Bakkafrost is the largest salmon producer and the biggest private employer in the Faroe Islands and has expanded operations in Scotland and the US. The company is the 3rd largest salmon producer in the world.
For CEO Regin Jacobsen, the responsible governance of sustainable development across the whole value chain is a matter of leadership and taking initiatives.
Congratulations, Regin, you have recently been awarded edie 2021 Business Leader of the Year for your impressive and ongoing sustainability efforts at Bakkafrost — why is sustainability such a priority topic for you and the company?
Today, sustainability is important for everyone and widely driven by the market. To ensure future growth and success, Bakkafrost needs to align with customers’ demand. However, long before sustainable operations became a mainstream concern, here in the Faroe Islands it was always an important and natural part of our lives. When my father and grandfather were running the business, I remember that every crated new item arriving here — like machines — were carefully unpacked and every piece of wood was used again. It was regular practise to re-use and value any resources and material. Now we call this circular economy —and it has become again a very important part of how to use resources as a business principle.
The scales are different though and research and scientific proof are needed to be able to anticipate and take the right steps. But we still follow the same targets in our society and families – that is to protect the environment for the future generations to come.
As a responsible company, sustainable reporting is essential for us and so is adequate certification, like the one provided by ASC (Aquaculture Stewardship Council), to be able to set and meet standards and goals. As a listed company, it is our responsibility to be transparent and open to listen to our stakeholders and to take all different aspects into consideration.
We always aim to operate on a high level of moral at Bakkafrost.
What makes Bakkafrost such a leading company in salmon farming?
Our company is 53 years old – it was started in 1968. Our leadership goal was always to be good at what we do – including top to bottom approach to sustainability. We all depend on a healthy environment, and we have top conditions for salmon production here in the North Atlantic surrounding the Faroe Islands. In Q4 2019 Bakkafrost acquired The Scottish Salmon Company (SSC) and hereby diversified our farming operation into a new geography. We are committed to growth, and we are always open to new solutions and innovation and also constantly look for new opportunities. Our people and teams are highly committed and good at what they do.
Our expectations to ourselves are high and that is what brought Bakkafrost to where it is.
What are the most important sustainability goals for the future of the salmon industry?
In the nature only about 2-3 % of the salmon survive and return to the rivers to spawn. Nature works with the principle of abundance to secure the resulting populations.
In a company of course this is different — 94 % of the farmed fish should survive for us to remain competitive. Hence, fish health and welfare are a top priority for us and one of the most important goals is therefore to work on biosecurity and to find adaptive ways for the salmon to stay healthy and unstressed in changing ecosystems. The biggest challenge for the health of the salmon are sea lice, a natural parasite that also sits on wild salmon. These parasites need to be removed and cleaned from the fish, and we use natural methods to do this. One of these methods is to host lumpfish in the cages, which eat the sea lice and keep the salmon well.
Historically aquaculture used chemicals to keep the fish clean and healthy, but over time these chemicals proved to be less effective. Bakkafrost on principle does not apply chemicals, no growth hormones and also no antibiotics for 20 years.
Another important issue in fish farming is to ensure and further improve high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which contribute to healthy brain function, limber joints, and a lowered risk of heart disease — the levels of Omega depend on the feeds for salmon, which we constantly research and improve.
Salmon offers an environmentally sound and cost-effective alternative to traditionally produced meat and protein products and are sold in almost every market worldwide — perfect to ensure a healthy and sustainable lifestyle and access to high-quality food.
You plan to take aquaculture offshore — will that not harm the nature?
No, on the contrary, it will be a game changer! One major goal in sustainable fish farming is not to leave footprints on the sea beds – the farming cages used in the fjords are therefore moved around – but it will be much easier to avoid sea bed damage by having the farms offshore in open seas.
What about the preferences for farmed vs. wild salmon in the markets — are consumers receptive to farmed salmon?
20-30 years back, business with wild salmon was much bigger than sales of farmed salmon, now it is completely turned around. These days almost all food products are farmed in one way or another —only controlled farming allows us to apply responsible management and to provide the food amounts needed.
Bakkafrost is a founding member of GSI — the Global Salmon Initiative. It is very important to us to demonstrate the sustainable efforts we all take and to collectively inform about the salmon industry.
Our farmed salmon helps with a healthy lifestyle, and it has a lower carbon footprint than other animal source of protein.
What are your latest initiatives at Bakkafrost?
We are not only a salmon producing company and the biggest employer in the Faroe Islands, we also feel a great responsibility for our society and community here.
So we have supported the start of a new business sustainability initiative in January, called Burðardygt Vinnulív, which simply means “sustainable business”. In this project we want to work together with 11 local companies from different sectors, like oil producing, banking, insurance, transport, engineering, electrical.
It is a 3-years initiative to help develop sustainable practise across different segments of companies, and to benefit from our wide expertise for the sake of the community.
To be ready for the future it is important to demonstrate leadership and mission-driven approach and we all need to change the way we operate our businesses. We also align all projects in this initiative with the UN Sustainable Development Goals to have clear objectives for all we do, particularly working on climate action and ocean health.
Will your team be ready to share such initiatives with conferences planners who come to the Faroe Islands?
Yes, I think so. My colleague Ana Holden Peters is leading the project, and it can in fact be inspiring to others to copy and initiate similar projects in their own environment!
We promote conferences to come to the Faroe Islands — what conferences from your industry are held here?
We usually have the Bakkafrost Customer Summit every second year which had to be postponed from its original date in April 2020 to 2021. https://www.bakkafrost.com/en/about-us/news/bakkafrost-summit-2020-postponed/
We hold regular investors meetings, but we also attend industry-related conferences in different parts of the world.
In the Faroe Islands conferences around fish farming issues are held regularly. The last EU fishmeal Biennial Conference took place in 2019 in our capital, Tórshavn. Other conferences planned, had to be postponed due to the pandemic.
Do you collaborate with Visit Faroe Islands Meetings or VFI Tourism?
I see a very positive synergy between destination marketing and the salmon coming from here. We both refer to the unique nature and the remote location and with the increasing awareness of our islands for international tourism a great basis is laid for placement of our salmon products. Both the destination and our salmon are different and of outstanding quality. And yes, we occasionally have conversations with Visit Faroe Islands.
I had a very special experience when I visited Miami together with my wife a couple of years ago to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. For this special occasion we went to a very good and nice restaurant with many awards and certificates. On the menu they offered Salmon from the Faroe Islands. We asked the waiter (a random one from quite a few waiters there) why they serve salmon from the Faroe Islands. He explained to us that they only use the best products in their famous restaurant and that the salmon from the Faroe Islands is the best, from cold and pristine waters and with a great taste. That made us very happy, as you can imagine….
What is your key mission for Bakkafrost?
It makes our company and our people happy to serve tasty and healthy salmon at any time. We want to provide the world’s growing population with sustainable, healthy and easy-to-prepare valuable food — that is our main goal for the future!
Thank you so much for sharing your encouraging views on sustainability, Regin. Hopefully this will inspire many corporate leaders to follow!