Witzøe hedges his bets

Aslak Berge

Although Gustav Witzøe is now also putting his money in salmon on land, offshore is undoubtedly still the priority.

Late Thursday night, it was announced that SalMar founder Gustav Witzøe has put money into Columbi Salmon, the start-up company planning to build a land-based fish farm in Ostend, Belgium.

The capital injection takes place via Witzøe’s holding company and cash register Kverva, and is a continuation of the collaboration with the Refsnes family after SalMar recently bought 45 per cent of the shares in Refsnes Laks.

Illustration: Columbi Salmon

The Refsnes family is the prime mover for the new Columbi Salmon initiative, which will combine salmon farming and salad production, through so-called aquaponics where lettuce is grown on manure from the fish.

Aslak Berge

Witzøe’s latest move is interesting, especially since he and SalMar are at the forefront of offshore salmon farming. Offshore farming, together with land-based production, is seen as the preferred choice for global supply growth of salmon in the years to come.

While SalMar’s offshore investment, which last week included Aker as a strategic partner, might be dependent on the government’s blessing in the form of licenses, it is free to establish salmon production facilities on land.

SalmonBusiness has prepared an overview of a total of 99 players who, given that all projects are realized, will be able (theoretically) to produce just over 2.4 million tonnes of salmon on land.

“Ocean Farm 1”. Photo: SalMar

Also read:  Flexible offshore plans for Witzøe and Røkke. But they lack the most important thing

Listening post
Witzøe has closely followed the development of land-based salmon, and has, among other things, visited Atlantic Sapphire’s giant facility just outside Miami. He has repeatedly stated that the construction boom in land-based farming, driven by easily accessible and cheap financing, can present a significant challenge for the salmon market in a few years’ time.

However, Witzøe has noted the sky-high operating costs and the risk that the land-based investment entails.

Still, now he has chosen to put money into such a project. Although the investment gives the impression that Witzøe is spreading risk, thinking about portfolio theory and hedging his bets on the future, he is not investing much. Kverva is one of several investors participating in this issue round for a total of NOK 162 million (€15.7 million). Even the entire issue represents only a fraction of what it costs to build a single rig for offshore farming.

Thus, the investment in Columbi Salmon is more like a listening post. It is, at least for the time being, not a major strategic investment. Only a position that allows Witzøe and SalMar to stay continuously informed about what is happening in a branch of the aquaculture industry that will develop enormously by the end of the 2020s.


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