In short: When pure data will not crack it . . . use ‘ground truth’ too.
We visited fish farms on Faroe Islands and chatted to the fishers, aquaculture operators and veterinarians all involved in fish farming.
When we flew home, we used the gained know-how in our work.
In June 2016, Bonafide visited Bakkafrost on the magnificent and untamed Faroe Islands. The Danish name of this mystic place translates as “the islands of sheep”, and sheep perhaps may outnumber the islands population of roughly 50’000 indeed.
The real treasure is?
Yet we perceive a different species as much more important. The real treasure is only visible if one has a deeper look – salmon.
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The 18 main islands are situated between two major streams, the Arctic Current and the North Atlantic Drift. This location provides natural conditions with pristine waters at 7-12 degrees Celsius. This steady sea temperature come with strong and fresh currents.
Supported by these strong currents, farmed salmon from that archipelago actually must swim long distances, as if they would live in the wild.
In 2003, following an infectious salmon anemia outbreak, the Faroe Islands implemented one of the most comprehensive and stringent regulatory regimes in the world, known as the Faroese Veterinarian Act on Aquaculture.
The rule is comprised of 81 paragraphs, all of which are designed to guarantee sustainability of the industry by protecting salmon from outbreaks of disease, by protecting the environment and by ensuring fish welfare.
Faroe Islands on a fish farm: Sea cages
We also explored the operations by sea – from Fuglafjørður we sailed by the new well-boat Hans á Bakka via their best performing offshore site A21 on the course to Tórshavn.
The well-boat’s activity includes transport and harvesting. It also does special tasks. Examples are such as harvesting the fish and cleaning it with fresh water.
Old (green buildings) and new (grey buildings) hatchery in Viðareiði with a spectacular view.
The new hatchery in Viðareiði can rear larger smolt up to 500 grams. It thereby helps mitigate a possible bottleneck in the value chain. It does this because the cycle of seawater stage, i.e. where fish grows from 0.5 to 6 kg, gets reduced by about a third.
That means from 18 to 12 months.
The strategy taken is a so-called single fjord strategy. This single generation approach means there is a mandatory fallowing for a minimum of 2 months between generations of salmon.
As well, there are strict density limits. These help reduce biological risks.
Faroe Islands on a fish farm: Broodstock facility
A batch of smolt (salmon juveniles) at the hatchery in Viðareiði. The veterinarians and staff are at work vaccinating the fish.
The advantages of vaccinating fish for consumers are manifold according to WHO (World Health Organization)
Faroe Islands on a fish farm: Fish get vaccinated
Here are 3 veterinarians vaccinating every single fish. It shows that using this approach there is no need to administer antibiotics to farmed salmon.
Short video how the fish get vaccinated
Join the conversation
1. Have you ever been in the Faroe Islands?
2. What you think about the video and vaccinating the salmon? Do you look as a consumer for such information?
3. Would you feel better if all fish were vaccinated instead of using chemical products?
The above illustrates that Faroe Islands has done much to reduce biological risks of fish farming. In turn, this has helped achieve sustainability and reduce risks with aquaculture.
Some financial analysts will flinch at the idea of taking “ground truth” too seriously. Case studies or anecdotal evidence are not representative. And yes, they can result in us drawing the wrong conclusions. So can data, if you rely on them too heavily.
But if we combine data with “ground truth” (e.g., our on site visits in Faroe Islands), you can tease out where the difference could be. Moreover, it can give us clues why things are a certain way.
Capturing these subtleties is not possible by staring at a spreadsheet in an office in Zurich. And the bits you miss may definitely be the bits that matter the most!
That is why you will continue to see us walking around with dirty shoes.