Astrid Ann

Astrid Ann

Turning a profit during tough times

Despite very high fuel prices, it’s possible to trawl for shrimp and make a profit, according to Agnar Langtveit. 2022 has been an exceptionally tough year, but he’s managed to run the 42-year-old Astrid Ann at a modest profit.

‘The problem for many trawlers is the combination of high fuel costs and heavy debts. I am fortunate in not having any big debts. I could choose to build a new vessel, but then I’d have to buy more quota. So as long as Astrid Ann is profitable, I don’t see any reason to buy a new boat,’ he said.

Agnar Langtveit in Astrid Ann’s wheelhouse. If the weather allows, he sails on a Sunday afternoon, landing mid-week and again on Friday afternoon. Images: Terje Engø

On the other hand, older trawlers come with higher maintenance costs and older engines bur more fuel. Fishing between 200 and 500 metres, Astrid Ann needs reliable towing power, so last year a new 1044hp CAT 3508C main engine was fitted, along with a Mekanord 500 HS gear and a CAT C44 harbour set.

He managed to do this before new IMO Tier III rules came into force, as leaving this any later would have meant having to install a Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) to reduce NOX,, which would have required some serious changes to the engine room.

Astrid Ann was built in UK in 1980. Photo Terje Engø

With this upgrade and the auxiliary engine that was fitted in 2018, Agnar Langtveit is confident he’ll be able to fish for shrimp for years to come without having to worry about engine problems.

The 42-year old Astrid Ann on the slipway at Vestkajen Maskinværsksted in Hirtshals. Image: Terje Engø

‘With an older vessel, it pays to keep engines and deck equipment up to date. A few years ago, I replaced the winches and net drums. Another trawler had bought these new two years earlier. That vessel was scrapped, and I bought the hydraulic gear, as good as new, for å very good price,’ he said.

The hydraulics and engine on a trawler work hard and old engines and hydraulics are expensive to run. It costs money to spend time at a shipyard getting repairs done, in addition to lost fishing time.’

We caught up with him at the Vestkajen yard in Hirtshals, where work was being done on Astrid Ann’s propeller, increasing the surface area of the blades to further increase efficiency – and as an alternative to the major changes that would be required to fit a larger propeller and nozzle.

Built by McTay Marine in the UK in 1980, the 25.84 metre Astrid Ann was bought from Sweden in 2005. In 2007 brothers Agnar and Endre Langtveit bought the boat and set up a partnership, although Endre left this a few years ago to work his own shrimper, Emely Sør.

Both of them are regular customers at Vestkajen Maskinværksted, and around half of the yard’s customers are Norwegian vessels.

Astrid Ann used around 350,000 litres of marine diesel last year. Bunkers are taken in Denmark, which saves around €100,000 a year, plus there is no waiting for duty refunds that take more than a year.

Altering the shape of the propeller blades for more efficient operation. Image: Agnar Langtveit

The downside is that it’s eight hours’ steaming each way to take 30-32,000 litres of fuel at a time. Agnar Langtveit commented that he would prefer to buy fuel in Norway, not least because for 30 years he had bought diesel from the same supplier who is also a friend since childhood.

He said that shrimp prices have been acceptable during 2022, with large cooked shrimp fetching €15-17 per kilo during the summer. Prices drop during the winter, and they are currently fetching around €11 per kilo, while the smaller shrimp landed uncooked and in ice are going for around €1.70 per kilo. As a rule of thumb, most trawlers land around half their catch cooked and the rest in ice.

Astrid Ann’s shrimp and whitefish by-catch go to a variety of buyers from Egersund in the west to Sweden in the east, as well as landing to Arendal Fiskemottak in his home port of Arendal, where Agnar Langtveit is also a shareholder and chairman of the board.

‘Small companies like Arendal Fiskemottak are important for the local fishing fleet. Most fishing vessels in this part of Norway are small,’ he said.

‘We are four or five trawlers supplying Arendal Fiskemottak with fish and shrimp, in addition to a larger number of small vessels fishing with gillnets or traps. Without the trawlers, this company could not operate, and that would mean that the small vessels could also have to stop fishing.’

Astrid Ann's trawls are rigged to light groundgear that rolls over the seabed without digging in. Image: Terje Engø

A year ago, the shrimp fishery was certified according to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Standard, and Agnar Langtveit points out that it would not been given this sustainability certification if this were an uncontrolled fishery or an overfished stock.

‘But the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) still has the shrimp fishery in the Skagerak red listed. It sad to see people and groups like WWF voicing these strong opinions without having any real knowledge,’ he said.

‘They also argue the bottom gear on our trawls is destroying the bottom habitat. But we are using gear with large plastic balls rolling on the bottom, not digging into the seabed.’

He argues that for an area to produce shrimp, it needs to be trawled regularly.

‘If the ground is not trawled for some time, the area gets covered in slimy algae, and the shrimp will not live there. It is much like farmers growing grass or other crops – they can not just let everything grow on its own,’ he said, commenting that shrimp disappearing from areas that earlier have been good fishing grounds, is a well known problem in many places along the Norwegian coast and in the fjords.

‘Where small coastal trawlers before could make a decent living in the fjords, closure of these fisheries for some years shows that the shrimp just disappear.’