Driving sustainability in aquaculture
Global aquaculture biotechnology company, Benchmark, prides itself on driving sustainability in aquaculture through its three strongholds — genetics, health and advanced nutrition.
The UK-listed company celebrated its 20th birthday last year and has gone through significant restructuring over the last 12 months with the objective to become a “streamlined, market-leading, sustainably profitable group”.
Trond Williksen took over the reins of the company in June 2020 when he joined as CEO. In this exclusive interview we speak to Trond about his aspirations for the group and vision for the future of sustainable aquaculture. In addition, Head of Genetics, Jan-Emil Johannessen, and Head of Commercial Europe, Carolina Faune who manages Benchmark Health activities in the Nordics, explain more about the role of Genetics and Health in driving performance, efficiency and good health and welfare in the industry.
Q: Trond, you joined Benchmark one year ago, what has changed? And what is your future vision for the business?
My long term vision is to develop Benchmark into the leading aquaculture biotechnology company driving sustainability. We have advanced in becoming a more streamlined group focussed on genetics, health and advanced nutrition, and we can start to see this coming through in our performance.
Benchmark has a unique proposition in driving sustainability in aquaculture, an industry that will and needs to develop in a sustainable way. We are very well positioned in improving sustainability and profitability for our customers and supporting them to meet their ESG targets. I see a lot of opportunity going forward and our aim and focus is to extract that potential.
Q: Who do you consider the key influencers in the industry?
I see the key influencer as the general public and their collective drive towards a more sustainable food chain. After that we have industry players who play a significant role in that food chain, as well as governments in creating and managing related regulatory frameworks.
In the wider circle of stakeholders we see NGOs and other stakeholders to a larger extent that play a role in the industry’s development and direction.
Q: Where do you see the aquaculture industry in 10 or 20 years’ time?
I have been in the aquaculture industry for 30 years and never imagined how rapidly it would develop and how significant the industry would become. All assumptions back then around the magnitude and growth of the industry have been beaten. I think this will continue and be supported by mega trends such as the demand for healthy sustainable food from the ocean.
So in the next 10-20 years I think we’ll see the industry continue to develop in size – it will be bigger, more diverse and sustainable.
Genetics – the best starting point for production
Aquaculture genetics entered Benchmark’s portfolio seven years ago with the acquisition of companies that have been running genetic programs in aquaculture since the 1980s. Since then the Company has become a world-leading aquaculture genetics provider and expanded its operations, including the build of the most advanced land-based salmon egg facility in the world located in Sørfjorden, Norway. Head of Genetics, Jan-Emil Johannessen describes genetics as the best starting point for production and explains the role of genetics in sustainable aquaculture.
Q: Jan-Emil, Aquaculture genetics was born in Norway, if we look beyond Norway, can you explain your offering?
Benchmark Genetics has a history of breeding that goes back to the seventies when Atlantic Salmon broodfish were brought from the best performing rivers to form the industry we know of today. Our in-house breeding programmes for salmon in Norway and Iceland, and our expertise within technical genetics services for the global aquaculture industry have formed the basis of our international expansion. We now have a local breeding programme for Atlantic salmon in Chile, a programme for tropical shrimp in Colombia, USA and Asia, and a Nile tilapia programme in the USA and Brazil. Today, our products and genetics improvement services are available in all the world’s key aquaculture markets, making Benchmark Genetics the leading aquaculture breeding company.
Q: Can you explain the role of genetics in sustainable aquaculture?
As a genetics provider, we operate and can influence the very beginning of the value chain. Any productivity improvements provided through our breeding programmes such as robustness to diseases and flesh quality immediately impact the sustainability of the following steps in the chain.
Genetically improved stocks of aquaculture species are critical for the development of a profitable aquaculture production system with better utilization of feed, land, energy and water resources.
Q: How do you see the salmon genetics industry in 10 or 20 years’ time?
The future of the salmon genetics industry is tightly connected with the developments taking place in the industry. New emerging farming systems such as land-based farming and off-shore farming create new biological environments for the fish. Our task is to ensure that the salmon ova we produce are adapted to the system, environment and challenges to which they will be exposed. Benchmark Genetics have three strains of genetic material reared in three geographical areas of the world, with broodstock raised in land-based systems and the sea. I am confident we are well-positioned to meet the industry trends going forward.
Setting a new environmental standard in sea lice control
In development since 2011, Benchmark’s award winning water purification system, CleanTreat® and new sea lice medicine BMK08 are on track to be launched in Norway this year. CleanTreat® is used to clean and purify post-treatment water from medicinal bath treatments for fish. The system removes medicinal residue from treatment water, before returning purified water to the sea and has been dubbed a ‘transformational change for the industry’.
Head of Commercial for Benchmark Health, Carolina Faune is responsible for Benchmark’s commercial activity in Europe and works closely with the major salmon producers in the region. A veterinarian by training, Carolina explains the company’s multi-disciplinary approach in fish health and environmental stewardship.
Carolina, CleanTreat® won the Nor Fishing Innovation Award in 2019, can you explain how this technology is a transformational change for the industry?
CleanTreat® was developed and created with environmental stewardship at its core. Through the deployment of this new technology it allows producers to use effective treatments for sea lice, whilst ensuring animal welfare and environmental protection. Our vision here at Benchmark is a future where no medicinal residues are released into the environment which will be an important contribution to a more sustainable aquaculture industry.
Q: What does the future look like in terms of sea lice control?
I think the future is brighter than before. CleanTreat® will enable a number of new technologies to come to the market in the future. Our new sea lice medicine, BMK08, has been proven to be highly effective as well as gentle for the fish and subject to regulatory approval will be available for use with CleanTreat® during this year.
It’s important to note though, and as a veterinarian by training, I learned from an early stage in my career to effectively control disease a multi-disciplinary approach needs to be deployed. This means good genetics from the start to create robust fish, high quality feed to increase resilience, well managed systems that promote good fish welfare and reliable health solutions for all production stages. This is the model that Benchmark is built upon.
Benchmark will have a digital stand at this year’s AquaNor.
Find out more about Benchmark’s presence by visiting our dedicated AquaNor website: www.bmkaquanor.com