Marel: Onboard, land-based whitefish processing ready for 'quantum leap'

But there are also plenty of opportunities to maximize yields and efficiencies in existing factories as well.

The seafood processing sector undergoes various waves of investments and while primary processing in salmon facilities has been the primary focus in recent years, “onboard processing is really growing at the moment," Sigurdur Olason, managing director of Icelandic equipment manufacturer Marel’s Fish Industry Center, told IntraFish.

Specifically you can see new build vessels for whitefish: Marel recently installed the FleXicut on two vessels, and a third is on the way, said Olason, “so there is definitely investment."

There will always be a need for both on board as well as land-based processing, but you need to equip these vessels with the latest technology, Olason said.

“We are definitely seeing a shift in Russia, not only on the vessels, but also in the plants overall – they announced a few years back they wanted to be self-sufficient and we are definitely seeing that shift," he said.

In addition, automation is taking off within the whitefish processing sector.

“Those who are able to invest in greenfield plants, they want to take a quantum leap and want to see full automation,” said Olason.

“They want to install these robots because they want to process the fish closer to the source, which means they might be in areas where labor is a scarce resource -- that’s where automation comes in.”

Investing in the future

Opportunities for fish processing in the future will likely be around aquaculture, but at the same time there are a lot of opportunities in current existing factories, “so we need to invest there as well."

Currently around 35 percent of processed seafood is still wasted through inefficiencies in processing.

“So that’s why we need to invest and improve yield," Olason said. “There is a still a lot of opportunities for the processors to optimize their processing and distribution. If you have low margins and high volume this is the key you need to master processing and the distribution."

Marel is spending €60 million each year -- or 6 percent of its revenue -- on innovations, as it continues to up its game.

While big strides have been made towards automation in seafood processing – notable examples including Leroy moving towards full automation in its salmon facilities – the seafood processing sector still needs to see improvements in terms of profitability, said Olason.

“The seafood sector still needs to improve when it comes to profitability in processing and distribution,” he said.

“The profits in the future will be in processing and distribution – but the future is now, no need to wait, let’s invest in the future now and transform how food is processed.”

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