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How a Fish-Filleting Robot Could Eliminate Ridiculous Maritime Voyages

And the extra pollution that comes with them.
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(Photo: Simon Greter/Wikimedia Commons)

(Photo: Simon Greter/Wikimedia Commons)

Norway is one of the world's largest exporters of fish. Unfortunately, the labor costs associated with the country's manual fish filleters are extremely high.

That's why the Norwegian fishing industry regularly loads about 80 percent of its minimally processed product onto ships, sends it thousands of miles away to filleters in Asia and Russia (and a bit more proximally to Eastern Europe), and then pays for the return trip to Scandinavian markets. Over the last four decades, according to the trade research group Nordic Innovation, the number of whitefish processing factories in Norway has fallen from "100 to ten." Now, the fish "can visit two other countries for trimming and packaging before" making the lengthy trip back home.

The cod in Scotland undergo a similarly ridiculous and seemingly unnecessary journey, according to Herald Scotland:

Cod caught off Scotland is being sent on a 10,000-mile round trip to China and back again to be filleted for supermarkets, shops and fish suppers. The fish is caught in the North Atlantic, deep frozen, shipped to China for processing by workers earning less than £1 a day before being refrozen and returned to Scotland.

The globe-trotting trek has been condemned as 'madness' and 'ridiculous' by Scottish fish producers, fishermen and environmentalists. And it happens despite pledges by supermarkets and food producers to reduce their pollution and food miles.

The revelation also raises questions about the environmental and social impact of the globalisation of the Scottish food industry.

But the seafood industry, Nordic Innovation, and technology research organization SINTEF have apparently recently realized how incredibly misguided this whole idea is. They teamed up to produce a highly advanced X-ray machine capable of "quickly and precisely" wrenching the tiny bones out of the fish with high-powered water jets. The new tool, which was developed by a team known as APRICOT, or "automatic pin-bone removal in cod and whitefish," will hopefully spur a domestic processing industry and, more importantly, eliminate the extreme greenhouse gas emissions associated with delivering the product to a far-flung middleman.

As The Guardianpointed out in 2009, container ships run on fuel that "has up to 2,000 times the sulphur content of diesel fuel used in US and European automobiles." That means "15 of the world's biggest ships may now emit as much pollution as all the world's 760 [million] cars." That kind of pollution for cheaper fish fillets? Kind of ridiculous.