How Do You Start a Seafood Processing Company? And What Food Processing Equipment Do You Need?

Seafood and fish are still a big part of the food industry, and that situation won't change any time soon. But as seafood processing technologies and consumer tendencies change, the industry adapts and develops in parallel. Business experts estimate that the fish industry is still growing, and will reach new peaks in the near future. So, it's a great time to enter the industry, and we are here to help you!

Here is everything you need to know about the fish processing industry and the equipment you'll need to get started.

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The fundamentals

The term fish processing encompasses many different methods of preserving fish while at the same time improving their quality. The process may also involve changing the product's properties, and there are many ways to go about it. Some methods, such as salting and drying, have been used since ancient times, while others involve chemicals and electrical devices. Nowadays, many different technologies are used by seafood processing companies, but remember, whether you use more straightforward or advanced mechanization, the fish you use should always be fresh.

Different methods or techniques of fish processing

Salting: The salting process lowers the moisture or water content of fish and other seafood products to a point where microorganisms cannot live and grow. Sodium chloride firms up the fish, partially dehydrates it, and kills bacteria. Three basic methods of applying salt to preserve fish exist:

• Pickle Salting: Covering the fish with salt and packing them in layers in watertight containers. This will form the pickle that serves as the saturated brine solution that completely covers the fish.

• Brine Salting: Immersing the fish in a saturated solution of 25 parts of salt and 100 parts of water will temporarily preserve the product before drying, smoking, or processing.

• Dry Salting: Rubbing granular salt on the fish.

Smoking: Combined with salting, precooking, and drying, smoking is the final stage in the process, further dehydrating the fish and adding color and flavor.

Drying: Also known as natural dehydration, this lowers the fish's moisture to a point where microorganisms, bacteria, enzymes, and yeasts cannot grow or multiply. The most popular method is solar drying, which is usually done with salting.

Curing: Uses chemical preservatives (including vinegar and salt). Cured fish or fishery products display a flavor and texture entirely different from fresh fish.

Pickling: Preserving food in brine or vinegar. A process that can be done with or without bacterial fermentation.

Cooking: This is the best way to prevent wastage or spoilage of fish. Cooking fish with vinegar prolongs the preservation period.

Canning: The packing of fish in airtight containers such as tin cans or glass jars. Through heat processing, microbes inside the can are destroyed, thus preventing spoilage under normal conditions and allowing the fish to be stored for long periods. Sardines and salmon are the most commonly canned fish on the market.

Fermentation: A method in which fish in a brine solution undergoes a chemical reaction.

What happens at a seafood processing plant?

Seafood processing plants, also known as processors, are facilities where various procedures are done to prepare wild-caught and farmed seafood for eventual retail and consumption. As we know, seafood is highly perishable and needs special care to preserve after harvesting. To maintain perfect results and reduce the chances of spoilage, some facilities have both seafood farms and plants connected, while some are situated onboard fishing vessels (though many plants are standalone). As so many species of seafood are consumed worldwide, there is no uniform procedure for processing. However, a general flow of products happens similarly at most processing plants, with the ultimate goal being to preserve the shelf life of the seafood.

Steps of production at seafood processing plants:

• Receipt of the product.

• Processing — including washing, chilling, skinning, gilling and gutting, fileting, shucking, cooking, smoking, salting, drying, preserving, or canning (this step varies depending on which seafood species is processed and if it is to be sold fresh or frozen).

• Storing.

• Dispatching.

• Transporting (except from retail premises to consumer, or in a vehicle from which seafood will be sold by retail).

What seafood processing machinery do you need to start?

Once the basics are clear, the next step is to plan what equipment you'll need to enter the seafood processing market. Depending on what products you will be processing, there are many variations, but let's begin without any specifics and with the most common phases of the production process.

Fish and seafood processing equipment

First, you must decide what type of seafood you will be processing and then choose the main processing equipment. For example, if you choose salmon, look for equipment suited for that kind of fish. One example would be a salmon deslimer and filet washing machine. This machine is designed to remove impurities and remains from the surface of fish. Desliming operates on whole fish, while filet washing operates only with filets. The washing process is essential to significantly decrease bacteria on whole or gutted fish and increase product hygiene levels.

If you choose to process smaller fish, something like an automatic small fish fileting machine will come in handy. The beheading and tail cut process are made with rotary knives adjusted to the required length of the final product, while degutting is achieved with a vacuum suction unit that comes after the cutting blades. This kind of machine can be used for various species of fish if they do not exceed the pocket size of the apparatus.

If your business operates on a fishing vessel and the main product is shrimp, you may need to invest in a shrimp processing line on board.

Grading equipment

Fish grading machine

Fish grading is a big part of the process. Fish are live beings, and due to their living conditions, there will always be a difference in size and quality once it's time to harvest and process them. Because of that, grading fish or sorting fish is vitally important. Customers expect consistency in the end product, and your business can thrive or go bust because of such an important detail.

So, you'll definitely need grading equipment. A good example is the roller grading line for pelagic fish. The roller grading unit allows fish to be divided into three grades plus an oversized grade. Grading unit rollers are deployed into a V shape with the option to adjust the gap between rollers on in, and outfeed sides. Fish slide down the gap between rollers while the gap size is smaller than the thickness of the fish. When the fish size matches the gap size, it falls through the roller gap and drops in the determining grade.

When fish must be stored in boxes by weight, weighing equipment is necessary.

Defrosting equipment

When working with fish or seafood, frosting and defrosting are a big part of the process, so you will also need machines for that. The frozen product thawing chamber is a high-capacity unit designed for frozen fish block defrosting in the chamber, using water drops and a steam environment. The quality and production speed depend on the frozen fish block size and initial temperature, as well as the fish size and freshness.

Auto packing equipment

When everything is done, you'll need to pack your products, right? So you'll definitely need auto-packing equipment in your facility — something like the Robot packing solution for flow packs.

If your final product is canned, reach for something like an auto packer for vertical cans. The auto packer for vertical cans is designed as a multi-purpose packing machine for food products. The auto packer is suitable for processing different types of fresh, including quality frozen and defrosted pelagic fish, such as sardines, mackerel, or herring. The auto packer machine handles fish processing from A to Z, automatically receiving the fish, then de-heading, gutting, and canning them into vertical cans.

Final thoughts

If you are starting a seafood processing business from scratch, you need to choose the correct technologies for your needs. It can be an excellent investment in the success of your business now and in the future.

As robotics and automation change the face of the processed seafood and seafood processing equipment market, it is crucial for you to look into the best possible seafood processing solutions right now. If you're interested in learning more about how Zolim can help you get the best results with your fish processing, feel free to contact us at, and we'll be happy to discuss the possibilities of creating something great for your fish processing business!