Farmers join seafood industry for roe season
These days there’s a gold rush feel to Akranes and a few other coastal towns where capelin roe is being processed. At the moment HB Grandi has around 80 staff on a rolling shifts around the clock at its Akranes factory. As in past years, many of the local sheep farmers are among those who have taken the opportunity to take part in the short season at Akranes.
Capelin roe production began at HB Grandi’s Akranes factory on Thursday last week and has been going well, according to Gunnar Hermannsson, who has been in charge of this side of the company’s shore-based production. He said that fishing has been good and there is no shortage of raw material. But although the roe levels are enough to satisfy even the most demanding markets, there is the problem that the roe is not as fully developed as would be ideal.
‘Capelin is very hard to predict and no two seasons are the same. It’s impossible to tell how many days of each season we can take roe. The state of the stock, the migration pattern and the weather all play a part. If we’re lucky, the season could last as much as three weeks. Or a poor season could be just a matter of a few days,” Gunnar Hermannsson said.
He said that around 30 of HB Grandi’s regular staff take part in the roe season, while the other fifty come from all over, including a number of farmers from the western counties of Iceland, either from Borgarfjördur or from further west in Snaefellsnes and the Dales district. Gunnar Hermannsson said that these and other people provide a fine workforce, many of whom have taken part in the season at Akranes for many years.
Gunnar Hermannsson and his workforce were landing catches from Ingunn AK when we paid them a visit, while Lundey NS and Víkingur AK were still at sea and due in that night. HB Grandi’s other pelagic vessel, Faxi RE, was at Vopnafjördur where roe production was also in progress. Gunnar Hermannsson said that they were still waiting for the roe to be developed enough for full production for the Japanese market. If everything slots into place, then the production capacity is there. Full production capacity is between 170 and 180 tonnes per 24 hours, which is production from around 1500 tonnes of capelin. The limiting factor is the freezing capacity which is a maximum of 100 tonnes per day at the Akranes factory, which is close to the fishing areas, while during good fishing fresh roe is also shipped overland to Vopnafjördur for packing and freezing and HB Grandi’s vessels have also been used to transport roe to the Vopnafjördur factory.
A huge investment has gone into the equipment used in the roe extraction season that lasts only a matter of a few weeks every year. According to Gunnar Hermannsson, 90% of this equipment has been developed and made in Iceland, while equipment imported for these systems consists mainly of pumps, separators and parts related to the conveyor belts.