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Something fishy about new robotic filleting machine


January 28, 2014

The design of the automated filleting machine developed by the APRICOT project

The design of the automated filleting machine developed by the APRICOT project

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Manual filleting of fish can be a time-consuming task. Due to higher salaries in Nordic countries, processing of fish caught there is often carried out in places like Asia, Eastern Europe and Russia where labor costs are lower, before the fish is returned to Scandinavia for sale. The APRICOT (Automated Pinbone Removal In Cod and WhiTefish) project set out in January, 2012 to find an automated solution that would keep fish processing local and it has now developed a machine that achieves just that.

Unlike farmed salmon, which are similar in size and shape and therefore suitable for automated machine filleting, the variability of wild-caught white fish such as cod has kept filleting of these fish a manual affair. As well as the high cost, manual filleting also results in three to seven percent of the most valuable part of the fish being cut away unnecessarily.

The APRICOT project has now developed a new robot that automates the process by using x-ray technology to locate the pin-bones in the fish and then quickly and precisely trim them away using water-jets. A prototype filleting machine has been built and is ready for testing. If it works as its developers hope, it could be filleting fish by next year.

Not only does the machine automate the time-consuming filleting process and guarantee boneless fillets, it also results in much less waste than manual filleting. This is according to Kristjan Halvardsson from Marel, an Icelandic company that worked with Sintef, Faroe Origin and Norway Seafoods on the APRICOT project, which was run by Nordic Innovation.

Rather than taking away jobs from humans, Norway Seafoods CEO Thomas Farstad says the technology actually creates new knowledge-based jobs while keeping at least some fish processing jobs in Scandinavia. Such jobs were under serious threat, with the number of Norwegian whitefish processing plants dropping from 100 to 10 over the last 40 years. This is despite Norway being the world's second largest exporter of fish.

The following video produced by Nordic Innovation details the benefits of the new processing machine.

Source: Sintef, Nordic Innovation

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

Great. Now we can over-fish the oceans even more. (but seriously, this is a cool achievement)

Joel Detrow

This has the potential of increasing the quality of the final product by processing the fish a source. It will also enable processors to sell more fresh fish. At present fish is caught, frozen, shipped to China, thawed, processed, frozen again and shipped back to North America.

Mike Stokes

Joel, at least Norwegians use mainly farmed fish and they take care about the environment.


This is really wonderful. It can bring an end to transporting fish half way around the world, with the resulting pollution, cost and wastage.

In all probability one machine will do the work of 5 humans (machines can work 24 hours and don't take holidays, sick leave or coffee breaks) and while jobs in distant countries will be lost, it can actually result in some more jobs back in Norway - doing the remaining processing functions.

Automation of this kind has dramatic implications for jobs everywhere so as a society we need to plan how to cope with changes like this across many industries - both industrial and services.

Oh, and I think the fish might actually taste better for its lack of 'foreign travel'!


I used to get fresh fish by subscription when living in Cambridge, Mass. (a variant of Community Supported Agriculture share) and had to filet and gut the fish myself. It's not much fun as the fish is very cold (it better be!) and so are your hands. Processing fish or poultry are among the worst jobs there are with many workers getting severe repetitive motion injuries. In addition, their job accident rate is twice the national average (for poultry workers). Now here are tasks that we should gladly hand over to machines.


Re moreover: Totally agree. True progress, potentially for everyone.

One drawback, as a society, we'll have to stop believing in the everlasting gospel of "growth" and the fairy tale that the economy magically provides just the right number of jobs for all seeking employment. We are being so brainwashed with that crap 24/7.

This is a perfect example for jobless growth: The manufacturer being able to process product with fewer and fewer people. Eventually, people as lucky as me (aka having a nice job) will have to understand that having a job is a privilege, a good bit of it is just luck, and there's got to be a way to enable people with less luck to have a decent life.

Not saying that I know how to do this, but we really need to starting looking at that very problem, or pitchforks will come out once again.


Now I know why a little can of cod Cost $5.50 USD. I would have thought cooking the material in the can would have reduced the pinbones to edible softness.

Dave B13

can we import this to the US, huge market IE Hawaii, CA VA CT VT ME OR for fishing alone.

Stephen Russell

The people designing, building, and maintaining these machines will make more money than the Chinese who gut fish all day.

Captain Obvious

Some of these comments are very much on point about dreadful deadening work going away, good riddance. Innovations like this can and have, enabled investment that otherwise would have been impossible. Hand filleting is an obstacle just as hand sorting cotton bolls sharply limited cotton production. The cotton spinning jenny literally enabled the end of slavery just as this innovation will end this serf work in China, Bangladesh, Vietnam, etc. The challenge is how to equitably share the benefits across society. The long standing belief that large numbers of low wage immigrants are essential to broader economic progress will fade as more machines like this displace fish workers, masons laying brick & block, many assembly line workers, etc. Where will all the people go?


StWils: "The challenge is how to equitably share the benefits across society." The true crux of the issue, and no evidence that companies would do anything positive with their savings.

Joe Adair

what is the driving mechanism for 'equitably share the benefits'? To those who didn't invest in the research, the development, the failures, the engineering, the construction, the risk of upfront capital without a guaranteed outcome? If you want to re-distribute, please open your wallet and do so, its called charity and your personal choice. When the Government takes it and does so, it no longer is charity but theft.

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