Fishmeal sector short of raw material

A reduced supply of raw material has hit fishmeal producers around the North Atlantic area. European producers have been particularly hard hit this year, according to EUfishmeal’s managing director Anne Mette Bæk.

Quentin Bates

‘Triple Nine is one of the biggest players and they have had to let people go. Sprat is down, but mostly this is because it has been a bad year for sandeel,’ she said.

‘There is a reduced supply around the North Sea and North Atlantic – and capelin was zero this year. Blue whiting has been steady, but the outlook is for poor recruitment, so we are quite anxious about next year.’

The Danish industry is faced by the short time-frame around sandeel, and will only know next spring what next year’s fishing opportunities will be – although the pre-Christmas survey generally provides some kind of indication around the end of the year.

The Havsbrún fishmeal factory in Fuglafjörður. Image: EUfishmeal

‘But we prepare for the worst. For the Danish industry, sandeel is the big issue,’ she said, adding that sprat is also a concern – particularly this year as in spite of strong fishing, there has been a reduction in the quota.

‘North Sea sprat is in good condition, but because there is a new stock modelling process, so we still had a reduction – even though there’s agreement that fishing has been good and the stock is in a healthy state.’

The industry’s growing concern is that of a precautionary bias that appears to be making its way into stock assessment and advice.

Delegates at the EUfishmeal conference got to see the value chain all the way up to salmon production at Bakkafrost. Image: EUfishmeal

‘This over-precautionary bias now appears to be built in as an element of the stock assessment, when it is the politicians who should be taking these decisions on the basis of impartial advice,’ Anne Mette Bæk said.

‘This is the message we are trying to get across – along with the argument that an ecosystem assessment is needed instead of assessing each stock as a single entity. We have to take into account that different species prey on each other and without studying that interaction between species, you don’t get the correct assessment for each stock. We need to see a full ecosystem picture.’

This year EUfishmeal and the Nordic Marine Think Tank (NMTT) are holding a conference in Copenhagen to examine precisely this issue.

The Conference on Improved Fisheries Management Models, dealing with the findings of the recently finalised Fmsy project, takes place in Copenhagen on 8th October 2019. Details here.

A further workshop, dedicated to examining the sustainability and responsible sourcing of fishmeal and fish oil, takes place on 25th October, also in Copenhagen. Details here.

Delegates at the EUfishmeal conference and AGM in the Faroe Islands explore the Havsbrún factory. Image: EUfishmeal

Growing competition

Added to this, new players have appeared, with two new fishmeal plants in Norway this year, plus there is likely to be increased competition for raw material in the Baltic region as new producers have started up in Finland and Estonia.

‘They aren’t members yet,’ said Anne Mette Bæk, who has just returned from EUfishmeal’s biennial conference and AGM, held this year in the Faroe Islands.

‘But we have Spanish members now. There are some plants there producing fishmeal, working mainly with offcuts from the processing sector as their raw material.’

Participants at EUfishmeal’s biennial conference, held this year in the Faroe Islands, came from Denmark, Norway, UK, Ireland, the Faroes, Iceland, Germany, France, Spain, Czech Republic and Sweden, representing the wider European fishmeal and fish oil industry and its suppliers.

Participants were given an opportunity to see the value chain as a whole from fishmeal production at the Havsbrún factory in Fuglafjörður all the way to Bakkafrost’s smolt production, sea cages and processing as salmon is prepared for export.

Delegates were given presentations from GEA, Perten, now Perkin Elmer, Haarslev, AlfaLaval, Héðinn and Monts, as EUfishmeal’s associated members had the opportunity to present the newest developments in technical equipment used in production.

This was followed on the conference’s final day with scientific presentations on the state of fish stocks in the Northeast Atlantic by EUfishmeal’s chief biologist and on the possibilities of exploitation of raw materials by NOFIMA. After a closing speech by the chairman, the conference ended and the general assembly of EUfishmeal was held. With no changes to the board, both vice-chairman Frank Trearty and chairman Jóhannes Pálsson were re-elected.