Decisions: Karol Rzepkowski, Johnson sustainable seafoods - MD of Europe's first organic cod farm

MY BEST ... was the way in which we decided to switch from farming salmon to farming cod after the MBO in 2005.

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Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

We resolved to treat cod farming as a completely new business, and not run it along the same lines as the salmon farm. This allowed us to start from scratch and address the issues around fish farming, such as welfare and quality.

If we were going to be the first, then I wanted to do it right, so we engaged with the RSPCA and Greenpeace rather than bury our heads in the sand. Commercially, it's great. We have a product that is a sustainable, viable alternative to world cod stocks. But at the same time, we're trying to address the business as a 21st-century company, taking on board all that we hear the younger generation espousing about how they'd like big organisations to operate. And we're doing it on a large scale: two million fish a year.

When we first started, people here in the company thought I was mad: 'He's got some great ideas but they are a wee bit out there.' But now they love the idea.

MY WORST ... was in 1996, when I underestimated how difficult it would be to start my watersports business in the Caribbean, which was an alien culture to me. I had great fun out there setting it up, but I underestimated how onerous it is to operate in a completely different culture. If you want to do things, you have to do things their way - don't try and buck the system. It was a very valuable lesson but ultimately my worst decision.

At Johnson, my worst mistake was probably underestimating the amount of variables that come into play when you're working with a live species like cod. How the fish survive and grow can be determined by anything from the type of feed you give them right through to water quality. We use offcuts from fish caught for human consumption for our fishmeal, so we have zero impact on the environment, but there are cost variables in that. If there is an El Nino next year, for example, it will ramp up the cost. At the outset, we might have oversimplified the model, so the last 18 months have been a big learning curve.

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