Polar’s innovative fishing gear can improve catches and reduce impact on the marine environment

Polar Fishing Gear expanded to Russia with the help of Nopef. Now they are ready to take a look at the Chinese market.

Less is more in fishing. For a successful fishing trip you want to catch selected species, take less time, reduce operational cost and have less impact on the environment. Polar Fishing Gear, based in Reykjavik, Iceland, has developed trawl doors which can do exactly that.

“I’ve been developing, building and selling trawl doors for forty years,” says Atli Már Jósafatsson, Manager, Polar Fishing Gear. “In 2006 I started Polar with the idea for an innovative way to control fishing gear.”

Trawl doors control the fishing nets. They are used much like airplane wings to spread the nets and keep them in the proper position. Polar’s innovative trawl door designs allow for greater control, reducing by-catch and the impact of fishing gear on the sea floor. Additionally, they are much more efficient and reduce fuel usage.

“For a modern vessel in America or Europe we can generally give fuel savings of 5-7 per cent, which is a lot for big vessels,” Atli says. “In other parts of the world with older equipment we can offer even more substantial savings.”

Promoting sustainable fishing

One market Polar was interested in was the big fishing fleets of Russia. Their solutions could help Russian ships to improve catch performance, efficiency, reduce damage to the sea floor and engage in sustainable fishing. Yet it is not easy to move into a new market, so they turned to the Nordic Project Fund (Nopef) for support. Beginning in 2016 Nopef helped Polar study the Russian market and the feasibility of opening a local branch.

“The biggest challenge was the different culture in Russia,” Atli continues. “For example, in Europe we generally talk to the skipper of the boat about their fishing gear. In Russia the skipper is mostly in charge of navigation, and instead we would have to talk to fleet managers and one of the trawl masters.”

Yet Russia is a big country and Polar found even a different culture in Eastern Russia. In Kamchatka, for example, the fleet manager makes the decisions about fishing gear.

Success in Russia

“The funding helped us to understand the market we were approaching,” says Atli. “The biggest help was learning the market and how to overcome any potential difficulties.”

With the support from Nopef, Polar opened a local office in St. Petersburg and gained more than ten regular Russian clients. Atli expects sales to increase by 15% annually during the next four to five years.

“The local impact has changed the awareness of the Polar brand in Russia,” he says. “We will have our own sales teams, preferably one in West Russia and one in the Russian Far East, and we expect that Polar will be acknowledged as a solid brand in Russia.”

On to China

In fact, the experience in Russia was so good that Polar is just now starting a similar Nopef-supported market feasibility study in China.

“Our long-term goal is to offer a complete package of fishing gear in China, meaning we would provide everything that goes off the boat into the sea,” Atli says. “China is a bit behind in fishing technology and needs improvement.”

China has about 3,500 ships in African waters alone, and this is expected to increase. By reducing fuel usage, unwanted by-catch and damage to fragile marine environments Polar’s Icelandic innovations can have a major impact on the Chinese fleet in international and African waters. Their newest development, the Poseidon trawl doors, are able to be controlled during operation to better position the trawl horizontally and vertically, increasing their benefits even more.

“I’m very pleased with Nopef and the Nordic Environment Finance Corporation (NEFCO),” Atli says. “In fact, I’ve already recommended them to two other Icelandic companies.”

Text: David J. Cord
Photos: Polar toghlerar ehf.

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