Newly introduced fish species set to replace imported salmon

The Natural Resources Institute of Finland estimates that the nelma or sheefish, native but endangered in Russia, could be a new addition to the Finnish grocery scene. The nelma could replace Norwegian salmon imports.

Nelman emokantaa kasvatetaan Laukaassa.
Green in the gills: Nelma swimming in a breeding pool. Image: Jarkko Riikonen / Yle

The Natural Resources Institute of Finland ("Luke") says that a species of fish called the nelma may be a contender for a replacement to salmon imported from Norway.

The nelma is a silver-coloured and migratory predatory fish that is well suited to being farmed. In nature nelmas or sheefish can grow to 1.5 metres in length and more than 20 kg, though the median weight for the creature is around 9 kilos.

The first nelma spawn was brought through quarantine from Russia to the Laukaa fishery some six years ago.

"The nelma is great," says Petri Heinimaa from Luke. "It's big, tasty and resilient to diseases. It's mostly found in Siberia, northern Alaska and Canada," says Petri Heinimaa from Luke.

First generation brood fish

Nelma on hopeakylkinen valkolihainen petokala.
Stenodus nelma Image: Jarkko Riikonen / Yle

Nelmas mature late and grow slowly. In Laukaa they have been farmed using whitefish breeding techniques, and now the first generation of brood fish is splashing away in the facility's pools.

"We've done very well with them," Heinimaa says. "All evidence points to this being a safe import and a new boon for the industry."

It will be a couple of years until you can walk into your local shop and buy a packet of nelma, however. It is perfect as a salted fish which works both cold and hot-smoked, and would not be out of place on the menu of a gourmet restaurant.

Heinimaa says he values the taste of nelma above most other edible fish, but regrets the high price of the slow grower.

"Its rarity, size and salmon-like greasiness are well worth the high kilogram price," he says.

Not easy in natural waters

Tutkimuspäällikkö Petri Heinimaa (takana) ja tuotantopäällikkö Risto Kannel nelma-altailla.
Farming. Image: Jarkko Riikonen / Yle

Finnish law makes it impossible to plant nelma in natural water areas. Years of research may yield the permission, if it is found that the species does not harm or interfere with any others.

"In Russia the nelma has become more rare in nature, and is actually endangered," says Risto Kannel from Luke. "They tried to farm it there because it's a preferred dish. We want Finns to take it on board as well."

The Natural Resources Institute is focusing on maintaining the genetic stock of the nelma and taking care of the brood. The Institute's job is to deliver nelma spawn to independent fish farms, of which there are some 200 in Finland.

"The private sector may see the nelma as an opportunity. Of course it's a risk because the pools are reserved for different species, but it's also a possibility," Kannel says.

Latest in: News


Our picks