Aquaculture for all

Why Polish workers are among the European fish industrys most valuable assets

The prevalence of Polish workers in Western Europe as a cheaper substitute for local labour is a myth at least within the fish processing sector. As Jaroslaw Adamowski reports, the opposite is true: Polish employees are prized in the industry for their skills and experience.


As the influx of workers from Eastern Europe to Western European countries exerts a major impact on the continent’s fish processing industry, Polish employees are playing an increasingly important role in the operations of European fish processors. However, the relative affordability of Polish workers is no longer the main stimulus for this trend. According to industry representatives, the workers’ skills and experience are now what’s driving demand for their services.

We have many Polish employees who work in our Blar Mhor processing plant in Fort William and our value-added plant in Rosyth,” Steve Bracken, ‎business support manager at Marine Harvest Scotland, tells The Fish Site.

Asked about the skills that Polish workers bring to the company’s operations in the UK, Bracken says that “Polish employees are highly skilled and adaptable, and many have been with us for several years, particularly in fish processing.”

The trend in hiring Polish employees extends to other segments of the fish and aquaculture industry. Mark Woldberg, corporate communications ‎manager at Nutreco, a Netherlands-based aquafeed and animal nutrition company, tells The Fish Site that the firm operates a local subsidiary in the Polish market, Trouw Nutrition Poland. The offshoot operates production facilities in Grodzisk Mazowiecki and Kutno, towns in the country’s central region.

Emilia Schomburg, marketing communications manager for Poland-based fish processor Morpol SA, a subsidiary of Marine Harvest, tells The Fish Site that over the past few years the group has concentrated a significant share of its fish processing operations in the Polish market.

Established in 1996 and based in Sopot, on the Baltic Sea coast, Morpol operates a fish processing plant 130km to the west in Ustka. The plant is currently operated by a workforce of about 3,000 employees, and it has a processing capacity of more than 60,000 tonnes per year, according to figures released by Morpol. The company also own processing facilities in the towns of S?upsk, Lebork and Strzelin.

“The group consists of 14 plants, but the centre of our fish-processing activities in Europe is located in Poland. We employ 4,500 out of our 11,200 European employees in the Polish market,” Schomburg says.

According to Morpol’s spokesperson, Marine Harvest does not keep statistics regarding the nationalities of the workers of its European plants, but it encourages its employees to gain professional experience at plants located in other countries where the group carries out fish processing activities.

“To provide an example, at the time when we opened a new processing plant in Scotland, there was an urgent need to assemble a qualified workforce that could immediately start working at the plant,” Schomburg says. “Owing to the flexibility of our employees, we were able to launch processing activities with our employees from other countries where we have a presence, such as Poland and France.”

According to the spokesperson, “Poland used to distinguish itself by relatively low costs of production, but this is no longer the case. Production costs at plants across Europe are increasingly in line, and today, price is no longer the main reason why we hire employees in Poland. Today, the main reasons are skills and professional experience. We have terrific specialists and engineers from Poland.”

In addition to the Polish market, Morpol has processing and distribution facilities in the UK, France and Germany. The fish processor currently boasts annual revenues of some PLN 2.5 billion (€595 million).

In a market analysis, the European Commission has reported that, “The fish-processing industry in Poland is strong, and is still developing. Although the volume of production was 410,600 tonnes in 2012, it is estimated that it could reach at least one million tonnes. The fish processing industry is expected to grow, and exports and investment will be key factors in its development.”

According to the EC, the key driver of growth in the sector is the foreign trade of raw materials and final products, and imports play “a principal role in the supply of raw materials, because of the limited ability to harvest fish from the Baltic Sea, and limited aquaculture production”.

It is also noteworthy that the country’s fish-processing industry is largely fragmented. About 658 entities are active in the sector, according to the latest available data from Poland’s state-run Central Statistics Office (GUS).

Meanwhile, according to local news agency PAP, Polish fish processors say that one of the largest challenges ahead of the Polish fish-processing industry is to recruit new employees amid a considerable workforce shortage, and that an increasing number of local players looks to Eastern Europe for additional workers.

Boguslaw Kowalski, the chief executive of the Gdansk-based fish processor Graal, says that the company would like to add “several hundred persons” to its existing workforce of 2,500, but that there is a lack of available workers. Kowalski says that “a certain solution is to employ foreign workers, mostly from Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus”.

Kowalski adds that “as of today, Graal capital group could employ several hundred persons right away”.

The company’s growth strategy requires this increase in its workforce. Last year, Graal announced that it aimed to expand its annual revenues to some PLN 1 billion (€238 million), an increase of 7.5 percent compared with a year earlier, and to double its sales within the next three to five years. As part of the firm’s planned expansion, Graal is reportedly aiming to acquire Western European salmon aquaculture facilities with the aim of securing the supply for its fish-processing facilities in Poland. The company’s range consists of processed salmon, trout, tuna, herring, sardine and sprat products.

Jerzy Safader, the president of the Polish Fish Processors’ Association (PSPR) and the chief executive of the Slupsk-based fish processor Stanpol, says that his two processing plants employ 150 workers, but he aims to hire a further 50 employees.

“Currently, we benefit from the influx of workers from Ukraine and Moldova. We also try to automatise production at our companies,” says Safader.

By Jaroslaw Adamowski