Selling of trawler fleet reveals scramble for Arctic fisheries

Russian trawlers account for a major part of catch in the fish-rich Barents Sea. Here from Kirkenes, Norway. Photo: Atle Staalesen/BarentsObserver

The privatization of the Arkhangelsk Trawler Fleet is triggering a confrontation between some of Russia’s most powerful fishery interests.


Fronts are hardening as the privatization of the now 100 percent state-owned trawler company, one of the biggest in the country, moves closer. The Russian State Property Agency last week held a public hearing on the issue in Arkhangelsk in order to “take into account the opinion of all interested parts”, Agency leader Olga Dergunova told Rossiiskaya Gazeta.

The Arkhangelsk Trawler Fleet employs more than 2000 people, owns 21 trawlers and controls important port and terminal infrastructure, as well as processing facilities, in Arkhangelsk. In addition, the company has several valuable catch quotas in the fish-rich Barents Sea. The company is considered a major asset in Russian Arctic fisheries and the selling of the company shares could ultimately shift the balance of power in the industry.

Not only are potential buyers and their respective owners involved in the process. Also the regional administration in Arkhangelsk, the Russian Fishery Agency (Rosrybolovstvo) and the Federal Anti-Monopoly Agency have a say.

While the Arkhangelsk administration and the Rosrybolovstvo argue that the selling of the trawler fleet must include several regulations hindering the new owners from moving the ships and abandoning the processing facilities, the Federal Anti-Monopoly Agency stresses that the privatization must be made in the form of an auction open for all interested stakeholders, also from abroad.

“We are against any restrictions on the access of foreign investors to the privatization”, a representative of the Anti-Monopoly Agency told RBC.

So far, two companies, the Russkoye More and the Virma, are seen as the two major contenders in sales process. While the Russkoye More is owned by the company RSEA Holdings Limited, a group controlled amogst others by oil tycoon Gennady Timchenko, the Karelia-based Virma is co-owner of the Northwest Fish Processing Consortium.

The Arkhangelsk Trawler Fleet was established already in 1920 and is the oldest of the fishery companies in the Russian North. After several years of heavy deficits, the trawler fleet in 2011 had a net profit of 138 million RUB (€3,4 mill), Izvestia reports. However, debts remain huge, reportedly as big as about one billion RUB. Still, considering the major quotas of the company, the sales price could amount to as much 4 billion RUB, the newspaper believes.

It is the Gazprombank, which has been commissioned with the selling of the state-owned enterprise. The privatization is part of a major initiative on the reduction of the government’s stakes in the private sector. Also the Murmansk Fish Port is on the federal government list of companies soon to be privatized.