Norwegian Gannet could transform the salmon farming sector ‘if reason prevails’
THE Norwegian Gannet, the floating salmon processor, was designed to revolutionise the way fish are handled, processed and transported, but in its first year of operation the vessel has sailed into a political storm.
Carl-Erik Arnesen, CEO of Hav Line, which owns the ship, told a seminar in Trondheim that it had attracted much attention in its inaugural year, with some 720 stories appearing in the press, by his calculation.
‘It’s a very special story,’ said Arnesen. ‘We’ve had close relations with the authorities and have all the licences in place, money from the Department of Environment, the Department of Transport and a lot of support from the last Minister of Fisheries (Per Sandberg).
‘Everything was fine and then, in late August last year, we got a new Minister of Fisheries who turned it all round and withdrew the licence we had been given to operate fully.’
The explanation is complex and affects Norway only.
The Norwegian Gannet, 10 years in the planning, is the future of fish farming, or certainly a part of it, claim its pioneers.
It collects fish at the cage site, harvests and processes it on board, and delivers it to port – Hirtshals in Denmark – for packaging and exporting to final destinations across the continent and beyond.
The ship has the capacity for 1,000 tonnes of salmon and can handle up to 150,000 tonnes a year, more than 10 per cent of the current total
Norwegian salmon production. Since its launch last year, the Norwegian Gannet has processed 14,000 tonnes of fish, from 13 different fish farmers, at 21 locations, involving 41 trips, including one to Scotland (see next page).
It is environmentally friendly, with its hybrid propulsion cutting carbon emissions, and has even won a mention in the Guinness Book of Records for the most energy efficient engine.
The Norwegian Gannet also has welfare benefits for the fish, said Arnesen. Normally, well boats pump fish on board and then transport it to a processing plant – and in Norway this means also keeping the fish in ‘waiting cages’. After processing, the fish is transported, 70 per cent by ferry to Europe and 30 per cent by air freight.
‘The Gannet goes to the cage and does all this process in one handling of the fish, instead of three, so it is good for fish welfare, he said. ‘The biggest disease risk in the industry is in the transport of live fish and we have solved that.’
What’s more, the handling of the fish is different from a well boat, where farmers are accustomed to loading fish on board as fast as possible.
‘With the Norwegian Gannet, we harvest as the fish come into the boat and the fish should be stressed as little as possible, so the way they are crowded is very important,’ said Arnesen.
‘We go to the farm a day or two before the Gannet arrives to talk to the farmer and explain the procedure. We teach them what will happen and we’ve seen improving results from this on the quality.’
He said the vessel is still in its start-up phase and will be further optimised, but already, Nofima, the Norwegian research organisation, which is documenting its results, has found the Gannet is a boost for animal welfare.
The boat can go from one cage to the next and then, once full, will deliver to Denmark, at a competitive cost, said Arnesen – ‘the more fish we get, the cheaper we can do it’.
But it is the Gannet’s very efficiency that has provoked a political backlash. New fisheries minister Harald T. Nesvik, at first arguing that the ship would take processing jobs away from rural communities, then used an out of date Norwegian quality regulation to halt its progress.
The rule, created in the 1980s, stipulates that ‘production’ fish (those with visible defects) must be sorted and the faults corrected before they are transported out of Norway.
The thinking at the time, supported by farmers, was to protect the reputation of Norwegian farmed salmon. However, today the rule is seen as obsolete but maintained as an indirect subsidy for Norwegian land based processing.
Nesvik used the loophole to prevent the Norwegian Gannet fulfilling its potential, but following an outcry in the industry, he issued a temporary exemption for a year.
This allows grading to be carried out in Denmark, with production fishtypically, no more than five per cent of the catch- brought back to Norway for processing.
Arnesen said at the time, he was pleased that the minister of fisheries ‘let reason prevail’, but he admits now: ‘The Danes are laughing, they think this is stupid.’
The waiver would not apply to any new vessels, thus thwarting the company’s plans to develop a fleet.
Arnesen and his colleagues at Hav Line and at the ship’s designer Wartsila are fighting Nesvik, whose motives they have questioned.
An editorial in the August issue of the Norwegian shipping magazine, Skips Revyen, referred to the minister’s former employment in the well boat company Solvtrans, and quoted other parliamentary representatives accusing the government of ‘having a hidden agenda’ in the Norwegian Gannet case.
The Norwegian Gannet’s creators are not about to give up on their dream though. Ove H. Wilhelmsen, managing director of the ship designer, Wartsila, said the company has already designed a bigger vessel, 10m longer and 3m wider than the Gannet, to provide full processing facilities on board, and thus confound Nesvik’s restrictions.
In the bigger ship, everything would be done on board, including fileting and packing the fish, so there would be no requirement to send production fish back to Norway to process.
‘It’s strange we need to build a vessel like this because of one person,’ said WIlhelmsen. ‘But the design is ready. If someone wants to operate this on the Norwegian coast it’s fully possible to do so.’
Wilhelmsen is also chairman of the maritime chapter of the Norwegian Federation of Industries and is lobbying against Nesvik’s ruling.
‘We are very clear that the decision made by the minister is against any industry – so we can use that powerful lobby to campaign. It’s on Prime Minister level now. It’s personal motivation, it should not happen in a country like Norway.
‘We would like to build more so we can develop the company,’ he said, insisting that even a big fleet wouldn’t jeopardise land based processing.
‘If we were to do the whole Norwegian salmon industry, in five years we would need 100 of these boats, and that’s not going to happen.
‘But there are many factories in Norway that are now up to 40 years old that really need renewing, and that’s big investments.’
Ideally, they would build a new ship every two years- ‘it takes two years to build one and we
“Everything was fine and then we got a new minister of fisheries who licence” withdrew the
Left: Ove H. Wilhelmsen and Carl-Erik Arnesen in Trondheim
(Norwegian Gannet photos courtesy of Hav Line)