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Export-oriented Dutch fish industry keeps pace with plant modernization.

Export-Oriented Dutch Fish Industry Keeps Pace With Plant Modernization

The Netherlands is a land of water. A third of the country lies below sea level, and one-half of the terrain would flood without the dykes and dam systems that protect it from the constantly encroaching sea. So, it comes as no surprise that the nation's historic fishing industry is flourishing today with the advent of high technology that has increased efficiencies.

Along the North Sea coastline there are many colorful fishing towns, but the constant reclaiming of land has led to the development of an inland sea. Formerly known as the "Zuider Zee," it is now called the Ijsselmeer after having been drained off. This area also has traditional fishing villages dotting the shore, and perhaps none is more famous than Urk.

If one is born in Urk it is expected that he or she will likely end up working in the fishing business. Out of a total population of 12,000 people, 3,500 are employed within the industry. Nearly 1,000 men are engaged by the fishing fleet, while 1,500 men and 1,000 women work in more than 40 local processing plants.

The town has grown considerably in recent years, becoming a modern industrial site. But careful planning has ensured the maintenance of a cultural identity based on recorded history that dates back to the year 966.

The annual turnover of the Urk fish auction was 1.75-million guilders (approximately US$ 883,000). Fifteen years later this had grown to 250-million guilders ($120-million), representing the largest such auction in Europe.

The depth of the Dutch seafood industry is such that exports are an essential and integral part of the development. Working hard on that front is Northseafood BV, a young company established in 1982 to supply retail, catering and bulk accounts with flatfish species such as plaice, dover sole and dab. Products are exported to Italy, Sweden, Spain and other EEC countries, plus Israel. In 1989 the packer introduced added value lines.

In the beginning only two people were employed. In spite of limited fishing quotas, staff has increased to 140 employees now. Turnover of 18-million guilders in 1982 increased to 65-million by 1987.

Modern machinery notwithstanding, Northseafood still subscribes to some old methods of preparing fish. Although hand filleting is laborious, in the end it produces a greater yield. And, of course, a keener emphasis on quality control is assured.

It is interesting to note that all 14 shareholders are active in the company. This practice enables at least one owner to be present at each working station, making for a highly motivated, well organized operation.

Another company in Urk is P. Baarsen BV, which was established in 1972. Its annual tonnage of finished products makejs it one of the largest fish processors in Holland.

An advanced processing plant built several years ago contains modern, automatic equipment. Still, hand filleting of fish takes place. This may seem out of place amidst a sophisticated factory, but it does guarantee quality control.

Main products include a range of IQF fillet plaice, dover sole, flounder and dab - all aimed at catering and retail markets. Recently, 800g and 1kg polybags were introduced. Baarsen exports to most EEC countries and beyond. In addition, it packs for other companies.

On the opposite side of the Ijsselmeer can be found the little town of Monnickendam, home of Diepuries Monnickendam BV which is now owned by Hazelwood Foods plc. Formed in the early 1960s, the Dutch outfit has built up an impressive list of customers in both catering and retail outlets. Its product list includes plaice fillets (panfried and pan-ready), yellow pike, lake perch, sole fillets and dover sole.

Growth has been two-pronged: the natural progression of gaining new clients, along with the expansion of existing business. The latter point is very important as 80% of the customer base has traded with Diepvries for 10 years or more.

This growth pattern continues with the opening of a 5,000 cu. meter, 1,100 pallet position coldstore early in 1990. The existing warehouse will be reduced to two-thirds of its original size and used only for stocking raw materials. The other third is being converted to accommodate an additional production line.

Geared up for the international fish market is Tholen-headquartered Interseafish BV. It offers a wide range of products including plaice, cod, turbot, dab, whitebait, shrimp, mussels and cockles. The seafood is available filleted ready for broiling or frying, stripped or coated in breadcrumbs, packed in bulk or in per kilogram sizes. All export items have special packaging.

Select raw materials are delivered to the company's modern premises for processing by state-of-art automated equipment. The mussels are sourced from the internationally renowed waters of Zeeland. Various hygienic washing growing systems are used to get them to correct size and fleshiness. Cockles are caught and processed specifically by fishermen on Dutch factory ships.

Adding to the scope of the Netherlands' seafood industry is the Dutch Fish Foundation "The Group" BV, which was formed in 1976 after Holland had been badly affected by the ban on herring fishing. The Group now consits of five partners who, over the past 14 years, have built up a fleet of ships which are responsible for 90% of national trawler catches. Some 15 vessels are involved. The latest, a 3,500-ton trawler, will be launched in early 1990.

The average vessel's storage capacity ranges from 2,000 to 4,000 tons of frozen fish per voyage. Daily capacity is around 250 tons for each ship. The three major ports used have coldstore capacity of more than 300,000 tons, and the daily loading rate ranges from 800 to 1,200 tons of fish (mainly mackerel and herring). The necessary filleting work is carried out before fish is frozen on board into blocks ranging from 10 to 25 kilograms in weight.

PHOTO : One of the Northseafood Holland BV refrigerated transporters that are familiar sights on Europe's highways.
COPYRIGHT 1990 E.W. Williams Publications, Inc.
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Title Annotation:QFFI's Global Seafood Magazine
Author:Brown, Marrison
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Jan 1, 1990
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