World's first organic cod farm battles to stay afloat

  • @mjpmccarthy

Intensive negotiations are going on to try to save the world's first organic cod farm, based on the Shetland Islands, which has hit a funding crisis and gone into administration.

The No Catch group has provided a double dose of hope with its operations, offering a potential answer to the widespread overfishing of wild cod, which is leading to drastically falling stocks of the fish, while providing 130 jobs in an area where new jobs are scarce.

But both are at risk, after the company failed to find new funding to meet an estimated £40m of debt, and administrators moved in.

No Catch, formerly a fish farm run by Johnson Brothers at Vidlin on Shetland's east coast, was transformed after it was taken over by colourful Scottish entrepreneur Karol Rzepkowski.

Mr Rzepkowski invested heavily in the business and obtained organic status for his farmed cod, not least by procuring their feed from natural sources. The result, he said, was "the world's first truly sustainable, organic cod farm" and he quickly attracted attention with what was seen as a revolution in aquaculture. His product gained an international reputation.

Now it hangs in the balance after Daniel Smith and Robert Caven, partners in the corporate-recovery firm Grant Thornton, were appointed joint administrators of the company this week.

Mr Smith said management and shareholders had underestimated the start-up funding required to maintain the business while it built up a stock of mature fish because farmed cod take more than three years to reach marketable size.

It has started to produce sales, but it is not producing enough to cover its costs – although 3,600 tonnes of cod could be harvested later this year, with a market value of £12m. In effect, it has lots of assets but not enough cash.

The company is still trading, and the administrators are actively seeking other investors prepared to take it over, as it is considered to have a good future if new funding can be found.