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Fish waste used for textile, fashion and biomedical products

13/12/2013 | By | Reply More

Fish waste is often disposed in landfills or dumped at sea; however, there are alternative uses that add economic value


Protein packing at Héðinn Protein Plant in Garður village, located on the North tip of the Reykjanes peninsula, Iceland.
Source: Héðinn hf.

Globally, fisheries and aquaculture industries produce 130 million tonnes of fish waste per annum. This consists of by-catch, onboard waste, home waste and industrial waste. Fish waste include fish meal, fish oil, fertiliser and hydro- lysates (e.g. protein hydrolysate). Instead of discarding fish waste it can be utilized to turn a profit and make a positive environmental impact at the same time.


By-product production (tons) 1992-2010 in Iceland – Source: Statistics Iceland

Icelanders have been particularly active in developing technologies and markets for by-products – goods made out of those parts of the fish typically not considered for production.

Up until a few years ago, the number of products made from white fish was relatively meager. In the past years however, the Icelandic industry has undergone significant modernization in the form of vastly improved product diversification.

According to Statistics Iceland, domestic production of by-products went from 1,667 tons in 1992 to 47,782 tons in 2010 which translates to a 2766% increase in 18 years. Among Icelandic goods made out of by-products are dried fish headsdried bonesskin lotionsleatherskin regeneration productscaviaromega-3 fish oilsprotein isolategelatinmince and many other products.

Iceland Ocean Cluster is currently conducting research on the utilization of cod in the North Atlantic Ocean. The preliminary results estimate the utilization rate in cod production in the area to be around 50%. If this holds true, the three most active cod fishing nations wasted 375,000 tons of cod in 2010 through discards at sea and unnecessary waste in processing.

According to Iceland Ocean Cluster findings, Icelanders have achieved up to 95% utilization of the cod by effectively exploiting cutting-edge technologies. By spreading this knowledge and raising awareness of complete utilization, substantial benefits can be gained in fish production around the world.

Some of the richest and most prolific fishing grounds in the North Atlantic Ocean are in the seas around Iceland. For centuries, these fishing grounds provided a near-inexhaustible resource to the Icelanders. From the sea came much needed food and valuable trade commodities.

While catches of fish may fluctuate unpredictably from one period to another, the Icelandic experience was that they were more reliable than the fruits of the earth.


School of cod over a kelp forest in N.E. Iceland – Photo: Erlendur Bogason

Uses of Cod Fish

Cod is a type of fish readily available year-round. The fish is a white, mildly flavored species easily cooked in many ways. The fish lives in cold, arctic waters along with haddock and pollock, which are in the same family as cod. Cod is high in nutrients, such as tryptophan, protein, omega 3 and several B vitamins, making it a great source of food for many diets and conditions.

High Source of Protein

Cod is high in protein, making it a healthier alternative to red meats for many. Along with being such a great source of protein, cod is also low in calories. When combined, this makes for a very healthy way to obtain much-needed protein.

Useful in Preventing Illnesses


Portrait of Cod – Photo: August Linnman

There have been many instances in which cod has proven to help prevent various diseases and infection. Those suffering from atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease can benefit greatly from eating cod.

Cod fosters overall cardiovascular health by having such a high amount of omega-3 fatty acids within it. This can assist people with heart problems, such as fatal heart arrhythmia, vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism and high blood pressure.

Omega-3 can also help lower triglycerides, which are a form of fat carried through the bloodstream. The selenium, B vitamins, vitamin D and Omega-3 nutrients have also been shown to protect against various forms of cancer and leukemia.

Bringing Down Cholesterol

Cod contains niacin, a valuable nutrient found in many foods. Niacin is a type of B vitamin that assists in regulating the cholesterol levels in the body. Other B vitamins, such as B12 and B6, help keep homocysteine levels low, which lowers the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Treating Disorders

There have been points made that omega-3 fatty acids can also aid in preventing depression. By consuming cod or cod liver-oil on a regular basis, those that have mood swings and suffer from bipolar disorder, may find symptoms are easier to control.

When given to children, cod can also help prevent rickets, a bone-softening condition. It has also been known to assist in mitigating ear infections as well.

Turning Fish Waste into Value

A number of Icelandic firms have proven to be successful in producing and selling products made out of fish by-products. Consider the stories of interesting by-product producers here below:

Héðinn Protein Plant (HPP), is a groundbreaking approach to turning fish waste into fish meal and fish oil for small and medium sized fish producers. Instead of discarding fish waste, it can be utilized to turn a profit and make a positive environmental impact at the same time. The HPP is a small, mobile turnkey-plant for fish meal and fish oil production. The HPP is built to be transported in standard sized containers, ready for assembly. Plant installation is basically a plug and- play operation, requiring a short time for setup. The plant runs solely on electricity, providing for a clean, efficient and highly adjustable operation. Built-in containers for fish meal and fish oil are large enough to hold a 24 hour production run. This means that packaging can take place once a day. The plant’s convenient size makes it a sensible option wherever fresh raw material is available (fish farming, fish processing, fishing vessels), even on a small scale, ensuring high-grade production with excellent protein composition.

Watch video, how the system works – Courtesy Héðinn Protein Plant


Zymetech, is a knowledge based biotechnology company, most recognized for their so-called Penzyme Technology. The company is grounded on decades of scientific research and has been developing and selling pharmaceutical products and medical devices made from by-products of the Atlantic cod. Their principal product, PENZIM, a water-based skin gel has been sold in international markets for several years.

Haustak, founded in 1999, specializes in drying fish products and sells dried heads, bones, stock-fish and chops. The market for dried fish keeps growing, but most of Haustak’s production is shipped off to Nigeria, the worlds largest and most stable market for dried fish bones and heads. The firm currently employs around 50 people and continues to flourish.

Lysi, considered the world leader in the field of marine lipids, was established in 1938. The company’s operations are based mainly on the production of cod liver oil but it’s consumer product line includes Omega-3 fish oil and shark oil also. The firms international operations have been growing steadily for the past years and Lysi recently doubled its output for fish oils by extending its processing plant.

Akraborg, was established in the small Icelandic fishing town of Akranes in 1989. The company became a leading producer of premium quality canned cod liver and has today become the largest manufacturer of its kind worldwide. Akraborg is devoted to an eco-friendly policy in all its operations. Managers monitor the development of national and international regulations on sustainable fisheries and fish processing. Today Akraborg employs a staff of 30 people and turns out over 10 million cans of fish products a year.

Royal Iceland, produce a wide range of products from various kinds of fish roe. Royal Iceland are tailor making roe products to customers requirements. To do this they utilize a close connection to the sources and a cooperation with customers on different markets. Royal Iceland process various roe types using different processes and a range of packaging, all according to their customer’s needs. Royal Iceland are servicing customers in a number of countries with different products. The company are servicing customers all over the world; Sweden, USA, Spain, UK, France, Greece, Australia and Iceland.

Atlantic Leather, specialises in the production of high quality fish leather from four different varieties of fish; Perch leatherSalmon leatherWolffish leather and Cod leather, each have their own individual characteristics. The staff place emphasis on quality in their products and a high level of service for their clients. The foundation of Atlantic Leather marked the entrance of fish leather products into foreign markets, presented as premium materials for a wide variety of merchandise. With constant perseverance and faith in their project, the managers, staff and owners, have succeeded in building up a strong enterprise which is constantly growing. Among the more familiar names in the company client base are brands like PradaDiorNikeFerragamo and Puma. Here can you check out Atlantic Leather Gallery  for Quality Leather ProductsShoe designFashion designBags, purses and walletsAccessoriesColors and TexturesFish leather panels and Interior, all products made from fish skin.

Watch video – Courtesy BBC television


Icelandic fish products are supplied to all major international markets, and today the spectrum of products supplied by Icelandic companies is much broader than ever before, ranging from catch-fresh raw materials to highly processed convenience products.

ZymetechHaustak and Lysi represent just a small fraction of the numerous by-product producers in Iceland. All of these firms are utilizing parts and raw materials that would otherwise have been wasted and discarded, sometimes at a substantial cost.

The Icelandic fisheries sector has flourished since the 2008 crisis in spite of fairly loud and destructive disputes over its catch-management system and taxation policy.

Despite some uncertainties over future outcomes, the fact of the matter is that Icelanders are experts when it comes to fish production and utilization. It is crucial that discussions are steered away from bickering over regulations into exploring new opportunities, increasing value added and further developing this exciting industry.


Category: Iceland

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