Strict quality focus for Faroese salmon farmer.
A red tanker backs towards another already stationed at the entrance to a mobile station for bleeding fish. Next door is a circular plastic pen connected to an oblong cage that leads in toward the bleeding station. Salmon slaughtered at Midtvagur, Faroe Islands, are retailed under the Hiddenfjord brand.
“We tow the salmon inside in a transport cage. There are no wellboats involved in the slaughter process. From the cage they go through mobile chilling and bleeding,” Atli Gregersen, Managing Director of the marine farming company Luna, explained to iLaks/Salmon Business.
On the horizon, it’s possible to see the marine farm that is being emptied. On the inner side of the breakwater tankers are reversing into position to receive the salmon that will be sent on to slaughter and processing. This is the same pattern as for the so-called Killing Stations in Chile, where slaughter and processing take place at different locations.
“I can’t say for definite that we achieve better quality than using wellboats, but we believe we do. Our customers back this view also,” said Gregersen.
“We’ve learnt this method from Tasmania. I think we are generally open to learn more from others. In Norway they think they are masters of everything, but we are so small-scale here on the Faroe Islands that we have to learn from others. We are getting good feedback from the market.
“Before the ISA crisis in 2000-2005 Faroese salmon were the cheapest. Now they are the dearest. After the ISA crisis Faroese salmon have achieved a position as market leader. Not in Europe – we sell practically no fresh salmon to Europe – but to the United States, Asia and of course Russia,” Gregersen added.
In the nineties it was the Danish company Sagalax and Kim Brodersen who sold the bulk of Faroese salmon.
“Every Friday we were faxed with next week’s prices. At the bottom of the page was: “Faroese salmon (minus) -1 NOK. We were pretty mad at him,” Gregersen said.
He is fluent in Norwegian, with just a hint of Tromso dialect, after having studied at the Norwegian College of Fishery Science (NCFS) in Tromso. Here he specialised in marine farming, and completed a post-graduate thesis on salmon smolt.
“In our company we are focused on fetching higher prices, so we have concentrated on achieving quality. During the ISA crisis we removed the brand from the box. We wanted a brand that ensured a better price. One of our buyers sold the salmon under the Black Pearl brand, which achieved higher prices than others. We engaged an advertising bureau and arrived at ‘Hiddenfjord’. The very name tells a story of sustainability. The hidden fjord that you are unlikely to ever discover, but that you are nonetheless able to buy salmon from,” Gregersen said, before adding:
“It became an instant success!”
In Midtvagur the houses are painted black and have turf-covered roofs. Sheep are everywhere. Gregersen estimates there are 70-75,000 sheep on the Faroe Islands. That’s a lot more than the archipelago’s human population of 49,000.
The company was first established here back in 1929, and was based on salted fish and clipfish.
“Eventually we went into pelagic in P/F Fiskavirkid (fisheries business). We still have salted fish and have resumed production of clipfish. Turnover was around 100 million dollars in 2014, earned from 10,000 tonnes of salmon and 5,000 tonnes of salted fish.
The company, of which Luna is the dynamo, is owned by the brothers Regin, Páll and Atli Gregersen.
“Just to put the record straight, we don’t have any plans to go public”.
– Has anyone come knocking on your door in that respect?
“Yes, several times. We’re not for sale. We aim to produce the best quality in the world. I know that sounds pretty ambitious, but we mean it.”
Part of the key to success is humane slaughter.
“Stress-free salmon, without suffering anxiety. The slaughter process is the deciding factor, in our opinion. Much can be ruined if slaughtering is not carried out properly,” said Atli Gregersen.
Luna operates according to several strategic mainstays: Integrity, innovation and financial strength.
“We’re not going to expand so quickly that it has an adverse effect on what our finances can tolerate. I’m from Nordagöta. We started up with marine farming at Sandavagur in 1992. The Faroe Islands went bankrupt 4th October, 1992. I don’t know if ‘bankrupt’ is the right word, but in effect that’s what happened,” he said.
Luna produced 10,200 tonnes of salmon, gutted weight in 2014. Volume will be slightly lower this year.
“We’ll be down possibly by 2,000 tonnes this year, and maybe up 4,000 tonnes next year, based on scheduled smolt releases”.