Although resources are becoming increasingly scarce, fish consumption has increased worldwide in recent years. As part of a conscious diet, as a source of protein for people who reduce their meat consumption, or simply as a tasty food that can be prepared in a variety of delicious ways - fish is still in vogue. In Germany, annual per capita consumption in the last ten years has fluctuated between 13.5 kg and 15.7 kg catch weight. Of course, this also includes the fish fingers from the freezer or the oil sardines from the can. But it includes fresh fish, too.
If you want to eat fresh sea fish, you have to go to the coast or at least to a port city. This is a widespread opinion when it comes to where fish is freshest and where it is handled and offered in the greatest variety. It is certainly true that a fish bought directly from a cutter on the North Sea or Baltic Sea coast cannot be outbid in freshness. Everything else, however,... is not really true. The largest German port in Hamburg as the largest fishing centre? I'm afraid not. Instead, the largest transshipment point for fresh fish in Germany is another port, namely Frankfurt Airport. Because most of the fish in our fish counters does not come from domestic seas and waters, but from overseas and is brought to us with great logistical effort.
25,000 tons of fresh fish and seafood are handled at Frankfurt Airport every year. Fresh fish and seafood arrive by plane from all over the world. About half in special cargo planes, the rest with ordinary passenger planes, in addition to baggage and other cargo. Fish are flown in from over 40 countries, the largest part from South Africa, Namibia, the United Arab Emirates, Norway, Qatar, Greece, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Iceland and the USA. Some of them, you see, have already covered long distances.
Even this first part of the transport chain is a great logistical effort, as always when it comes to chilled goods. Nothing in this product group is worse than an interruption of the cold chain. In general, the air freight business is particularly profitable if the goods themselves are very valuable or if the nature of the goods requires special protection or cooling. This means that all transport steps for the chilled goods must be precisely timed and coordinated with each other, otherwise there is a risk of high losses. And it is obvious that it should not take days, but only hours, from the time the fish is caught until it is placed in the belly of the aircraft.
Once the fish have landed at Frankfurt Airport, a huge distribution centre takes care of the rest. The so-called Perishable Center (PCF) for perishable goods of various types offers all the necessary equipment on 9,000 m² to handle the individual logistical process steps according to the strictest requirements. It is a Port of First Entry, approved EU border control point and has twenty different cooling zones for different product groups, offering a temperature environment from -25°C to +25°C. The fresh fish area is EU-certified and extends over 1,500 m². Here, the goods are inspected, cleared through customs, if necessary subsequently frozen, commissioned and then prepared for their final destination in Germany or Europe. The fish and seafood are processed at a temperature of only 0°C to 2°C to guarantee freshness. This is achieved by a low ambient temperature, but also by ice, which cools the fish in a slow melting process, keeps it fresh and also rinses off bacteria. Everything is monitored in real-time temperature measurements.
All the authorities involved are located directly at the airport. After the PCF has checked the incoming goods for temperature, intactness and completeness of the stated deliveries, the veterinary office carries out the specified import controls with regard to hygiene and health standards. Under his supervision, the fish are also re-iced and repackaged. As soon as the veterinary office, the Federal Institute for Agriculture and Food and the Hessian state laboratory have given the green light for the import into the EU, the customs clearance takes place through the customs office. The goods are picked for the consignee and, after inventory management, are transferred via six truck ramps, which are also in the temperature range 0°C to 2°C, to the trucks that transport the fish to its destination.
Just ten years ago, all these processes in Frankfurt took eight to ten hours. Today, it takes around four to five hours from the time the aircraft lands until the truck loaded with fish leaves the Perishable Center. All this is made possible by optimised intralogistics, better networking of the individual players and further developed technology such as new logistics software, temperature control and monitoring. A fish from South Africa, which is not exactly around the corner, therefore often does not need more than 24 to 30 hours to reach the consumer in Germany or any other part of Europe. Behind this is a complicated, complex logistics chain, which is characterized above all by speed and process accuracy.