World watching massive fleet renewal in Russia for implications

January 11, 2021 09:25

The international seafood community has been watching with keen interest Russia’s massive fleet renewal unrolling under the government scheme of extra fishing quotas versus obligations to build land-based factories and waste-free factory trawlers at domestic yards. has looked into the advantages and disadvantages of the newbuilding designs and implications of the renewal for the market, reports

According to Russian Federal Agency for Fishery, there are 91 vessels under construction or planned to be built within federal program “fishing rights for ship building” only.  A number of companies are updating their fleet in addition to the program.  The relevance and real viability of projects has not been deeply studied yet.  All we have are upbeat press releases about new shipbuilding.  But the new is not synonymous with the modern.  MRKT-class trawlers, for example, initially were equipped with rather unsuccessful factories, as it turned out during the first catchers’ operation.  However, it was too late to change something during construction.  Therefore, on the last trawlers of the series, the brand new factories were dismantled right at the voyage from Spain to the Far East and replaced with redesigned ones.

Only the largest vessels are discussed in this article. They are a minority, but they make the biggest impression and are discussed all over the world.

Life will show how well the factories were designed. The experience of Russian Fishery Company (RFC) so far does not look very successful. The company may have planned to test the ship's operability when it began building its first trawler in Turkey, hoping that the Turks would build the ship much faster than the Russians.  It did not work out.  Due to coronavirus and other reasons, the lead ship Vladimir Limanov left the shipyard almost a year later than it had been planned.  According to insiders, the factory design of these ships is based on the one built on the ASF Starbound, which was the newest example during design procedure.  Did it work out well?  Have the corners been cut somewhere?  We'll find out soon.

It is interesting to consider the crew size.  Apparently, some of the new Russian vessels will be highly automated.  Comparing the maximum number, which is always reached during pollock roe production season, with modern American ships crews (though the latter were built 30 or more years ago), we see:

Vessel name

Length, m


Max Crew Size

Alaska Ocean


Glacier Fish Co./ Nippon Suisan Kaisha


Northern Hawk


Coastal Villages


American Triumph


American Seafoods Co.


Northern Eagle


American Seafoods Co.


Island Enterprise


Trident Seafoods




Aleutian Spray Fisheries


Victor Gavrilov  (5670WSD)


Lenina Kolkhoz


Vladimir Limanov (192RFC)


Russian Fishery Company


Georgy Meshcheryakov (ST-191L)


Okeanrybflot / Polluks


Capitan Pyashchikov (170701)






Tikhrybkom / Magsea


All data is from publicly available sources.

To assess these numbers, it would be very useful to know what the new ships will be producing.  Alas, RFC was the only company who carried out a PR campaign, promising to produce 60-80 tons of fillets plus 80 tons of surimi per day.  As of the other trawlers we have to speculate. A good example is the giant Viktor Gavrilov trawler of the Lenin Kolkhoz.  Project 5670WSD vessel will have a length of 121 m, a crew of 148 people and a hold of only 5200 cubic meters, which is less than that of ST192 and MRKT. To operate it effectively and not be distracted for discharge 5-6 times a month, it would be reasonable to produce mostly fillet and surimi, and even so, at the hottest time, it will be necessary to discharge her at least two to three times a month. This also implies a huge fishmeal hold of 1400 cubic meters. Whole round fish, of course, are not products for this monster.

The Project 170701 ships that Norebo is building are likely to be highly automated. They promise that the vessel will catch up to 230 tons of pollock per day with a crew of just 80 people. This ratio makes to think that the press release authors forgot to correct the numbers, because the first 6 vessels of the series are being built for cod fishery in the Northern Basin, where such a crew is appropriate. Otherwise, attempts to calculate the vessel economy at pollock fishery give hopeless result.  Use of today's technologies for pollock roe collection presumes significantly more people, regardless of the main product. Competitors are building trawlers with crew from 111 (the future 90-meter vessel of Tikhrybkom, which has just been announced) to 150 (two ST-191L trawlers from Okeanrybflot) people. We will look forward for Captain Pyashchikov coming Kamchatka and starts working.

RFC and Okeanrybflot are building almost identical vessels designed by Norwegian Skipsteknisk. The ST192RFC and ST191L projects do not differ much. RFC has announced to the whole world that it would produce surimi. It is not yet clear whether this will be the production of recovery surimi from the remains of fillet production, or primary surimi. The former is cheaper, but there is a great demand for it in the world. The second is more expensive, but the market is well balanced. Okeanrybflot intends to focus on fillet and HG, these products are named in their press release on Georgy Meshcheryakov construction. By the way, this company is the only one who has not expressed an intention to catch iwashi sardine.

A very smart trawler was ordered by Tikhrybkom.  ST119 project will be 90.65 m long, 111 people will do fillet, HG, WR.   She will be equipped with liquid ice cooled RSW tanks.  Not much more is known yet.

Now about the difficulties.

  • Firstly, large fishing vessels have not been built in Russia since time immemorial, or rather never.  Large fishing vessels of the Soviet fleet were built in Ukraine, Lithuania, Germany, Poland, Spain, but not Russia.  That is, there was no construction experience until recently, and a trawler is quite a complicated ship. You can expect surprises.
  • Secondly, surimi (according to those who know how to make it) is incomparably more difficult to produce than fillet. This means that the key issue will be technologists and QA qualifications. Since today surimi producing competence is practically absent in Russia, we have to assume that for the first years it will be necessary to attract foreign production managers. Training own personnel will take time, but it is inevitable, because surimi production technologists are rare game not only in Russia.
  • Thirdly, the new ships will not have European, Chinese and other numbers. Today it takes a couple of years to get a Chinese number. In conditions when, due to Covid-19 pandemic, the delivery of fish products to China is a problem even with numbers, it is not clear where to sell new vessels products.  Apparently, this cannot be done without the help of the government.
  • And the last, but not the least - MSC certificate. Today it is necessary to supply products to most countries. The well-known argument between the RFC and PCA (Pollock Catchers Association) is slowly developing. Everyone knows that RFC intends to be certified independently, but the process might last a year and a half. It is not obvious that in 2021-22 uncertified RFC products will be in demand at world markets, and this creates tension. And then SUDDENLY significant volume of certified products will appear on the market - again turbulence, and for everyone.

At the end of the day, all the trawlers will be built, some of the shortcomings will be eliminated. The new ships may not turn out better than the best available today, but certainly they will be more productive than the existing ones.  As for any large project, the timing and cost will go beyond the planned framework.  What will happen next?  Ignored Russian designers will recover from the blow.  The shipyards will build trawlers and apply to the government with a proposal to launch a program for construction of something else (motherships, transport refrigerators, whatever else). Will the process of reallocating quotas stop? It is very doubtful, because the Fishery Agency has already announced a sequel.

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