Materials Handling

Forklifts that don’t feel like… a fish out of water

By Gian Schiava

October 2023

How fishery lift trucks cope with hostile conditions

If there’s one piece of equipment that can be found everywhere, it’s our trusted forklift truck. But not all forklifts are lucky enough to work in a warm and friendly environment. Today we explore some of the most hostile conditions for materials handling equipment: in the fishing industry. Gian Schiava looks at what suppliers and lift truck users can do to prevent forklift failures and protect trucks against ageing prematurely.


Dispatching more lift trucks to help meet growing fishing industry demands.

Across Europe, the fishing industry – from large fish producers to local fish market suppliers – has had to deal with difficult market situations. There are increasing numbers of regulations to meet, in terms of demarcated quotas, fishing areas and maximum days at sea, for instance. Pressure has been mounting, from consumers and governments alike, to avoid overfishing and to protect our planet. ‘Sustainability’ has quickly become the key word. Recent uncertainties, arising from such issues as Brexit and coronavirus, have also made their impact.

Despite this, global demand for fish and seafood has shown continued growth. Many reports, such as those from the large Dutch agribusiness bank Rabobank, predict considerable increases in fish consumption across the globe. There is an especially high demand for high-quality fish and seafood in the United States, the European Union and China.

How forklifts keep their head above water

According to Business Manager Einar Løfgren at Cat® Lift Trucks EAME, the most demanding applications are in the various production facilities, warehousing operations and inbound harbours. Here, the fish needs to be handled at maximum speed for hygiene reasons. The earlier in the supply chain, the more unfriendly the environment.

As in most sectors, many of the LPG and diesel trucks have now been changed for electric versions. Electrification is, however, not always an easy option. Power infrastructure can be a heavy challenge for many locations, which simply cannot deliver enough electricity to charge a large fleet. Einar relates the amusing example of a fish auction manager who sometimes had to choose between charging a battery or opening up the laptop to do some trading!

Another difference from less demanding forklift applications is the relatively low percentage of rental trucks in this sector. While in most markets materials handling equipment is typically acquired through three-year or five-year hire contracts, straight purchase is more common in the fishing industry. This is mainly due to the challenges of maintaining trucks in top shape.

Having to deal with the deadly combination of salt and water, it’s no surprise that suppliers must take special precautions to prepare the forklifts for survival. Cat Lift Trucks offers packages of modifications to its standard models, but many customisations are made by national or regional dealers.

Customers are also offered more comprehensive maintenance packages. For example, besides the regular greasing work, at each routine service all batteries are taken out for a thorough cleansing of the complete truck! This has to be done with slowly rinsing water, as high-pressure hosing can be harmful, which obviously adds to the downtime! Cleaning is therefore a much bigger component of the maintenance work than in any other industry.

Truck preparation is preceded by extra attention in choosing the right specifications for the job. Are the controls easy to use when wearing gloves? Is this the best truck for frequent on-off access? Do we need oil-cooled disc brakes, sealed connectors, special mast chains, or a package with all those things?

OEBC2327 Extended Warranty Brochure-1

Finally, dealers offer various packages to meet various standards of Ingress Protection, like IP54 (see boxout). For greater peace of mind, Cat Lift Trucks customers can choose from a range of extended warranties.

Squeeze the lemon

No matter how much effort is made, forklifts in the fishing industry hardly ever have a second life. Conditions are simply too unforgiving. However, the way you treat the forklift makes a huge difference to its operational lifespan.

Einar explains: “We have seen examples where, with good preparation and regular maintenance, the economic life of a forklift in this industry can extend from six or seven years up to nine or even ten. It’s not just about avoiding unnecessary costs: it’s simply common sense to get the most out of your investment.”

Meanwhile, factories with outbound flows are getting bigger and bigger. The kind of centralisation we are seeing leads to changes in demand for the forklift suppliers, including higher capacities. Fishery logistics is becoming more global with, for example, containers full of salmon going from Norway to Spain, where sardines are loaded to be shipped back to Norway. Fish have truly become travelling species and their supply chains are complex.

Amidst all this geographical transportation, the forklift still has to move stainless steel containers full of fish, water and salt back and forth. Day in, day out.


Forklifts are modified for survival in hostile conditions


Truck cleanliness is essential - and time-consuming

What is an Ingress Protection rating and what do the figures mean?

Ingress Protection rating (or just IP rating) is an international standard (IEC 60529) used to rate the degree of protection or sealing effectiveness in electrical enclosures against intrusion of objects, water, dust or accidental contact. It corresponds to the European standard EN 60529.

The code is built like this:

  • The letters IP (Ingress Protection)
  • First digit indicates protection against solids
  • Second digit indicates protection against liquids
  • And an optional letter

In the fishing industry, suppliers talk about ratings IP54, IP66 or IP64.

Let’s take for example IP54. The 5 means the product is dust-protected against ingress of dust sufficient to cause damage inside the equipment or to affect its operation. There is complete protection against contact with solid objects.

The 4 means the product is protected against splashing water. This protection is effective against water splashed against the enclosure from any direction.

More on

“ We have seen examples where, with good preparation and regular maintenance, the economic life of a forklift in this industry can extend from six or seven years up to nine or even ten.”