Martin Curtis, Mobile, NL
Factory Design Engineer, St. John's Head Office, Ocean Choice International

Martin Curtis, a professional engineer, has been designing fishery machinery for 30 years. He has been with Ocean Choice for 12 of those years and has led the design and implementation of several factory processing lines. (The “factory” is the processing part of the offshore fishing vessel, similar to an onshore fish plant). Martin led the development of the factory for Ocean Choice’s new vessel, Calvert, which is expected to begin harvesting in 2020. He was integral to transitioning Katsheshuk II from a shrimp vessel to a groundfish vessel in 2015-2016. While starting from scratch to design a new factory doesn’t happen often, changes to the factory of vessels are continuous. This is because the company needs to meet changing customer demands to compete in global markets.

Ocean Choice sells seafood in more than 30 countries around the world. How a customer in North America would like their seafood is very different than the requirements of a customer in Asia.

For example, if a customer in Asia says they want a Yellow Tail fish with the head on but are only interested in fish that are between 200g and 300g, the factory design needs to be able to accommodate that order. The size of fish in the catch might vary from 200g to 1,000g and other customers may want their fish headed and gutted. In that instance, Martin would design the factory to start with weigh-grading so that only the 200g-300g fish are directed away from the heading line.

“It’s not only the weight of the fish the grader needs to consider. In some restaurants in Asia, the entire fish should fit perfectly on their plate. They can’t have a head or tail hanging over the edge of the plate. So we need to consider weight/length ratio specifications too,” he explains. “Customers have specific orders and we design our factory to meet them.”

The factory design also considers improving yield, reducing processing time and reducing the labour and repetitive motions for employees onboard.

“Sometimes people fear automation will replace jobs. The reality is automation is what saves jobs because it allows the vessel or plant to compete in global markets. It also makes the work more appealing and attracts younger people to the industry, because it is more technologically advanced and less labour intensive.”

For Martin, he is hands-on with each processing design (or redesign) from start to finish. “I’m there while each piece of equipment is being placed. How the conveyers interact with each other is incredibly precise. We need to make sure no fish falls on the floor. Being a few millimeters off can make a huge difference.”

After the changes have been made on the vessel, he typically joins the crew on their initial trip at sea. “When it’s a significant change, I go on a couple of trips in the beginning to make sure everything is working as it should. I make tweaks as needed once we see it in action and I help the crew understand how the new process will make their jobs easier while meeting the company’s market demands,” he explains.

While Martin doesn’t like the spotlight, there is no shortage of praise for the innovative work he does at Ocean Choice. His ideas and designs help the company deliver consistent, high-quality seafood to customers around the world.