From sea to Seoul

Straight from the sea to a kitchen table on the other side of the world in under 20 hours
Tommy Pedersen and Gunnar Orö mit Fang from Lyders Fisch in Veidnesklubb
19 July 2018

Key takeaways

  • After Europe, Asia is the second largest market for Norwegian seafood exports including live king crabs and fresh salmon
  • DHL Global Forwarding has been transporting fresh seafood from the Banak Airport in Lakselv in northern Norway via the DHL terminal in Oslo on to South Korea and other destinations like China and Japan
  • The delivery time from Norway to Seoul is cut down by more than 50%, from 48 hours to only 20

Six months after introducing its first flight transporting seafood to Asia, DHL Global Forwarding Norway has doubled its capacity to keep up with the growing seafood industry. We rode the waves and followed the entire production during the industry’s peak season.

The boat isn’t a minute away from the dock; already the waves pummel its side and the cold saltwater of the Barents Sea tumbles over the bulwarks. For Gunnar Orø and Tommy Petersen, though, it’s just another workday. A shift of a foot to catch one’s balance is the utmost reaction swell after swell can elicit from the two fishermen.

Petersen stands at the wheel of the Repparfjord while Orø hangs back on the deck. Orø, who used to be an IT specialist, says having what is considered as one of the most dangerous jobs in Norway is worth it. “This is way more interesting.”

All hail the king crab

Fishing around the Arctic Circle is no easy task, no matter how nonchalantly Orø and Petersen brave the waves. Every year hundreds of fishermen lose their lives in the most deadly waters in the world. But for some, the rewards outweigh the risks. Orø and Petersen are fishing for red king crab. The large crustaceans can net about 220 Norwegian krone (€23) per kilo.

Red king crabs have been caught along the Norwegian coast since the 1960s. Fishing in the Barents Sea is one of the most dangerous jobs in Norway.
Red king crabs have been caught along the Norwegian coast since the 1960s. Fishing in the Barents Sea is one of the most dangerous jobs in Norway.

This is the peak season for the two fishermen. Not only because they are rushing to meet their quota by the end of the year, but also because the main season for king crab runs from October to January. It’s when the crab shells contain the most meat. It will take a few hours to store the catch of the day, then they’ll turn the bow homewards, back to the port in Veidnes.

Veidnes lies in northern Norway in the region known as Finnmark, and was once a deserted place, uninviting and remote. Just a few years ago, there were almost no fishermen in the village.

That’s not the case today. About 55 people now call Veidnes home, thanks to Svein “Svenne” Lyder, who runs Lyder Fisk and is building up the fishing fleet in his hometown. But you don’t just establish a fishing company, he says. “We have to create a community.” Lyder spent months, for example, pushing the government to reopen the school in Veidnes that closed a decade ago. Today seven students attend classes there.

Lyder (left) and his son, Matz Vegar are reviving the small fishing village of Veidnes. Thanks to expert logistical support, Lyder says it’s possible for the Norwegian king crabs to arrive fresh around the world.
Lyder (left) and his son, Matz Vegar are reviving the small fishing village of Veidnes. Thanks to expert logistical support, Lyder says it’s possible for the Norwegian king crabs to arrive fresh around the world.

Time is of the essence

The Repparfjord rests snuggled on the quay and Petersen and Orø sort through their catch. They focus on quality, throwing the small crabs back into the sea. Top quality is about five kilograms. Next, the crabs are sent to the water tanks inside the company’s facility.

Green crab pots are used for catching the Norwegian king crabs. The peak crab fishing season runs from October to January because that's when the crab shells contain the most meat.
Green crab pots are used for catching the Norwegian king crabs. The peak crab fishing season runs from October to January because that’s when the crab shells contain the most meat.

From the water tank the crabs are then packed in boxes and now the clock starts ticking. When it comes to shipping live king crab, time and temperature are key. The crab will only survive for up to 30 hours. Most of today’s catch needs to be on the slabs of a fish market, alive, before time runs out. The only hitch: That market is nearly 6,500 kilometers away in Seoul, South Korea.

Many fisheries used to freeze the crabs for such far flung markets – but that meant the crustaceans lost a lot of their value. Thanks to DGF Norway’s added flights from Banak Airport in Lakselv in Finnmark, Lyder’s king crabs will now make it to their destination in Asia even faster and fresher than before.

Connecting people. Improving lives.

The son of a fisherman, and born-and-raised in Finnmark, DHL’s Ørjan Trond Olsen knows firsthand how important the fishing industry is to Norway. Today he’s paying his home region a visit. “I’ve been away from this area for many years,” he says. “But it makes me proud to come back and establish these solutions for the community and our customers.”

Olsen has been the head of airfreight at DGF Norway since 2015 and saw the opportunity to create a seafood solution for the country. In May, DGF launched cargo flights to serve Finnmark customers like Lyder Fisk. It didn’t take long before an extra weekly flight was added.

Norway is the biggest producer of farmed salmon in the world. Cermaq, wholly owned by Mitsubishi, raises its Atlantic salmon in netted cages in the sea - similar to the fish's natural setting. The fish require just over a year to mature.
Norway is the biggest producer of farmed salmon in the world. Cermaq, wholly owned by Mitsubishi, raises its Atlantic salmon in netted cages in the sea – similar to the fish’s natural setting. The fish require just over a year to mature.

Thanks to DHL’s extensive network, Olsen says time-sensitive solutions such as the king crab shipments are possible. “It’s important to develop the solution through DHL’s global organization,” says Olsen. “Without a doubt, it sets us apart from the competition.”

Olsen says it’s important to take the time to meet with customers. “They enjoy that we visit, speak with them, and find out what they need,” says Olsen. Equally important, he says, is to have a local colleague who maintains this relationship with the customer.

This is where Fred Persen comes in. Persen is DGF’s export supervisor in Finnmark and coordinates the volumes for each flight, not only from Lakselv to Oslo, but also the second leg on to Seoul. It takes hours of planning to ensure the cargo planes are full, but don’t exceed capacity. This is why each pallet has its specific position in the aircraft. “We are constantly talking with our customers to get as good a forecast as possible,” says Persen.

“It’s a milestone”

The planning can begin hours before any crab or fish arrive at the airport. Persen is not only in contact with the fisheries, but also with his colleagues in Oslo. How much fish and crab is arriving? How much capacity is needed on the flight from Oslo? Questions Persen has to find answers to before the trucks with the king crabs and other seafood arrive at Lakselv’s airport. Depending on the location of the fishery, it could take half a day’s drive. It’s about a two hour drive on narrow, winding roads from Veidnes to Lakselv. Double or triple the time if the weather is bad. In some cases, the crab and fish also have to be repackaged in dry boxes with gel ice. This ensures the temperature stays just right – between zero and three degrees Celsius.

Tom Mikkelsen, head of air freight at Marine Harvest in Norway, checks the label of the packaged seafood at its facility in Oslo. The box of fresh salmon will be on DHL's next flight to Seoul.
Tom Mikkelsen, head of air freight at Marine Harvest in Norway, checks the label of the packaged seafood at its facility in Oslo. The box of fresh salmon will be on DHL’s next flight to Seoul.

Persen, who has worked for many years at the cargo terminal, joined DGF this summer and knows from experience just how important this connection is for the region. “For years, mayors and airport officials have been discussing introducing flights like the ones that exist today. What DHL is doing is a milestone.”

While DHL Global Forwarding handles the freight process, the solution wouldn’t be possible without the help of another DHL division. In Lakselv, the seafood is packed in a DHL Express plane and heads south to Gardermoen Airport in Oslo. A two-hour flight, while the clock keeps ticking. The crabs now only have 22 hours to reach their destination. But first they need to be reloaded into a new plane. During peak season, there are two flights a week to Seoul. This week, 53,000 kilograms of fish and crabs headed for Asia are packed on an Atlas Air Boeing 747. Fifteen hours to go.

After the seafood is transported from the Finnmark region to Banak Airport in Lakselv, it is loaded into a DHL Express cargo plane. Preparations start as early as 3am for a late-morning flight.

Olsen, along with DGF’s customers, tracks every shipment, ensuring the quality isn’t compromised. “Norwegian king crabs are top quality, but only if they are alive,” says Sergey Mikhailov of KR Development Co., who buys crabs from Norwegian fisheries – including Lyder Fisk – and distributes them to South Korean restaurants and supermarkets.

The 53,000-kilogram seafood shipment is packed on a Boeing 747. DHL's Ørjan Trond Olsen says the right temperature is critical for the seafood shipment – between zero and three degrees Celsius.
The 53,000-kilogram seafood shipment is packed on a Boeing 747. DHL’s Ørjan Trond Olsen says the right temperature is critical for the seafood shipment – between zero and three degrees Celsius.

Seoul food

Touchdown at Incheon Airport in Seoul, 2 p.m. local time. The flight took 10 hours. The crabs are immediately transferred to water tanks once they pass customs. Together with the other Norwegian seafood, they are in good time to make it to distributors like KR Development Co. or the Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market – one of the biggest in the country – with hours to spare. The cargo plane continues to Shanghai. About 10% of the seafood is re-exported to other countries like Japan and China. Olsen says volumes to the US are also increasing.

Having traveled from the village of Veidnes to the booming Asian city, the live king crabs can be spotted at vendor after vendor at the seafood market. As he walks along the stalls, Olsen, who has flown in today with the crabs to meet with customers, notices a salmon box with a DHL sticker. “I feel proud to work in a company that has the network and expertise to do this,” he says. “We are bringing a little of my homeland to Seoul.”

This article was first published in Deutsche Post DHL Group’s Network magazine (Issue 04/17).