The Nordic region represents 41% of the global catch of the Atlantic mackerel. It is sold block-frozen, either whole or as a headless and gutted fish, not like the salmon or trout fillets found in the counters. While further processing of mackerel may be financially feasible, a Nordic project have experienced that filleting reduces the quality of the meat.
One of the participants, Alexander Krokedal Rønnevik research coordinator at Pelagia, says that the findings have given them a reality check.
“The results from this project has really been eye-opening, the durability of the fish was not as high as seen in other studies,” he says.
There is a lack of knowledge about how factors such as the fishing season, fishing gear, catching methods, handling procedures and various processing steps in the value chain affect the stability and quality of final products.
With funding from Nordic Innovation, Nordic pelagic competitors, universities and research institutions have put their heads together and addressed these issues. They have tested how seasons, storage environment and temperature of the meat impact the quality of the product. This allows the industry to optimise the use of raw material, energy, transportation and packaging.
Pelagia is a market leader on pelagic fish products, but Rønnevik explains that having participated in this project they have been given access to competences and new aspects that have yielded more accurate results.
“This is extremely useful to us and gives us an international advantage,” he continues.
Sindri Sigurdsson, coordinator at the Icelandic competitor, Sildarvinnslan, agrees.
“Nordic cooperation makes us more competitive. I think if you do not look abroad to develop as a company, like we have done in this project, you will not be in this business for long.”
Research institutions as enablers for industrial cooperation
Project leader, Gudmundur Stefansson from the Icelandic research institute, Matís, admits that he was concerned about how the collaboration between the competitors would go, as he feels there has been some hostility between actors in the mackerel industry.
“It turned out it was not a problem. There was a genuine interest from the industry to learn from each other. Knowing that there would be differences between the actors, we even had open-site visits for knowledge sharing,” Stefansson says.
It sounds like there was a lot of trust between the participants in the project?
“Yes. I believe the key is that Nofima (Norwegian research institute) and Matís have a good history of cooperating. Each institute also enjoys good relationships with the industry in Norway and Iceland,” Stefansson continues.
It must be nice to serve as an enabler for projects like these to succeed?
“Yes, it gives a feeling of having done a good job. Moreover, it is very valuable to us because we are given an overview of the challenges the industries are facing. I hope to get more opportunities to work like this,” he says.
Months after the project finished, the participants still stay in contact.
“In fact two people from Pelagia visited us last week together with eight plant managers from the Norwegian shipping company, Nergård. The barriers around us are falling down,” Sigurdsson says.
Pelagia has already come a long way in their production of filleted mackerel in the newly opened factory in Selje, Norway.
“There are great advantages of keeping production here. That way we can better utilize the whole fish, which creates new value streams for us,” Rønnevik explains.
Senior Innovation advisor at Nordic Innovation, Elisabeth Smith, is very happy about the results.
“This project shows how Nordic cooperation helps industries become more competitive and sustainable. The marine sector is of great importance to the Nordic economy, and I am happy to see that we could help facilitate such a pioneering project that is already having an impact,” she says.
This project was funded under the Nordic Marine Innovation Program 2.0.