May 16: Fish processing never stops
Until it's too late that is. The world largest producer of fish protein in Thyboron (Denmark), simply called 999 or TripleNine, steams merrily ahead. Even on saturdays.
TripleNine produces fish protein and fish oil for animal feed and aquaculture. It's a delivery firm for terrestrial and aquatic bioindustry.
Ships delivering to the 999 plant exercise what is known as 'industrial fishing'. At arrival the vessels are deep in the water. Heavy with a load of water and small fish (sand eel) they have trawled out of the sandy sea bed.

Even on the rainy saturday we cycle around the processing plant, it's business galore. Ships from Denmark and some from the Netherlands manoeuvre through the harbour and wait for their turn to be emptied.
The company's film explains the process. Shiploads of mostly sand eel are sucked into the factory and cooked into a homogeneous substance. Subsequent steps compress the watery mass to extract the fish protein. The liquid mass is then centrifuged to separate the fish oil from the water. End products are, as said, protein in sacks and fish oil.

The factory's latest pride is the removal installation for dioxin. Environmental pollution has resulted in wide-spread distribution of the cancerous substance in fish. EU regulations have set high standards and low tolerance for dioxine in animal feed, thus forcing TripleNine to come up with a purifying process, in which they succeeded.

One could only wish that a comparable vigilance was applied to the ocean's well being as well. Since it's there where 999's main problem lies, according to environmentalists.
Originally, TripleNine operated two processing plants: one in Esbjerg and the one in Thyboron. But in 2005, the company decided to shut down the Esbjerg plant because of 'the steadily declining capacity of the Esbjerg industrial fishing fleet in recent years and the resulting reduced supplies of raw material'. Our supply of raw material has gradually become so limited that it will be unprofitable for the company and therefore also for shareholding fishermen to continue production at full capacity, said managing director Nils Christian Jensen in a press release.
Some, like science writer Charles Clover, see the decline of sand eel as a result of overfishing. In his weblog he writes: 'In 1995 the “999? factory in Esbjerg, Denmark, was responsible for processing a million tons of sand eels and other small fish into food for fish farms. The sand eel population, the base of the food chain for marine mammals and sea birds as well as fish in the North Sea, has since collapsed, probably because of over-fishing - and with it the “999? factory, which at that time, to add insult to injury, was selling fish oil to be burned in power stations'.
Not so, says TripleNine. On its website TripleNine quotes Niels Axe Nielsen, director of the Danish Institute for Fisheries Research, saying 'It's a well known fact that today's industrial fishing has a insignificant effect on the numbers of consumer fish stock such as cod and haddock'. Nielsen argues that only very little cod and haddock are caught in industrial fishing for sand eel (12 respectively 221 tonnes on 600 thousand tonnes of sand eel in 2002).
Nielsen bypasses the argument that industrial fishing is taking away the food for larger (consumer) fish, thus compromising their population growth or even their recovery. He instead blames the discard of catches as the main cause for the decline in cod and haddock stocks.
No doubt, putting overboard a multitude of the landed catch does little good to the fish populations. But, as often in fishery discussions, it's down to fingerpointing to other evildoers again instead of facing up to one's own reponsibility.
Let's listen to science, says TripleNine. They want a collaboration between biologists and industrial fisheries to establish the impact of fishing on the present situation in the oceans. Well, let's hope they do.
Undoubtedly TripleNine is of great economical importance to Thyboron and the incoming fleet. All the same, 999's activities seem a prime example of fishing down the food chain, or 'down the line' as Charles Clover calls it. We'll talk to him later on our tour.
A last word from him here: 'If we end up living in a world without fish, today’s mismanagement of the cod, the bluefin tuna and once-plentiful fish resources off West Africa and the Indian Ocean will seem enormous crimes. Today they seem like business as usual.'
The question is if TripleNine's 'business as usual' falls in this category.