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Cold king crab catch

"Vesterelvjenta" with its crew Edgar Olsen and Erling Haugan delivering their first catch of king crab for the day. Photo: Jonas Karlsbakk

BUGØYNES: The temperature is minus 15 degrees Celsius and the freezing wind is howling around the front of the small fishing vessel “Vesterelvjenta” as she crosses the Varangerfjord. It is the polar night period of the year in the far north, but extreme weather does not set king crab fishing on hold.

Location

Without actually experiencing it, you will not understand the pain on bare fingers exposed for humid ocean air, windy weather and minus 15 degrees. Being a fisherman in the furthest north of Norway such things are natural parts of their daily work. 

The small fishing village of Bugøynes in eastern Finnmark is the main harbor for king crab fishing in Norway. Some years ago this fishing was only seasonal, but today they deliver crabs to the local fish factory all year around. For the crew on “Vesterelvjenta”, Edgar Olsen and Erling Haugan, king crabs has become an important part of their annual catch now. 

Intruding resource
King crabs were once intruders in the Norwegian waters in the north. Today it has become a valuable resource for many fishers on the coast. For 2013 the total quota for king crabs in Norwegian waters are set at 900 ton. With a price of more than €100 per kilo, the crab has become big business.

Such commercial fishing is only allowed in the eastern parts of Finnmark. 

Norwegian politics is to reduce the spread of the king crab further south along the coast. However, it is difficult to reduce the spread of the crab and at the same time maintain the commercial fishing in the easternmost parts of the county. 

“This is always the dilemma for setting the quotas for king crabs”, says Jan Sundet at the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research.  

From mid-November to late January the sun is never above the horizon and there is around three hours of dim daylight during the day. The Barents Sea seems steaming hot as the freezing wind blows away the damp from the surface. Compared to the air temperature, the Gulf Stream heated sea is almost 20 degrees warmer than the air temperature. The humidity adds to the effect of the cold. With the strong wind on top it is almost impossible to stay on the quay for more than a couple of minutes without covering all parts of your skin.  

“Yes, it is cold today”, even boat captain Edgar Olsen has to admit as he bends his checks a few times so he can manage to put up a smile. 

Five containers
Olsen’s large survival suit is warm, but on windy winter days like this the cold eats its way through all layers of insulation. When you add the effect of the strong Arctic breeze to the minus 15 degrees Celsius, the cold becomes brutal. Olsens fishing boat “Vesterelvjenta” is delivering his first catch of the day with red king crab.

The boat has its home harbor in the small neighboring community Nesseby. For Olsen and co-worker Erling Haugan the work day started in the darkness of early morning. Already at 9 am they are delivering five containers of red king crab to Troika Seafood’s facility at Bugøynes. 

Erling Haugan used to be managing director at Troika Seafood’s facility at Bugøynes, but he quit his onshore job to be a full time fisherman. 

“The income is far better as a fisherman, even though it can be a hard job on winter days like these”, says Haugan. 

However, he does not regret his choice to change work. After a while people get used to most things, also getting up at 4 am in the morning to go fishing in Arctic winter storms. 

Production manager Viggo Linangi at Troika Seafood Bugøynes says that it is hard to get enough king crabs in the winter season to keep up production. 

“Not all fishermen are too eager to work on days like these, so we pay extra for the crab. But still it is hard to get enough crabs in the winter season.” 

Live in Shanghai
The crabs which are delivered to the factory at Bugøynes are put into tanks live and will be fed in the tanks for a period.  This way they have an all year round supply of crabs of all sizes ready for the for the market. However, the crabs are not slaughtered before being shipped off. They are first cooled down and then put into the boxes alive surrounded by ice. It can take up to several days before they reach their destination.

The final product is not sent to the local grocery stores. The world is their market. Today’s production is shipped off to the airport on the morning flight from Kirkenes to Oslo and will be sent from Oslo on the next flight to Shanghai, China. Another day it will be sent to Moscow or Paris or Tokyo, and so on. 

At the destination they are put into tanks at the restaurant where customers can pick the crab they prefer to eat. After some 30 minutes of preparation it is served for the customer. You will not get a fresher meal than this, with and added taste of Vesterelvjenta’s struggle in morning darkness of Arctic winter storms and minus 15 degrees.