Behind the scenes: Norway's frozen-at-sea industry at work

IntraFish boards vessel Froyanes to find out where your fish and chips are coming from.

Intrafish boarded the Froyanes in late October -- one of the 24 vessels forming the Norwegian frozen-at-sea fleet -- to experience the process of cod and haddock line-fishing, H&G and freezing on one of the world’s most modern longliners first-hand. 

The trip was organized by the Norwegian Seafood Council (NSC) for the 10 finalists of the UK National Fish and Chip Awards. They spent three days in Norway’s most important fishing harbor, Alesund -- which produces 40 percent of fish exported from the country.

Norwegian frozen-at-sea line caught haddock and cod is the best product available in the market, the participants agreed.

"People historically thought it was better to have onshore fresh fish, but now they are buying more frozen-at-sea -- the quality is better," said Jack-Robert Moller, director UK at the NSC.

"People are happy that we sell fish from Norwegian vessels, caught by Norwegian teams, this is better than having Norwegian fish processed by Chinese fleets," he said.

Roy Brown, owner of the Bardsley's of Baker Street, thanked shipowners for their job, and admitted that, after more than 30 years in the business, he wouldn’t serve in his shop any haddock that is not line-caught.

It is a joint mission for the Norwegian fleet to promote what they do, rather than a competition between different companies.

Eco-friendly line caught fish, MSC certified, “at the right age, in the best possible condition, and as efficiently as possible,” to give consumers the best product, and fishermen the best work conditions.

“The main competitors are Russia, the Faroe Islands, and Iceland. Labor costs in those countries are historically cheaper, but this is Norway, the quality of our product is better, and our crews are well paid,” said Daniel Harbo Pinheiro of PHL Service.

The group recently launched the newest vessel of the Norwegian fleet, and arguably the longest -- the 60-meter long Leinebris.

Fishermen in Norway receive 49 percent of the total catch’s value, which is an incentive for them to fish not necessarily more product, but fish in a more responsible way, following procedures and offering consumers a more valuable fish.

“The frozen-at-sea factor is the key,” said John Rutherford of the Frozen at Sea Fillets Association, and the ambassadors of the UK’s Fish and Chips couldn’t agree more.

“It is the best quality you can get; the fish is frozen within four to five hours after being caught, while fish sold as fresh in the markets can be up to 10 days old, 11 when sold to final consumers in restaurants. It loses all its quality, and the difference of prices is not big,” said Craig Maw, one of this year’s finalists and owner of the Kingfisher Fish & Chips in Devon.

According to Rutherford, one of the main differences between Russian and Norwegian industries is the investments the latter is doing in machinery and equipment.

All the vessels are equipped with a processing factory, which includes filleting and freezing machineries, allowing crews to board on two-month long trips before off-loading the product ashore.

The Froyanes has a capacity of 600 metric tons of frozen fish, and has the distinctive feature of a canning factory aboard, where cod liver is packed and labeled, to be later sold to the markets.

This production, however, was badly hit by the Russian ban imposed earlier this year to Norwegian imports, as the country was the main target to sell the product, and tons of it –it is unclear how much— are stored in warehouses, until they find new markets to place it.

Ramoen group sold its only lonlgliner earlier this year and is expecting its new Ramoen, designed by Rolls Royce, to be delivered by Spanish Armon shipyard in Gijon next July.

It will have a freezing capacity of 90 metric tons a day.

On the other hand, Leinebris, the so-far newest vessel of the fleet, can produce 18 metric tons of frozen fillets a day, and is currently targeting the UK’s fish and chips market for its products, although the United States, France, and Spain are other markets to explore, said Pinheiro.

The chippies and this Intrafish’s reporter had the chance to see the hauling process from the moonpool located in the hull of the Froyanes, which allows the line to be hauled directly to the fish processing factory onboard.

And to visit the processing factory, first head & gutting, later filleting, and eventually freezing, all within two hours of landing the fish.

Norway is currently the second-largest exporter of whitefish to the EU after China, although, according to the recent AIPCE-CEP FinFish Study 2015, “it may well be the case that fish that originates in Norway is processed in third countries such as China, and then Norway may well be the largest source of whitefish into the EU.”

Click here to view our exclusive picture gallery from the trip.