason why we’ve been able to boost our productivity is our focus. Farming a few types of fish on a large scale is working advantageously. Even in the fishery industry, you can focus on by narrowing down the types of fish a bit. Japan has a culture of eating different kinds of fish, but perhaps these could be narrowed down a little.

Another source of our productivity is technology. I find it odd that Japan is not more advanced on this point. I thought Japan had advanced technology, but it doesn’t seem to have incorporated technology much into fishery and aquaculture.

*According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ “Census of Fisheries 2013,” annual production per fisherman is 27.6 tons in Japan and 214.5 tons in Norway, nearly eight times that of Japan.

 

―― How would you like to see Mowi’s products accepted in Japan in the future?

I’ve heard that there’s pickiness about specific types of fish in Japan, but at the same time, the catch of fish that are traditionally caught in Japan has been decreasing, and the conditions of the ocean have changed considerably. Under these circumstances, we have strength to supply high-quality, safe fish sustainably and in stable volumes.

If our products can contribute to Japanese people enjoying seafood, that would be a great joy. Hopefully, the consumption of meat and fish, which has been reversed for now, will go back again. I’ve heard that in Japan, too, the younger generation cares about being sustainable. I hope we can offer options there.

 

Salmon, as a healthy gourmet food, is getting more popular worldwide. Of the salmon offered by Mowi, 99% by volume has been certified ASC, BAP, and Global GAP certification.

 

―― Tell us about your aspirations for the future.

For me, it’s continuing what we’re tackling now and achieving our ongoing R&D projects. I also want to help more people learn about the sustainability of aquaculture and change their impressions. I hope to change awareness in the general public. Ultimately, if we don’t change people’s dietary behavior, change won’t happen.

Fish is good for people’s health and is a protein that has a low impact on the earth. Its healthiness is quite widely known, but its sustainability isn’t yet. As Mowi, we want to remain a pioneer in this movement and hope to achieve even greater innovation.

 

Catarina Martins
Catarina Martins is the Chief Sustainability and Technology officer at Mowi ASA (Norway). Catarina coordinates the implementation of Mowi’s sustainability strategy, Leading the Blue Revolution Plan, which includes innovation activities related to fish health and welfare, quality, processing, data analysis, and seawater and freshwater farming technologies. She has a PhD in Aquaculture from Wageningen University (The Netherlands), an MBA from The Norwegian School of Economics (Norway), an MSc in Marine Biology from the University of Lisbon (Portugal) and supplementary education on Corporate Sustainability from Harvard University (USA). After serving as a researcherat Wageningen University, at the Centre for Marine Sciences (CCMAR) in Portugal and at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, Austria, she joined Mowi in 2013.

 

Original Japanese text by: Keiko Ihara