The three companies are Brødrene Karlsen AS in Senja, a whitefish and salmon producer; Stella Polaris AS in Kårvika, a shrimp producer; and Tustern AS, also based in Senja, which has crab fishing rights.
"We see the seafood initiative as very interesting in Svalbard," said Børre Lien, an advisor for the new group known as Lenvik. "The resource base is present. We have no reports finished, but we believe that the foundation exists with shrimp, whitefish and probably snow crab which is on the way."
'Very, very positive'
The group has had several meetings with Longyearbyen city leaders and other players, and attended last week's local "Turn on the Light" business conference. Meetings are continuing with relevant stakeholders, but it will not simply be a matter of deciding to proceed with a fisheries-oriented business. There remains great uncertainty about port conditions, water availability, water quality and power supplies. In addition, the regulatory requirements are pending. Those challenges are a national matter, according to the group.
"If you want a heavy national commitment, one has to facilitate," Lien said, noting the necessary infrastructure doesn't exist, but there are expectations the government will determine the guidelines for fisheries ventures in the upcoming Svalbard "white paper."
He said he also envisions facilities operating year-round, but as of now can't estimate a timeframe.
"But we are very, very positive," he said.
The Lenvik group has entered into a partnership with LNS and requested a meeting with Norwegian Minister of Fisheries Per Sandberg (Progress Party).
Sandberg was not available to talk to Svalbardposten, but Undersecretary Ronny Berg (Progress Party) said the ministry is eager to allow the establishment of fish and seafood processing facilities in Longyearbyen.
"Basically, it is important to get to a presence there to create more jobs," he said. "Svalbard will also allow the industry to develop to its full potential."
"It's the participants who are very interested," Berg added.
He said he believes it is possible to achieve it, but at the the same time there are strict environmental standards.
Building in Barentsburg
About 60 kilometers to the southeast, Russians are working on a fish processing plant located in Barentsburg. Svalbardposten has published several articles about the project involving Arctic Recource Norge AS. Sweco has been hired to assist with the planning process, which has progressed to the point the architect company LPO has been hired. LPO is working on an upgrade of the land-use plan for Barentsburg, with the area for the fishery incorporated into the new plan.
Berg said he is aware of those developments.
Svalbardposten has also learned interested parties in Barentsburg are now searching for a company capable of building such a facility.
"For the government, there is no doubt that it is important to create new jobs," Berg said.
Does it matter if Norwegian facilities come after a Russian one?
"It is not the point to be first, but it's clear that I'm hoping they come in the soonest possible amount of time," Berg said.
This is how the researchers believe that the prevalence of snow crab in the Barents Sea will be in the future. FOTO: IMR
Changes in sea temperatures in recent years have led to numerous new species appearing in Svalbard. Mackerel arrived in 2013. Several other species have followed suit, including a bountiful fishing season for cod last fall in Isfjorden. Scientists have stated they believe that will gradually become the norm.
On the Norwegian side, a North Cape group from Honningsvag has expressed interest in operating in Svalbard due to anticipated future crab catches. Today's Barents Sea population of snow crab is mainly west of Novaya Zemlya, but is spreading and scientists are mapping the constant changes.
Snow crabs thrive in cold water and will therefore spread further west, according to the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research. Snow crab is a projected as billion-kroner industry in the future and Jan Sundet, a crab research, said he expects crabs will be around Svalbard and Franz Josef Land, in addition to Novaya Zemlya (see map).
IMR wrote in March of 2014 that "we assume that snow crabs will spread north and northwest of the Barents Sea, and probably occupy most areas around Svalbard and around Franz Josef Land."
Lien said he believes seafood will eventually be shipped directly from Longyearbyen to customers in Europe and Asia.
"Fresh fish direct from Svalbard," he said. "To put it this way: With the distance from Lakselv to Asia or Europe, it is straightforward to see it happening from Svalbard as well."
Translated by Mark Sabbatini