Domestic fish produced in a sustainable way

Currently, the fish eaten by Finns is mainly Norwegian salmon and other imported fish. Fish could also be found closer to home, including herring and domestic rainbow trout.

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Sanna Kuningas

Sanna works as a research scientist at the Natural Resources Institute Finland

The positive health effects of fish, such as healthy omega-3 fatty acids, are widely known. As a result, the demand for fish is steadily increasing both domestically and globally.

Throughout the first decade of the 21st century, the concentrations of environmental toxins, such as dioxins and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) in Finnish natural fish have decreased. The levels of environmental toxins in Baltic herring have also fallen below the legal maximum levels. Herring is, therefore, safe food to eat.

While toxicity levels in domestic fish have fallen, consumption has decreased markedly in recent decades. Currently, less than 20% of all fish eaten in Finland is domestic, even though there are good natural resources, as well as the potential for fish production.

At present, the most popular fish on the Finnish food table is Norwegian farmed salmon, followed by Swedish rainbow trout, then tuna imported from Asia. 

Only a few percent of domestic Finnish herring catches end up on the food table

Herring accounts for about 90% of the total catch of commercial fishing in the Finnish marine area each year. Only a few percent of the total herring catch is used for human consumption in Finland. Most are used as feed for fur animals and farmed fish. Herring is also exported.

In the summer of 2018, thanks to their sustainable fishing methods, herring and sprat trawling, as well as herring trap fishing received the first-ever MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) certification in Finland. Now is the time to restore the humble herring to glory and bring it more often to the dining table!

The toxic levels in herring have fallen, fishing is sustainable, and the domestic content is high. Besides, eating fish caught sustainably from the Baltic Sea, you can also remove eutrophic nutrients from the sea.

 Herring fishing
Herring fishing at sea.

The nutrient loading caused by domestic fish farming has decreased significantly

The national aquaculture strategy hopes to increase fish farming on the Finnish mainland. The target is to produce at least 20 million kilograms annually by 2021.

In cooperation with the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, a national aquaculture location management plan was drafted in 2014. This plan identifies areas of the sea where sustainable production can be increased.

The plan recommends that large fish farms should be located in open water areas. Offshore water circulates more efficiently and potential loading does not target sensitive areas close to the shore.

 A fish farming cage in the open sea.
A fish farming cage in the open sea.

Considerable progress has been made in fish farming practices. Indeed, nutrient loads have fallen significantly since the 1990s. Today fish farming accounts for 1-2% of the eutrophic nutrients entering the Baltic Sea.

Great strides have also been made, particularly concerning fish feed. Increasing the share of Baltic herring in fishmeal can support the fishing economy from the fishermen to the fish farmers. At the same time, nutrient discharges to the Baltic Sea can be reduced.

Rearing also ensures that no harmful substances accumulate in the fish. For example, dioxins are removed from the feed of farmed fish.

Most of the fish farmed in Finland is rainbow trout. In the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Finnish Fish Guide, domestically farmed rainbow trout is marked green. This colour is an indication of the minimisation of the environmental impact by farming rainbow trout. On the other hand, Norwegian farmed salmon is labelled yellow, which means consumers should consider before buying due to its greater negative environmental impact.