The Norwegian Biotechnology Council is considering whether to approve the method of producing genetically modified type of salmon, newspaper Aftenposten reported on Sunday.
The method, which was developed by researchers from the Institute of Marine Research in Bergen three years ago, implies "editing" the genes of salmon eggs so that the fish does not develop reproductive cells.
The method, being regarded as genetic modification, requires special approval by the Norwegian law. Swedish authorities have, however, allowed similar methods for use on plants without the requirement that the product must be labeled as genetically modified.
Anna Wargelius, the genealogist whose team developed the method, told Aftenposten that the new salmons "taste as good as ordinary salmon and will not be able to spawn with wild salmon if they escape (fish farms)."
The researchers believe that the sterile salmon could help solve one of aquaculture's problems: farmed salmon going astray.
Last year there were around 185,000 salmon and rainbow trout that fled from Norwegian fish farms. The Norwegian Seafood Federation estimates that recapture the escaped fish costs the industry at least 50 million kroner (6.06 million U.S. dollars) per year, Aftenposten wrote.
Although the industry uses 500 million kroner annually to combat lice, fish escape is regarded as the biggest threat, since this can lead to diseases and genetic changes of wild salmon, which makes it less likely to survive in the wild. But without gametes the farmed salmon will naturally be unable to mix genes with wild salmon.
"At the same time climate change and warmer ocean make salmon reach sexual maturity earlier. Then it experiences worse growth and becomes more susceptible to diseases, so the gameteless salmon will also be healthier," Wargelius said.
The researchers are now in dialogue with the biotechnology council and discuss the possibilities of making changes so that the law allows for this kind of genetic modification.
If approved, it will still take several years until the fish ends up at the fish counters in shops, Aftenposten wrote. The researchers have recently got fresh funding from the research council to further develop the project.
However, Henrik Stenwig, director of environment and health in the Norwegian Seafood Federation, was unsure of the commercial potential of the gameteless salmon.
"Nobody wants genetically modified salmon, so if the method is labeled as genetic modification, it will be problematic to use it," he said.
Ole Johan Borge, director of the biotechnology council, told Aftenposten that a fairly large proportion of Norwegian consumers have been sceptical of genetically modified products, and that will also be taken into consideration during the council's assessments.