Marine Harvest puts dinner on the table

Kelly Dawson
March 27, 2018
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There are more than 250 companies in our combined portfolios, and they are all making amazing advancements. From names you know, like Tesla, to those little gems you haven’t heard of yet, like Xylem, we want you to know all about what your holdings are up to. These ‘deep dives’ will help you understand what you’re invested into and how your dollars are making the world a better place.

Marine Harvest is part of our Healthy Living portfolio.

  • Based in Norway, Marine Harvest is responsible for more than six million seafood meals every day
  • Marine Harvest is represented in more than 20 countries, with its primary markets throughout much of North America and Europe
  • Salmon has a much smaller carbon footprint than meat

You don’t have to be spotlighted on the Food Network to know the benefits of eating salmon. For the past several years, this fish has become a cornerstone of a balanced diet, and its many healthy attributes have been lauded on everything from cooking shows to lifestyle publications and even social media posts. And hey, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s high in protein and Omega-3 fatty acids, it’s packed with essential vitamins and minerals, and it can help decrease the risk for heart disease. In other words, a fish that used to be famous solely for its ability to swim upstream is now just as well known for its ability to keep us going strong, too.

But before salmon can get on your plate, it has to be pulled from the water. And one of the world’s biggest companies in charge of this operation — whether it’s farm-to-table or ocean-to-table — is Marine Harvest. Based in Norway, Marine Harvest is responsible for more than six million seafood meals eaten every single day. It meets one-fifth of the world’s demand for fresh eats, and is the leader in supplying farmed Atlantic salmon anywhere it wants to be served.

As you can probably imagine, there’s a lot more involved here than a dripping wet net and a pre-baked oven. In order for Marine Harvest to make various cuts of salmon available to the public, it has created a highly-specialized system for harvesting, packaging, and distributing these swimmers so that they remain as natural as possible. And since it has such close ties to the outdoors, Marine Harvest is also working to make these processes as sustainable as possible. You can say that it’s giving us something healthy to cook without eventually cooking us in the meantime.

Take the bait

Last fall, in a New York Times story about Norwegian fish farms, Ola Braanaas said this: “In India, they have the holy cow. In Norway, it’s the sacred salmon.” Braanaas is the owner of Firda Seafood, a family-owned company in the Nordic country, which works along the same lines as its competitor Marine Harvest. But his statement encapsulates what this business, especially in this specific place, means. Here, salmon just isn’t a way to watch your weight. It’s a connection to the past and a view toward a somewhat uncertain future. And that’s perhaps why Marine Harvest’s history is so complicated, even though the company is only 50 years old: everyone involved knew how much there was to gain or lose.

Back when Marine Harvest was just beginning, the future of the Atlantic salmon farming industry was unclear. It was 1965, and Unilever oversaw Marine Harvest’s start in another Northern European locale known as Lochailort, Scotland. At the time, Unilever was looking to break into the industry, and grew the company by opening a second location in Chile a decade later. But by 1992, it was clear that things weren’t going to work out — Unilever sold the company to Marifarms.

The next few years are a murky mix of deals: two years later Marifarms sold the company, then other acquisitions occurred. The company hopscotched from America to Great Britain to the Netherlands in a series of exchanges around the new millennium, but two main businesses stood out from the fray to merge into what Marine Harvest is today: Pan Fish and Fjord Seafood. These two brands blended into Marine Harvest in the mid-2000s, making the company a robust enterprise that would become a pronounced leader by the time another decade passed.

So what exactly do we mean by “pronounced leader?” Well, let’s explain the title by the numbers. Marine Harvest is represented in more than 20 countries, with its primary markets throughout much of North America and Europe, and can still be found in its past haunts of Chile and Scotland. It tailors its catch to specific places, acting as a global seafood counter for whichever cut sells best in a location: there’s fillets, steaks, and gutted fish, as well as ready-to-eat portions and smoked options its menu. And when those fish are ready, they’re sold by brands under the company umbrella — names like Rebel Fish, Sterling, and Ducktrap might ring a bell.

In all, Marine Harvest has a share of just under a third of the world’s global salmon market (and trout market), as well as a list of employees that number in the tens of thousands. Last fall, the company reported a revenue of about €870 million, which was in fact its best performance yet.

Go fish

We know, we still haven’t told you exactly how Marine Harvest gets the salmon from the water to your plates. The company breaks this whole thing down into six steps, and it all starts with the incubation tanks. This is the freshwater home of about 5,000 fertilized eggs per liter, which hatch into small fish. When the fish are large enough, or weight about six grams, they move onto freshwater tanks or open-net cages in lakes. More time passes until the salmon weigh about 60 to 80 grams (or less than a pound for us Americans).

At this point, the important “smolt” stage begins. The salmon are transferred from freshwater to net pens in the ocean until they become adults, and that process takes about a year. When the fish reach “market weight” — about nine to 12 pounds — they’re ready to be harvested in those aforementioned ways in processing plants throughout the world. Then, once they’re packaged, the salmon are distributed. A little more than half of Marine Harvest sales are due to whole salmon, and it delivers every type of offering by air, road, rail, and sea.

This process has been perfected over the years, but there are still big liabilities: a boom of parasites known as sea lice can kill off thousands of salmon in these farms, and the ways to rid the lice can be environmentally damaging. Furthermore, salmon that escape from these nets can act like predators out in the open sea. Marine Harvest is working with the Norwegian government to address these issues, and create solutions that don’t hinder production while keeping the fish safe and clean. This, too, hasn’t been an easy road.

In the future, though, Marine Harvest hopes that its supply can find a way to be an undeniable source of health for the environment as well as the people it feeds. “One of the greatest challenges facing the world today is how to feed a growing global population, and provide them with healthy, nutritious, and tasty food that is produced in a sustainable and efficient way,” the company’s CEO Alf-Helge Aarskog said in 2016.

Aarskog and the company know that salmon has a much smaller carbon footprint than meat, and so the goal in the coming years is to reach more markets that would benefit from salmon’s nutritional and sustainable qualities. “Through substantial investment in research and development, we intend to be at the forefront of technological advances and address current and future challenges, while growing seafood’s share of global protein consumption,” he said.

Time will tell if the company succeeds, but for now, we can be sure about one thing: Salmon is quite the appealing catch for all.

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