Oil workers fish for new seafood jobs

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Norway’s booming seafood industry is suddenly attracting a whole new school of workers, from the beleaguered oil and offshore sector. Crews who once worked on laid-up North Sea supply vessels are applying for work on fishing boats, as well as other coastal shipping and ferry routes.

Fishing boats in Norway have been coming home with profitable catches, and not the seafood industry is attracting displaced oil workers. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Fishing boats in Norway have been coming home with profitable catches, and not the seafood industry is attracting displaced oil workers. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Fed by a strong US dollar and euro in Norway’s most important export markets, Norway’s huge seafood business logged a record year last year and 2016 is looking just as strong. Salmon prices now make both farmed and wild salmon more valuable than a barrel of Norway’s North Sea crude oil,while demand and prices are also high for everything from halibut and cod to scallops and king crab.

“It’s been a fantastic year, 2015 was the best in our history,” Svein Ove Haugland, assistant director of the fishing organization Norges Råfisklag, told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). The market for Norwegian seafood has been strong for several years, but never as strong as now, as exports continue to surge even after those to Russia and China were all but halted for political reasons. The value of salmon exports passed NOK 50 billion (USD 5.7 billion) for the first time, and overall exports hit NOK 74.5 billion, up 8.4 percent from 2014.

In Northern Norway alone, the value of wild fish caught at sea amounted to NOK 9.5 billion, up from NOK 7.9 billion in 2014 and NOK 6.1 billion in 2013. That’s a 57 percent increase over the past two years. Meanwhile the price of farmed salmon hit a 25-year high in December and has risen since, with the highest quality salmon fetching NOK 70 per kilo or more.

The harbour here at Svolvær in Lofoten is a busy place, for both commercial and tourism-related fishing. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

The harbour here at Svolvær in Lofoten is a busy place, for both commercial and tourism-related fishing. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

The money being made in fishing is hooking a new pool of potential workers. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported on Monday that the fishing industry is now attracting job applicants from the once-booming offshore industry. “We’re steadily getting more applicants with good qualifications for work on board fishing boats,” Tor Are Vaskinn of the fishing boat owners’ association (Fiskebåtredernes Forbund) told NRK. “Norwegian ships’ engineers and navigators now want work on fishing vessels.”

Since prospects for the seafood industry are bright, fishing boat owners and industry officials think they’ll still need to recruit workers because the oil industry downturn may bottom out. “It’s important that we don’t stop recruiting workers,” Torkild Torkildsen of industry organization NHO Sjøfart told NRK, “because the offshore and oil business will certainly pick up again.”

Fishing folks not all happy
Despite the good times in the fishing industry, not all its players are smiling. Even after registering a banner year, coastal communities  are upset over a government proposal to liberalize regulations that have required fishing boats and trawlers to deliver their catch to local processing centers. The centers have been an important source of land-based jobs and local communities want to preserve them.

Several accuse new government fisheries minister Per Sandberg from the Progress Party of letting them down. Sandberg, who comes from Northern Norway, claims he must be loyal to his party’s decision to deregulate the fish wholesaling system. His opponents claim the large fishing operations like Aker Seafoods and Nergård will triumph and the small mottak centers along the coast will suffer. Sandberg, known as an outspoken politician who doesn’t shy away from conflict, told DN he was confident he could contribute to settling the storm: “There’s a conflict between deep-sea fishing and coastal fishing, also between different regions,” Sandberg said. “If I don’t think I can help solve them, I shouldn’t be in this job.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund