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Searching for new, blue food solutions

Odd Magne Rødseth, head of aquaculture in EW Group: - We need to find other feed ingredients. Photo: Magne Otterdal

Odd Magne Rødseth, head of aquaculture in EW Group: - We need to find other feed ingredients.  Photo: Magne Otterdal

Odd Magne Rødseth, director for aquaculture, EW Group, is "scouting" the world for new marine innovations. - We want to transfer and further develop our technology to other markets and value chains in aquaculture, such as tilapia and shrimp farming in Asia,  Rødseth says in this interview with Blue Frontier Magazine.

The neighbour had started hatching of smolts in the basement. It provided a welcome extra job for 15-year-old Odd Magne Rødseth, growing up in  the Norwegian west coast village Stranda - where cruise ships pass on their way to the Geiranger fjord.
40 years later he is a global biotech entrepreneur travelling the continents, constantly looking for new solutions to meet one of the world’s major challenge : How to develop production systems for proteins that provide higher yield with less use of raw materials and energy and also reduces pollution. It is about contributing to solutions for sustainable food production for the future. The challenges are enormous, with a world population growing rapidly to ten billion people over the next 40 years.
- It was my neighbor, Lars Opshaug, who gave me the idea to invest my time in knowledge. I got extra work when Opshaug started smolt hatchery in the neighborhood in my native village. It was an incredible amount of sickness and mortality, says Rødseth about how he was inspired to go to the University of Bergen and study microbiology. Gaining knowledge to meet the problems of disease and mortality in the childhood of aquaculture, when only a fraction of smolts grew up and became mature salmon.

Aqua Gen success
The rest is history: With the microbiology as his core knowlede, Røseth has had a career progressing from laboratory and field research on salmon diseases, via years in the pharmaceutical industry to the top job in Aqua Gen. The company, which has its background from Norwegian fish farming cooperatives 40 years back, was acquired in 2007 by German EW Group GmnH. The group is one of Europe’s major poultry breeding companies, headquartered in the German town Visbek, established by entrepreneur Erich Josef Wessjohann. The Aqua Gen product is fertilized salmon eggs, with a specially developed genetics adapted to meet the requirements of high animal welfare and cost-effective production. Broodstock and eggs are produced at facilities in Norway and Chile. The salmon industry can thank Aqua Gen’s Darwinian approach to the selection of salmon genes as the basis for increasingly lower mortality and higher quality of the salmon - which in turn makes this billion industry even more lucrative for the big farmers.
After ten years as CEO of AquaGen, Rødseth in 2013 was appointed Group Director, Aquaculture, head of the aquaculture division of EW Group GmbH. Rødseth has led the development of Aqua Gen to become the world’s largest and most important supplier of fertilized salmon eggs. AquaGen delivered robust salmon roe for the NOK 400 million in 2013 , with a profit margin of 25 percent to the German group . With Own Words on LinkedIn Rødseth describes his compentece as follows:
“Over 25 years experience leading business strategy, operations, marketing and technical teams, within aquaculture, animal health and genetics business world-wide.
Specialties : Strategic planning with startups, turnarounds and overgrowth Organisation. Innovative development and launch of new products and penetration of new markets . Solution selling strategies - knowlegde based value added products. Creating and communication of company image and reputation.”
Rødseth is also Chairman of the Faculty Board of Veterinary Medicine and Biosciences at the new Norwegian Life Sciences University, NMBU .

Entrepreneur
As head of the German group aquaculture division he is one of the leading international players in the search for and development of new knowledge-based solutions and businesses in the global marine food sector. One of the tasks is also to lead the expansion of Vaxxinova in Bergen, a sister company to Aqua Gen in the EW group. In Germany Vaxxinova is known as a manufacturer of animal vaccines , and the start-up in Bergen is aimed at the marine sector. The company is partly involved in a project to develop a stronger sterilization vaccine for salmon and other farmed fish.
The vaccine research project was launched in January 2013 and lasts for four years with the following participants: IMR (Chairman), NOFIMA and Universities of Tromsø and Bergen , the University of Utrecht and the Max Planck Institute and four industrial partners ; Aqua Gen , Lerøy Seafood , Vaxxinova and MSD Animal Health Innovation.

BioVerdi
Rødseth is also one of more than 50 partners in the Norwegian BioVerdi project, where the bulk of the nation’s academic institutions and companies from the four major industry sectors, marine, agriculture, health and industry are represented. The project deals with the challenge to create a common basis for a Norwegian bio-economic upsurge, not least to meet declining revenues from the oil industry .
- In the bioeconomy we need more established, robust and viable companies that can develop and adopt new technologies. Startups with poor funding that can not afford to make mistakes in the initial phase, does not have as many chances, says Odd Magne Rødseth.
He believes Norway is struggling with a fundamental problem, lack of ”competent” risk capital and lack of a culture of willingness and patience to develop new business. Too often business with a potential of success are prematurely sold to international corporations before they are fully developed.
- Norwegian knowledge based businesses are sold as semi-finished products, says Rødseth . A long list of businesses based on Norwegian research is untimely acquired by international ”big pharma” companies. The BioVerdi project points out that the big pharma companies now have curbed this type of investment and acquisitions in recent years, and the Norwegian bio-economic entrepreneurial projects must be operated up to a greater extent on its own keel. It is seen as a great opportunity to build the bioeconomy in the Norwegian context. The desire of the players in the life science business is to develop projects with similar conditions as “oljemyggene” in the North Sea, where the tax bills are postponed in the development face.

Pull force
As such, the salmon industry has been a force on technology, according to Rødseth, thanks to the fact that it’s a prosperous industry. There is an established  value chain that has the desire, willingness, and not least the means  to develop new technology.
- Thanks to the pull forces from the salmon value chain, we have been able to develop new and innovative breeding technology that has been commercialized in the salmon industry , says the EW Group director who is still close to Aqua Gen, as the company’s chairman .
Rødseth has brought new experience as the business develops and establishes in the German group. He believes that Norwegians can learn from the German technology environment to become more “long term”. In Norway there are very few investors and entrepreneurs willing to join the long travel until one stands with the physical, ready-for-market, product in hand.
- I have seen many innovative technology projects being developed in the Norwegian genetics and pharmaceuticals, where relatively small technological breakthroughs have created some extra value - and then the Norwegians typically are out to secure a small profit. Investors and entrepreneurs are not risk-averse enough to drive projects through to a  finished product than can  grow into full bloom in the market, says Rødseth.
Aqua Gene is an example of this trend. The BioVerdi project can help to reverse this. Rødseth is betting that Norway will offer a number of success stories in the years to come. Although Rødseth himself did not become an entrepreneur on his own risk, he is now developing his job in the EW Group as a “scout” in marine bio-economic innovation. He is in the process of building up the marine portfolio, where Aqua Gen is a cornerstone .
- For me shareholdings are not the driving force. The EW Group takes good care of me. Having the ability and financial strength to follow the development and commersialization from idea to market is a dream situation for me.  It gives a real kick, says Rødseth .
This interview takes place at the sushi bar Yam Yam right over the airport train terminal at Oslo S a winter Friday before Rødseth heads home to a family weekend in Trondheim. The following Monday: A ten days round trip to the Far East establishing bio-economic contacts with global players.
- We want to transfer and further develop our technology to other markets and value chains in aquaculture, such as tilapia and shrimp farming in Asia.
According to Rødseth the development of the salmon industry points the direction, when it comes to finding other applications of the technology the way our salmon industry has done.
- To produce food to ten billion people by 2050 will not be possible unless we intensify production in a sustainable manner. It must be deve-loped production systems that requires less input for more output, Rødseth says.

Algae and feed
Odd Magne Rødseth points out that it’s not just talk about food for humans. But there is also talk about how farmed fish are fed. Using fish from South America as feed for salmon in Norwegian fish farming is unsustainable and provides a lousy CO2 footprint.
- It’s a bad idea to feed fish with fish. We need to find alternative feed ingredients. Feed based on algae are the closest to being an option, says Rødseth .
He points out that algae cultivation, if one finds an energy economical solution, is providing a direct access to non-contaminated omega -3 . Algae cultivation requires a lot of heat and light, and is not yet economical energy in Norway . However, news of positive results of algae growing in the Sahara Forest Project is intriguing. Algae Cultivation in the warm areas of the globe can be an option.
Chasing of new feed ingredients together with environmental footprint and the survival rate for fish are the three main challenges in the farming industry.
- This must be the a challenge for the most innovative companies in the industry to find viable solutions. But we need new tools. What we have in today’s toolbox is not good enough. Our role in this business is to be a pulling force, to find and apply new knowledge to solve the challenges.

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