Processing tiny fish into fillets

As the global consumption of fish increases resources that were previously used for the production of fishmeal and fish oil are increasingly being considered for use by humans. Many of these fish are small in size and processing them involves a lot of manual labour. Some companies have however sensed an opportunity and are producing machinery that can relieve workers of this drudgery. One such company, Seac AB from Sweden, specialises in machines to process small pelagic fish ranging from sardinella/mackerel in the range of 2-8 fish per kg to European anchovy or vendace which ranges from 60 to 110 fish per kg.

Ulf Groenqvist (left) and Arnis Petranis, chairman of Peruza, stand next to the nobbing machine made by Seac with an infeed system from Peruza.

The company started out renovating fish processing machines built by another Swedish company Arenco an activity that it continue today. However, Seac has also developed its own fish nobbing machine that has been in production since 2012. The machine is based on an Arenco machine from the 60s, but is a completely updated and contemporary version. Called the Seac FPM-200 (Fish Processing Machine) the machine can remove the head, the guts and the tail of wide range of species. Possibly the most important characteristic of the machine is the presence of a unit that places fish of different sizes (within a certain range) in the optimal position for heading with minimal wastage.  This mechanical head measuring device gives a yield up to 15% higher than normal two-knives-vacuum-gutting-machines and the accuracy is up to 99%, according to Ulf Groenqvist, the company president.


Machines that add value to very small fish

He says that the company took a strategic decision about five years ago to move from exclusively renovating second-hand equipment to developing brand new machines. Since then the company has developed its own brands that specialise in very small fish and has discovered that for now at least it seems to be one of the very few on the market that can supply this kind of equipment. The very small fish Mr Groenqvist refers to are indeed small. Anchovies of less than 10 g, the same size as sprats from the Baltic, are being filleted by a Seac machine in Peru. The result is a very small fillet to be sure, but it is a fillet, says Mr Groenqvist. At the other end of the scale, the machine can fillet a fish of 65 to 120 g, though this requires some adjustment to the machine. Fish bigger than that Seac leaves to its competitors.

Before making this strategic shift the company was renovating perhaps five or ten machines a year, while now it is doing triple the number of new machines. Altogether, to date the company has sold some 70 of the new machines showing that the level of interest is very high. The change to building new machines was partly provoked by developments in the field. Already several years ago Ulf Groenqvist had noticed that the fish being processed was getting smaller and smaller. As a result the machines he was rebuilding at the time had to be adapted to processing fish smaller than the fish for which the machines were originally conceived. This was a niche that was not being supplied by other players in the market and was naturally of interest to the company. Fish is becoming smaller everywhere says Mr Groenqvist, in the Mediterranean, in the Far East, and in the Baltic. The machines that many processing companies are using today are designed for bigger fish. We saw that there was an opportunity here that we could not ignore and this decision is now paying off.


Filleting fish adds value to the resource. Processing enables species that were exclusively for fish meal and fish oil to be used for human consumption.

Fruitful collaboration with Peruza

The company targets processors of small pelagic fish, sardines and anchovies mainly, but also small mackerel and small redfish. Seac has for over twenty years been working with Peruza, a Latvian maker of equipment for the fisheries industry. This collaboration has become closer over the years and today for its machines Seac can offer accessories that are built by Peruza, for example, a feeding unit that can supply the Seac nobbing machines.  Peruza’s strength lies in its expertise in automation, says Mr Groenqvist. While a Seac nobbing/filleting machine without a feeder will need 10 people to supply it, with a feeder it only needs two. The feeder that Peruza has developed is being used at a plant in the Philippines where a single feeder is supplying two nobbing and filleting machines resulting in a speed of 600 fish per minute. During May 2016 ten more such units are being installed over there to automate a further 20 SEAC FPM-200s.

Even in countries where labour is much cheaper than it is in the west, companies are looking for a higher degree of automation. Partly this is because labour although cheap is getting increasingly expensive, and partly because finding people to work in the fish processing business is becoming progressively more difficult as the job is unattractive.

Seac AB

Slaanbaersvaegen 4

SE 38690 Oeland



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President and CEO: Ulf Groenqvist

Activity: Nobbing and filleting machines for small pelagic and other small fish species, renovating of second-hand machinery

Fish sizes: Lower limit, 60-110 fish per kg; upper limit, 2-8 fish per kg

Markets: Baltic countries, Latin America, Asia

Processing small pelagics may be Seac’s bread and butter, but it is also testing its machines against new species, including a small whitefish species in Australia. The fish is 60-80 g a piece from which the machine is successfully producing single fillets. All Seac’s machines meet European norms and regulations with regard to hygiene and safety. Today the company has switched almost completely to building new machines rather than renovating old ones and is selling them primarily in Asia. The EU market has also opened up and the company has installed several machines in Croatia, the Baltics, and, for the first time, in Sweden, a particular source of pleasure for Mr Groenqvist. Here the machine is being used for vendace. Another species that can be filleted is capelin, but so far there has been no interest in producing these fillets. And in the Mediterranean there are also a number of species, such as small horse mackerel and red mullet.


Fish for food instead of feed

The ability to add value to small fish by filleting them is something that authorities in many countries would find attractive as they wish to encourage their populations to eat fish, and in particular species that are not normally considered for human consumption. Seac machines are thus playing a role in the development of new seafood resources.