Several initiatives to boost the sector

The Danish aquaculture sector is one of the world's most efficient and environmentally friendly. In developing and expanding its aquaculture sector, Denmark has ambitious goals to promote economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable production.

Traditional raceways for the production of portion-sized trout in Denmark still exist, but increasing volumes are coming from high tech recirculation systems.

 Because environmental protection is a priority, Danish aquaculture is strictly regulated. For example, all Danish fish farms have to be officially approved in accordance with the Danish Environmental Protection Act, with the exception of full recirculation eel farms. The Danes have proven that increasing resource efficiency and developing new technology can create growth that is environmentally benign.

Denmark has a strong and significant aquaculture cluster, whose strength is its modern production of exceptional quality with high levels of environmental efficiency and of both food and animal safety, including disease-free status for VHS. The sector is geographically close to the European market, and Danish fish farmers are capable of producing niche products, including organic fish, which have a significantly higher price than conventionally farmed fish. Denmark is a leader in the production of recirculation technology and so is a significant part of the rapidly growing world market. Finally, the Danes are leading producers of feed ingredients and recirculation to the sector globally, a position that has developed rapidly in recent years.


Aquaculture production is largely stagnant

In 2014, the primary production of seafood, both fish and shellfish, was 44,758 tonnes with a total value of EUR134m (DKK1b), approximately 3% of total EU aquaculture production. For the past 25 years, production has remained stable at between 40 and 45,000 tonnes. Denmark’s main product is rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). In 2014, a total of 40,544 tonnes were produced, 29,172 tonnes from freshwater ponds and 11,372 tonnes from sea cages. The latter also produces roe as an important by-product. Eel is farmed in recirculated freshwater tank systems; 789 tonnes were produced in 2014. Mussel production reached a peak in 2009 at 2,643 tonnes and then dropped drastically, but is rising again and reached 2,410 tonnes in 2014. Turbot fry is exported for further ongrowing. A variety of other species are raised primarily for restocking, which represents an increasing share of total turnover.

Source: The Danish Fish Agency

Aquaculture production in Denmark (tonnes)
2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Brown Trout 56 64 64 59 47
European Eel 1,532 1,154 1,129 864 789
Blue Mussel 756 540 732 560 2,410
Char 160 257 275 272 237
Brook Trout 115 109 127 85 106
Atlantic Salmon 17 16 13 23 407
Sea Trout 78 78 86 81 79
Rainbow Trout 36,518 37,531 39,618 40,744 40,544
Pike-Perch 60 69 128 119 136
Other 12 7 6 190 12
Total 39306 39826 42178 43008 44768


Kurt Mogensen
The Danish aquaculture sector produces fish in freshwater as well as in the sea. Pike perch is a niche product produced in recirculation systems, a technology that is highly evolved in Denmark.

Trout produced in freshwater and in the sea

The annual production of freshwater trout is 25-30,000 tonnes. Today, the greater part of the Danish freshwater trout production is sold for processing at 250–350 gr. They are gutted and frozen or smoked for sale. A substantial amount, however, is exported alive, mainly to the German market. The main product from offshore cages as well as from land-based units is large trout, 2–5 kg each. An essential by-product is the roe, which is salted and marketed as “caviar” and is exported mainly to Japan. It contributes substantially to the Danish mariculture economy. In 2013, organic production was approximately 1,300 tonnes, or approximately 3% of production, with a value of approximately EUR4m (DKK30m). Overall, the primary sector consists of 264 aquaculture facilities. In 2014, the aquaculture industry employed a total of 620 persons, of which 380 were full time.

Danish producers of fish feed and feed ingredients are global players. The fish feed industry depends on the supply of quality raw materials in significant amounts, and fishmeal and fish oil, the main ingredients in fish feed, is currently in short supply on the international market. In 2014, production of fishmeal and fish oil was approximately 165,000 tonnes and 50,000 tonnes respectively. In addition, production of fishmeal and fish oil had an export value of about EUR430m (DKK3.2bn). Denmark also has a leading position in the development and production of aquaculture technologies, especially recirculation.  Feed, ingredient, and technology producers employ about 300 full-time employees in Denmark.


Kurt Mogensen
Trout forms the bulk of the Danish aquaculture production, more than 90% in 2014.

Environmental statutes have shaped the sector

Although the Danish aquaculture industry is part of the Danish fisheries sector and is covered by the Fisheries Act under the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries, it is governed mainly through environmental regulations. According to current goals, the Danish aquaculture production will, in the longer term, be in closed systems with recycled water or in offshore installations in the open sea. It is thought that the focus on environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable development will create growth and ultimately new jobs. The environmental regulatory framework’s increasing emphasis on reducing environmental impacts has also increased the need to find new technological solutions. The development of both technologies and farms for new species requires close cooperation with both the primary sector, where the technology and new species can be tested, and a strong research environment that can provide basic knowledge.

Strict environmental regulations started to be introduced in 1987. At a national level, maximum values were stipulated for effluents such as nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and organic substances (O) produced from freshwater as well as marine aquaculture. These regulations, based on fixed feed quotas for each farm, virtually halted any further increases in production for Danish trout farming, except for the effects of developing improved feed composition and feeding techniques. Theoretically, documented evidence of N, P, and O effluent levels below the individual farm limit might overrule its feed quota, but because no effective measuring techniques were available, the feed quotas, once given, could not be changed. The past decades have seen the development of measuring techniques, an effort to optimise the utilisation of feed, and the development of water purification technologies that reduce water consumption and emissions. Thus arose the concept of model farms, which make significant use of environmental technologies. The latest farms use recirculation technology in a fully closed loop. Over the past 11 years, overall emissions per tonne of fish produced have decreased for nitrogen (37%), phosphorous (33%), and organic substances (40%). A 50% reduction in nitrogen emissions per tonne of fish will allow a production increase of nearly 100%. Mariculture has not seen the same degree of reduction.


Trout roe is a valuable by-product from the trout farming industry. It is exported primarily to Japan.

Land-based marine production is a niche activity

Danish land-based seawater aquaculture usually follows the same production pattern as offshore farms. The land based system has some environmental advantages, however, since it is possible to filter the water, at least in part, before it is released back to the sea. Costs for establishing and running land-based seawater farms are higher than for freshwater ponds and offshore mariculture, which renders them less attractive in a market where there is severe competition on product prices. In recirculated seawater tanks, small quantities of turbot fry are produced for export for further ongrowing, mainly in Southern Europe; in addition, some plaice are produced for restocking purposes.


Number of active aquaculture farms and production units grouped by technology
Production Technology Active farms Number of production units
Ponds Canals Tanks/basins Cages Ropes* On bottom* Other
Freshwater farms 153 2.629 290 2.236 . . . 31
Model type I 13 153 64 219 . . . .
Model type III 16 34 152 432 . . . 8
Farms at sea 19 . . . 252 . . 30
Recirculated farms 31 35 44 1.193 . . . 166
Land-based seawater farms 2 6 3 62 . . . .
Mussel farms 29 . . . . 818 110 380
Other technology 1 . . . . . . 130
Total 264 2.857 553 4.142 252 818 110 745


Strategic objectives for Danish aquaculture

By 2020, the Danish government projects an overall increase in production of at least 25% over the 2014 figure of approximately 40,000 metric tonnes. It also estimates that up to 10% of seafood production will be organic by 2020. The value of Danish exports of seafood from aquaculture will grow in line with the development of primary production, i.e. an increase of at least 25% by 2020 over 2014’s value of EUR134m (DKK1bn). It is estimated that the goals will create up to 50 jobs in the primary sector and up to 300 jobs in food and feed technology, as well in related fields such as plumbing services. Peripheral areas in Denmark, where aquaculture is mainly located, will benefit from the growth and new jobs. The value of exports of feed, feed ingredients, and aquaculture technology is expected to double by 2020. This will be achieved through:

  •         Continued development of feed and feed ingredients and increased access to commodities;
  •         Continued development of resource-efficient technologies for aquaculture;
  •         Increased collaboration between producers in different segments and the authorities about export opportunities and targeted export promotion in selected markets.

The Strategy for sustainable development of the aquaculture sector in Denmark 2014-2020, published by the Danish Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries (Ministeriet for Fødevarer, Landbrug og Fiskeri), acknowledges Denmark’s wish to maintain and strengthen its leading position in the aquaculture sector. According to the report, this can only be done “through innovation and collaboration”. Aiming for the goal of balanced aquaculture-sector growth, the report lists seven targets for increasing resource efficiency and thereby creating growth within the current environmental framework.

How to increase efficiency and create growth in aquaculture
1 Streamline administration Reduce the complexity of legislation and procedures for obtaining an environmental permit. It often takes 1–2 years from application to final approval. Identify the regulatory barriers to the establishment of aquaculture production.
2 Locating aquaculture facilities Determine that land- and sea-based aquaculture facilities are located in optimal settings to ensure positive environmental consequences.
3 Research, development, and innovation Develop knowledge and technology to enhance resource-efficient production and competitiveness by encouraging interdisciplinary research in the disciplines of biology, marine and resource economics, biotechnology, and pharmaceuticals.
4 Increase the use of new technology Use new technologies to increase resource efficiency, reduce emissions of nutrients and pollutants to the environment, and introduce new species and new forms of production.
5 Education :. Improve aquaculture management through the establishment of vocational training in aquaculture to improve competitiveness and continued growth.
6 Product and market development Develop markets for Danish products both in Denmark and abroad, introduce new species, and reflect consumer preferences for food security, health, ecology, convenience, price, and fish traceability.
7 Export fish, feed, and technology In addition to fish, export knowledge from Denmark’s strong cluster of primary production, processing factories, technology providers, feed companies, and the production of fishmeal and fish oil

William Anthony