Researchers tackle Norway's fish processing decline

By Rod Addy

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Seafood Fish

SINTEF researchers have developed a robot that can bleed farmed fish and cut fillets. Photo: Thor Nielsen
SINTEF researchers have developed a robot that can bleed farmed fish and cut fillets. Photo: Thor Nielsen
Researchers aim to reverse a drastic decline in fish processing in Norway by investigating a range of technologies that would help rebuild its profitability.

The number of whitefish processing plants in the country have dropped from 100 to 10 in the past 40 years according to research institute SINTEF. The organisation claims underinvestment has made it more profitable for the bulk of such fish to be sent outside the country for further processing, but says it is working on technology to revamp the industry.

"Norway exports only between 10% to 25% processed products, depending on whether we are talking about whitefish or farmed fish,"​ said research manager at SINTEF Fisheries and Aquaculture Marit Aursand.

"Many of our most important seafood products, such as salmon, cod and herring, undergo only minimal processing before they are sent abroad. In other words, Norway has a great opportunity to increase its fish processing capacity.

Government investment

However, she said turning the situation around depended on government investment. "The industry acknowledges the need for automation and we researchers are ready to meet the challenges. It all depends on funding. Politicians must put their money where their mouths are."

Examples of technology SINTEF is working on to bolster the industry include a 'bleeding robot' and vision systems, it said.

The 'bleeding robot' can bleed farmed fish and trim the fillets. The cutting knife can automatically be guided up and down and side to side. The technology is already in use and SINTEF researchers are working to commercialise a number of similar concepts.

Vision technology

Regarding the vision technology, SINTEF said production line workers in a fish factory use their sight to find a fish's bleeding point prior to slaughter and the position of a fillet's belly flap prior to cutting.

"However, robots have problems because they cannot see,"​ said SINTEF researcher Ekrem Misimi. "This is why we have developed so-called machine vision by which advanced camera technology and pattern recognition are used to analyse each fish as it passes along the line."

The system can identify fish types, assess any damage and calculate fishes' weight in grammes so they can be sorted automatically into weight classes.

Machine vision could be used in almost all processes carried out in onshore facilities, from slaughtering, boning, bone removal and filleting to portioning and packing, said SINTEF.

Raw material resources

Fish processing systems could also be improved by developing better management of raw material resources and production volumes, it added. It is also looking into automating fish handling on trawlers.

Increased automation in the seafood industry would lead to the creation of new kinds of jobs, driven by engineering and IT needs, said Aursand.

"In the future, the demand for machine engineers and IT personnel will be greater than for traditional factory workers. But the key factor is that overall levels of wealth generation in the Norwegian marine foodstuffs sector will increase."

Waste product

Boosting the competitiveness of Norway's fish processing sector would also generate additional wealth in the wider industry dedicated to using waste product from seafood, she added.

"Waste raw materials make up between 30% and 50% of round fish mass and represent a significant source of protein, unsaturated fats and biochemicals - with added economic value.

"Other marine species such as krill and copepods may also become important ingredients both as a source of feedstuffs and food for humans."

Related topics Processing & packaging

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