Honningsvåg-based Cape Fish Group AS has for some time been working on a project to establish a storage and processing facility for snow crabs in Longyearbyen. Backers say Svalbard has several competitive advantages in the industry.
"It is primarily the cold temperatures in the waters around Svalbard that make the place suitable for storage of live snow crabs," said Cape Fish Group Administrative Director Bjorn-Ronald Olsen.
Cape Fish Group currently works primarily with king crabs. Some are killed and processed before being sent out to markets, and some of the catch is sent live to Asia, where the largest markets are. King crabs have become a major contributor to fisheries in the north, with the total quota in Finnmark now up to 2,000 tons.
By comparison, the total quota for snow crabs is currently up to 10,000 tons. Researchers believe this quota will increase tenfold during the next decade as the species spreads from waters east of Svalbard.
Today, live king crabs are exported by air to markets in Asia, including China and South Korea. Flights depart from Lakselv in Finnmark. Cape Fish Group is hoping to do the same with snow crabs from Longyearbyen. Such exports require a facility to store the catch alive.
"The problem with snow crabs is that it is difficult to store them live on the mainland with the temperatures we have here," Olsen said. "Snow crabs require temperatures between minus one and minus three degrees. To keep such temperatures in water on the mainland you'd have to spend a lot of money to buy and operate plants that keep the water cold. In Svalbard you have these temperatures in the water naturally much of the year, making it a geographical advantage to have a business there."
The founder of Cape Fish Group, Bjørn-Ronald Olsen, wants to exploit the natural competitive advantages of Svalbard, and start a crab processing plant in Longyearbyen. FOTO: Cape Fish Group
He said he envisions exporting snow crabs from Svalbard in the same way as crabs are now flown directly to Asia from Lakselv. Having a large airport a stone's throw from Longyearbyen is another significant advantage in terms of such exports.
Last week, Norway's Marine Resources Act was amended so Svalbard has the same regulations as mainland Norway, enable such industries in the archipelago. Olsen said he doesn't think it will be problematic for his business to maintain a high environmental profile.
"Salmon that are in cages in facilities on the mainland are fed, among other things, medications," he said. "That should not be necessary for snow crabs. They will be located in their natural element when in the waters around Svalbard. Therefore, we envision a scenario of zero emissions from the business."
Other species as well
Olsen told Fiskeribladet Fiskaren he believes about 60 to 70 local jobs will be created with a processing and storage facility for snow crabs in Longyearbyen. He envisions a facility that can accommodate 3,000 to 4.000 tons of snow crabs annually, possibly more. The company has been working on the proposal for some time, and last November Olsen, representatives from Nofina (see separate article), and others met with both the Longyearbyen Community Council and Store Norske. There are design plans for a facility at Hotellneset outside the city limits.
More are interested
Svalbardposten has learned different groups are meeting with local government representatives this week. Their purpose was air out proposals for commercial fisheries activity in Longyearbyen.
Deputy Mayor Eric Berger (Liberal Party), said it's encouraging there is in interest in initiating new local industries. But he said it is urgent for local authorities to adopt a land-use plan so interested parties can establish themselves.
"The city is in the process of hiring a new area planner," he said. "At the same time we will keep up the pressure on the central government. Although the Marine Resources Act was amended last week, there is more legal work remaining before the industry can operate from Svalbard."
Quotas and rights issues are among of the topics that must be addressed before the industry can establish itself.
"But this is what I call low-hanging fruit," Berger said. "Now that the fishing industry plans to establish itself here, we have to work hard to facilitate that."
"The feedback has been entirely positive, so we are continuing to work on the plans," Olsen said "There may also be talk of about accepting other species into the plant near
Nofima conducts research and development for the aquaculture, fisheries and food industries. The Norwegian government owns the majority of shares in the company, which has a gross income of about 530 million kroner annually.
Magnar Pedersen, the director of the fisheries, industry and market division, said he is enthusiastic about a crab processing and storage facility in Longyearbyen.
Pedersen, much like Cape Fish Group Administrative Director Bjorn-Ronald Olsen, said the water temperatures around Svalbard are the biggest competitive advantage of establishing a facility so far north.
The king crab has become very important for Norwegian seafood exports. But the snow crab has an even bigger potential. FOTO: Cape Fish Group
"It is within that area that the value creation for live crabs primarily occurs, and here in Svalbard there is a big advantage," Pedersen said. "It has proved challenging to bring this species to the coast of Finnmark due to high temperatures. Here in Svalbard the solution adds up in that it is relatively easy to store live crabs in the sea without the large investments."
How would the crabs be stored?
"Efforts are already underway to develop a new type of cage that can store the crabs," Pedersen said.
Pedersen said also envisions a more efficient utilization of the fishing fleet with opportunities to store its catch in Longyearbyen. The fishers can spend more time fishing and less time bringing boats between the mainland and the fishing areas that are constantly moving northward.
The finished product can be transported either by plane to markets far away, or frozen and brought by boats to the mainland.
"Then you've got completely different logistics than we have today," Pedersen said. "On the way up the boats or planes could carry goods to Svalbard."
Likewise, it is possible to envision fish caught north of Bjørnøya being transported to Svalbard instead of the mainland instead of storing in them cages or processing. It is a shorter distance to Svalbard and, moreover, conditions are more favorable for storage than on the mainland coast.
There are still some unresolved things to address by those going over the plans. Topics such as resource management and Norwegian Food Safety Authority requirements have not yet been considered, but Pedersen said he believes these things will be resolved with time. The impact of tax revenues received by Norway if fish companies start focusing on Svalbard is also unclear, but proponents say such activity in the archipelago will still be to the nation's benefit.
"A large fish factory will assume that you have employees who live permanently in Svalbard, which in turn will mean something for exercising sovereignty in the archipelago," Pedersen said.
Translated by Mark Sabbatini