Business & Environment


January 30, 2023

This is How German Fish Fingers Help Finance Putin’s War Machine

The EU has so far not sanctioned cod and pollock from Russia, partly due to lobby pressure. Now satellite photos show that the Russian fishing industry is supporting the country’s war economy.

“Economy from above” is a collaboration between WirtschaftsWoche and LiveEO. This is a translation of the original article written in German by “Thomas Stölzel“. Access the original article here.

Not many things seem less threatening than a portion of fish fingers on the plate. Germans are said to eat around two billion of them every year. A view from space now shows how the specialties, mostly made of Alaska salmon, but also other white fish varieties such as cod and haddock, directly help finance Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war machine. Unlike crustaceans and caviar, the EU and Germany have not yet imposed sanctions on white fish from Russian production. Also, insiders report, because the industry has done good lobbying.

An analysis by WirtschaftsWoche of recent satellite imagery provided by LiveEO shows, for example, that the latest generation of industrial Russian superfishing trawlers is being built at the very same state-owned shipyard that produces Putin’s latest flagship warships: The Admiral Gorzhkov-class stealth frigates.

In the future, they will also fire Russia’s superweapon, ultra-fast and steerable zircon hypersonic missiles.

No items found.

Just a few days ago, WirtschaftsWoche reported that Russian fishing vessels continue to land large quantities of fish in Norwegian ports. From there, the catches mainly go to Western Europe and the EU.

According to industry services, in the first few months of the year alone, it was fish worth more than 150 million euros. At the same time, Germany is importing a significantly increasing amount of frozen white fish by container directly from Russia. 72 percent of the Alaska salmon processed in Germany, for example, currently comes from Russian ships.

Fishing for Armaments

The two war yards that also build Russia’s floating fish factories

russia floating fish factories

The Russian fishing conglomerate Norebo is often behind the huge fish shipments to Europe. Today, it operates one of the largest fishing fleets in the world through a network of subsidiaries – with more than 40 medium-sized and large ships. These include the 65-meter-long “Mys Slepikovskogo” and the “Kapitan Dolgikh.

She and other Norebo vessels had landed fish in Norwegian ports in recent months, according to the maritime monitoring portal MarineTraffic. Norebo is owned by Russian oligarch Vitaly Orlov, whose fortune is estimated by the U.S. magazine “Forbes” at nearly two billion dollars.

To expand his empire based in the northern port city of Murmansk, Orlov is currently having ten new 82-meter-long super trawlers built that can fillet, package and freeze fish directly on board. The floating factories, with the project designation 170701, have a distinctive rounded bow reminiscent of a killer dial. Their eye-catching shape makes the vessels easily recognizable from space. Each of the supertrawlers is expected to be able to produce 100 tons of processed fish per day, according to Norebo.


No items found.

Recent satellite imagery now shows these new Norebo trawlers being built at the Severnaya shipyard in St. Petersburg, right next to Admiral Gorzhkov-class frigates. In the pictures, the warships are easily identifiable by their superstructures. The Russian Navy has already commissioned two of them, and the Russian military plans to have at least 20 built by the shipyard in total.

The plant belongs to the United Shipbuilding Cooperation, a strategic shipyard group created by Putin in 2007 by presidential decree. It has been on the US sanctions list since 2014, on the UK list since February of this year, and on the EU list since March.

Severnaya Shipyard

According to the industry service “Intrafish”, Norebo’s trawler order is worth 653 million euros. According to the United Shipbuilding Cooperation, the order is part of a Russian government program that awards fishing quotas in return for fishing companies having their ships built in Russian naval shipyards instead of abroad, thereby providing them with financial support. Around 20 percent of the fishing quotas distributed by Russia are said to have been awarded through the program at last count.

But thanks to this lucrative offer, Norebo is not the only shipyard currently building in St. Petersburg. The Admiralty shipyard, five kilometers to the northeast, which specializes in submarines among other things, is currently building ten 108-meter super trawlers for the Russian Fishery corporation (RFC). The construction of these fishing vessels, among the largest in the world, is also clearly visible in the satellite images. Their total colocated value: 1.3 billion euros. The Admiralty Shipyard, like the Severnaya Shipyard, belongs to the state-owned naval shipyard group created by Putin.

The Vladivostok-based RFC is particularly active in the Bering Sea between Kamchatka and Alaska. According to “Intrafish,” the huge new fish factory ships will primarily catch and process Alaska salmon, which is used to make fish sticks, and Pacific herring.

Because the U.S. is currently supplying less Alaska salmon for various reasons, the volume imported from Russia has been rising sharply for months, says Matthias Keller, managing director of the Federal Association of the German Fish Industry and Fish Wholesalers.

No items found.

n July of this year, Putin himself took part in the handover ceremony of the trawler Kapitan Vdovichenko, which, like the other nine RFC vessels, belongs to the ST-192 type. According to the state shipyard association, he called fishing one of Russia’s “most important key industries.

Kapitan Vdovichenko

Until recently, the fishing company RFC was backed by Gleb Frank, son-in-law of oligarch Gennady Timchenko, who is considered a close Putin confidant and the sixth richest Russian. At the end of March, Frank resigned from his position as chief executive, reportedly selling his shares in the company to several subordinate managers after the U.S. placed him on the sanctions list.

The findings could revive the debate on sanctions in Germany. The Federal Ministry of Economics, however, seems to have little interest in this, referring to the responsible parties in Brussels when asked. “The regulation, the amending regulations and the associated annexes are the results of intensive discussions within the EU Commission and with the member states,” a spokesman simply stated. Both Norebo and RFC did not respond to WirtschaftsWoche’s inquiries.