Drastic changes – in just two weeks
Samherji’s trawler Kaldbakur. Image: Samherji

Drastic changes – in just two weeks

Markets for fresh seafood have changed dramatically, with fresh fish exports dropping significantly compared to their pre-Covid-19 pandemic levels, according to Kristján Vilhelmsson, director of vessel operations at Icelandic fishing and processing company Samherji.

‘Our markets have changed drastically in two weeks, and further changes are not foreseeable at all, but they will unfortunately happen. Similarly, we have had to implement changes in fish processing,’ he stated in a letter to the crews of Samherji’s fishing vessels.

Samherji’s director of vessel operations Kristján Vilhelmsson. Image: Samherji

‘Fresh exports have fallen to as much as 25% of what they were before and what will happen in the next few weeks is uncertain. The volume also fluctuates, so it is often difficult to determine in advance how much we can fish. It comes down to you, and we have always been able to count on you to deliver in the value chain,’ he said.

He comments that the current situation is unparalleled and is something that could hardly have been foreseen, while stressing that it is everyone’s social responsibility to do anything to curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Advice from the authorities is on how to respond to these circumstances, with hygiene and interaction measures aimed at minimising infection pathways.

‘At the same time, life must go on, and companies must continue their operation. Samherji’s owners and staff have made efforts to abide by the Civil Protection instructions, and fish processing operations have therefore been disrupted.

He said that there are numerous new rules of conduct, including increased cleaning, distancing, a visiting ban, selection and minimising repairs/maintenance, a complete shuffle in the canteen, staggered arrival and departure times at the workplace, recommendations for travelling to and from work, recommendations for lifestyle and behaviour outside of working hours and the installation of walls in processing rooms to reduce proximity.

‘This week things went even further in UA and Dalvík, and operations were reduced by almost half, with only 50% of staff working at the same time (employees work every other day). All this is done according to rules to reduce the likelihood of transmission so workers can perform tasks assigned to them with the utmost safety,’ he said.

‘A ship is a workplace where the crew members are very close to each other, so you have to think of the best solutions. In itself, there is no risk of infection at sea as long as no-one is infected. Because of this proximity, the idea was brought up that the crew could be in some kind of quarantine on board for as long as possible, thus reducing the likelihood of transmission,’ Kristján Vilhelmsson said.

‘How long that time will be is entirely up to the crew. This is a new idea that came up as an experiment in the fight against this pandemic and seemed to make some sense. We are aware that this is not easy for many and maybe especially because it is not a tradition to take many trips in a row without time ashore.

He states that with such an arrangement, Samherji believes there is an increased likelihood of keeping the fleet in operation.

‘Samherji’s goal is to do what is possible to keep employees safe from infection while protecting their jobs at the same time. It is only possible with a synchronised effort. This way, we believe we can return to normal operations when the pandemic is over, and no customers overseas will have forgotten us,’ he said.