The teenage seafood king who had bigger fish to fry

Portrait of a century-old, family-run seafood business reveals how history, trust and loyalty are integral cornerstones of its longevity and success

Determined fish trading from the 14-year-old founder of the successful Halsnæs seafood supplier AquaPri so unsettled one furious competitor that he slapped the young usurper in the face.

“We don’t want children buying up our fish around here,” a bewildered Anders Priess, the great-grandfather of the present owner, was told before being thrown into the icy waters of the Jutland harbour. But he was quick to get out because he had bigger fish to fry.

Today a century later, his company AquaPri is one of the most profitable in the north Zealand council. Turnover for the business, which specialises in hand-picked luxury seafood like roe caviar for global niche markets, exceeded 225 million kroner last year.

 “In the beginning we were primarily trading in eel and some fresh fish,” explained Morten Priess, a great grandson and co-owner in the business.

“But times change. Since the beginning of the 1980s, we have been dealing more with aqua-culture. That is, sea and fresh water farms. We are farmers now, more or less."

An eely good venture
It was the purchase of another family-run eel business in the 1960s that first brought the Jutland-based company to Frederiksværk. The new branch employed 12 workers back then, producing 100,000 tonnes of eel a year.

However, tastes change and demand for eel has declined. Today the company concentrates on more profitable fish products from production facilities in Lolland and Jutland, while Frederiksværk has instead become the company's administrative headquarters.

“Perhaps it would be smarter to be in a central location like Vejle,” conceded Priess. “But we prefer to stay in Frederiksværk for historical reasons.” 

Benefits of loyalty
A sense of history has played an unmistakable role in the continuation of the company, creating a culture in which the employee turnover is kept extremely low … and often within the family.

“One of the benefits of being a family company is the loyalty factor – the employees relate a lot to the family,” observed Priess.

 “Some of our fish farm managers have taken over their position from their own fathers!”

With loyalty comes trust, which means the majority of employees manage themselves.

It is not all plain sailing though. Priess concedes that you can become too “easily satisfied and settle for less regarding profits when you should really be pushing for more”, and that as the owner, it is important to remain humble.

“When you run a family company, it is important not to be seen to be showing off,” he said.

“Especially, if you want to maintain company goodwill amongst the staff. Big cars–stuff like that doesn’t work. I am very conscious of that.”

Perch for the future
Looking to the future, Priess reveals that AquaPri has ambitious plans to farm pike perch, an expensive freshwater fish common in the waters around Ærsoe. It plans to invest 50 million kroner in building a 7,000 sqm pike perch farm with an annual capacity of 500 tonnes.

However, the fish is hard to farm. “We have had our struggles with this fish. It has turned out to be more difficult than we first imagined. Admittedly, we have been thrown in the water many times over this,” Priess conceded with a knowing nod to his great-grandfather.

“But, we are the furthest in development of these farms. We are already producing 200 tonnes of pike perch a year. We will get there.”

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