Fishery in Cuxhaven: Searching for New Ways and New Markets

Interview with Bodo von Holten, chairman of the Fishery Association of Cuxhaven

copyright BiocevalMr von Holten, the new fishing season has started in September. How is the fishing industry in Cuxhaven doing?

Unfortunately, not so great. The landings of fresh fish to Cuxhaven continue to decrease and shift more and more to Denmark and the Netherlands. The reason for this is simple: The amount of fishing days at sea is limited, and a tour to Cuxhaven in order to deliver the fish costs around three to four sea days. It’s more efficient for the fishermen to deliver their goods to ports that are more closely located to the fishing grounds. That is where the fish is immediately processed and transported onwards via truck or plane. It is just not profitable for the fishermen to come to Cuxhaven. And this is a problem that occurs across Germany: The main transhipment centre for fresh fish in Germany used to be Hamburg, Bremen and Cuxhaven – today it’s the Frankfurt/Main airport.

On the other hand, there are of course also fishing boats that immediately deep-freeze the fresh fish after it’s caught at sea. These ships are still landing  their catch in Cuxhaven, where the fish is stored in frozen storage warehouses until it continues its journey to be processed – for example into the widely known fish fingers. That is why renewals such as the new refrigerating set at the frozen storage warehouse III, which was officially handed over in October, are still worthwhile. These renewals especially concern the increase of the energy efficiency of the plants.

At the German National Maritime Conference in October, Chancellor Merkel presented many promises for the maritime industry. For example, German seafarers will get more support. How does this affect the fishing industry?

The tax incentives for the employment of German seafarers will only apply to the international shipping industry – but not to the coastal trade or the nearshore fishing. Enak Ferlemann, Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Transport Ministry, clarified this at an event of the Nautical Association of Cuxhaven (NVC) at the end of October. Although we also had high hopes for improvements and benefits to come out of the National Maritime Conference, the fishing industry was very disappointed.

In Cuxhaven, we have subsidiaries of big, multinational fishing and fish processing companies, as well as smaller, regional or local companies. The big businesses located in Cuxhaven are in fierce competition – with their international sister companies (benchmarking) as well as the international rivals. Both profit from the low taxes and payroll expenses in other countries amongst other things. In the past years, we have seen an increased exodus of these bigger companies from Cuxhaven. Increasing taxes and costs, for example for energy and sewage, are putting extra pressure on the remaining companies.

The smaller businesses are faring better, since they are processing, marketing and selling their fish regionally. These companies are especially supported by local tourism. Many small businesses run little bistros and restaurants directly in the port and show tourists a nostalgic view of the traditional daily work in the fishing industry.

Everyone is talking about Cuxhaven because of the offshore expansion, but it is also Germany’s second biggest fishing port. What does the future of this industrial sector in Cuxhaven look like?

In the long term, the smaller businesses have a better chance of staying in Cuxhaven, since they succeed in marketing their locally caught fish within the region. They are not as hugely influenced by the international competition as the multinational companies. The situation is similar for the fish processing industry: Out of seven fish meal plants once existing in Northern Germany, only one remains today. Every year, more than 100,000 tons of fish are processed in Cuxhaven – but today, the majority comes from aquaculture, or fish farms, instead of the fishing boats.

In order to stay profitable, the fishing industry in Cuxhaven is looking for new ways: Firstly, the fishing grounds have been extended and now stretch along the German coast all the way to Poland. Secondly, the fish processing businesses are trying to develop new niche markets. Lipromar GmbH, for example, opened a new production plant for fish oils and functional fish proteins for human consumption earlier this year. Here, fish by-products are processed into fish oils, functional protein and powder used as dietary and health supplements due to the valuable ingredients such as Omega-3 fatty acids (editor’s note: can be read in HWG Newsletter 01/2015).

As a new niche market, the company is now developing fish oils with different aromas, which are used in the health and wellness sector, for example in gourmet cooking and sports nutrition. This production currently only exists in Cuxhaven. Of course, it takes time to tap into and develop new markets, new customers and new products. In case of the fish oils, things are going well. The company is marketing the product at many international fairs and events as a member of the Fishery Association. In October, Lipromar was at the Anuga in Cologne; soon they will be at Fish International in Bremen and Internorga in Hamburg.

The fishery has experienced many hurdles and setbacks – but it is always finding new ways to develop and keep afloat.



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