Skip to main content

Parlevliet á fjørðinum


Um dagarnar kom eitt av smærru skipunum hjá Parlevliet & Van der Plas fram við køksvindeyganum og fór niðan gjøgnum fjørðin. Tað sæst á skorsteininum, har PP stendur skrivað. 

Tað gevur mær høvi at leita aftur til greinina um niðurlendsku fyritøkuna, sum journalisturin Bart van der Pol úr Katwijk gav mær í enskari týðing at seta á bloggin í fjør heyst. 

Møtti honum í Nashville í 1997, har vit vóru á Country Radio Broadcasters Seminar í Grand Ole Opry og skiftu um fløgur frá Tutl. 

Síðan eg uppdagaði, hvar hann búði, havi eg ligið á kroppinum á honum um at skriva føroyingum eitt persónligt ferðabræv um at vera granni hjá Parlevliet og van der Plas familjuni. 

Nú hepnaðist ein møguleiki, hóast hansara partur bara var týðingararbeiði úr niðurlendskum í enskt:

Hvussu Katwijk legði høvini undir seg. Familjufyritøkan Parlevliet & Van der Plas gjørdist heimsmeistari gjøgnum lobbyarbeiði og sølu av fiskirættindum

Birkblog 17. oktober 2021

Mynd av bryggjuni í Klaksvík har stropparnir hjá Parlevliet & Van der Plas úr Katwijk halda einum Strandferðslubáti. Bart van der Pol, sum er útvarpsmaður í Katwijk, hevur fyri føroyingar umsett til enskt eina niðurlendska blaðgrein, sum blaðið Leidsch Dagblad og samtakið Spit hava savnað og givið út í gjár. Henda søgan og aðrar søgur um Parlevliet & Van der Plas í Katwijk eru skrivaðar við stuðli úr Quality Impulse South Holland Journalism. 

How Katwijkers conquered the oceans. Family business Parlevliet & Van der Plas became a global player through lobbying and trading in fishing rights

The Annelies Ilena, the largest fish trawler of Parlevliet & Van der Plas.© Photo Parlevliet & Van der Plas

Bram Logger & Parcival Weijnen, Hielke Biemond

16.10.2021 kl 07:00


Parlevliet & Van der Plas is growing impetuously. The fishing company makes acquisitions all over the world. But the presence of the Katwijkers also meets with resistance. How could the family business grow so fast?

As if he had to guide NATO through a crisis situation. For example, Diek Parlevliet sits in front of a screen with video connections every day and guides his men across the world's oceans.

At least a hundred hours a week he is busy with it, it sounds admiring among employees of the Katwijk fishing company Parlevliet & Van der Plas (PP). Not too bad, says the 66-year-old CEO. But he does spend about seventy to eighty hours running the family business.

PP's empire spans half the globe. In the Seychelles, in the Indian Ocean, the company fishes for tuna. When the sun goes down there, the day has yet to start on the Chilean west coast, where PP trawlers catch mackerel. "Telephone, mail, WhatsApp, that goes on day and night," says Parlevliet. He doesn't suffer from that. "If I get a call at night, I'll be back to sleep in a minute."

In eight years, turnover tripled: from 450 million in 2011 to 1.4 billion in 2019. This makes PP the largest fishing company in Europe.

Founder Dirk Parlevliet, CEO Diek Parlevliet and commercial director Freek van der Plas.© Photo Hielco Kuipers

Under the umbrella of the PP Group are 120 subsidiaries and participations in almost twenty countries. The company fishes with more than fifty vessels, processes fish in ten factories from Faroe Islands to Madagascar and trades fish through several wholesalers and distribution companies.

PP has its own cold stores, but also companies such as a shipping agency and a company that rents out plastic containers for fresh fish.

Not all these ships and subsidiaries are fully owned by PP. In many companies, the Katwijkers have a minority interest. Others are joint ventures: half of PP, half of a (foreign) partner.

PP's rapid growth has a price. Small fishermen complain about the power over the fishing rights of large shipping companies.

Old truck

PP's corporate history reads like a boy's book. With 50 guilders trading money and an old truck, the brothers Dirk and Jan van der Plas and their brother-in-law Dirk Parlevliet started a herring trade in 1949.

They buy fish in Katwijk, which they sell in Amsterdam and Zwolle. A company that will put both families in the Quote 500. "I hardly ever saw my father," says Diek Parlevliet. "Always at work."

A load of mackerel in the PP factory in the Faroe Islands© Photo Finnur Justinussen

Fishermen are not the Parlevlites and Van der Plassen. PP is a trading company. In order to be less dependent on the supply of fish by third parties, the entrepreneurs had two ships built in the sixties. The Jan Maria and the Annie Hillina - named after the founders and their wives - are the first ships in the PP fleet.

Things are going well in the seventies, but with the fish stock in the North Sea a lot less. In order to protect the herring stock, the government a fishing ban. That seems to be a disaster for PP, which has specialized in herring. But the stop on herring fishing appears to be a first step towards success.

Instead of herring, the PP trawlers go mackerel fishing. The biggest problem is the sales market. Where do you sell mackerel? The Russians already have experience with this in Africa in the seventies. And so the Dutch shipowners also went to that continent. With the help of the embassy, they search for customers in Ivory Coast. Pp soon gains a foothold in other African countries as well. Nowadays, Africa is the largest market for the Katwijk company.

Quota kings

The poor fish stocks at the end of the seventies led to even more restrictions on fishing. Once again, PP turns that disadvantage into an advantage. In the early eighties, EU countries agreed on catch limits for several types of fish: quotas would be introduced. These fees are distributed among fishermen on the basis of their historical catches. They don't have to pay anything for it.

Soon there is a lively trade in quotas, describes lawyer Martin Schilder in his recently published dissertation on tradable fishing rights. "Some fishermen with a small quota do not get their business profitable and sell their fishing rights to shipowners with large vessels. Others rent out their quotas to colleagues." It also appears that the fishing rights can serve well as collateral with the bank for a business loan.


PP sees the huge opportunities. The Katwijkers buy up smaller companies. And if there are not enough fishing rights for herring in the Netherlands, PP brings a number of trawlers under the German flag. Germany still has quotas, but no ships to catch the fish.

Dutch fishermen are also gaining a foothold in the United Kingdom. In contrast to the innovative entrepreneurs from Katwijk, many English fishermen throw in the towel after the herring stop in the seventies. Dutch companies, among others, buy up their quotas as a long-term investment.

"In fishing, everything revolves around quotas," agrees Diek Parlevliet. How do you get there? "Acquisitions. You buy the bv, including the people, the ships and the quotas." PP ships now sail under more than ten flags and the company owns quotas all over the world. At the end of the nineties, a former employee once said in the Leidsch Dagblad: "It sounds crazy, but we have actually become larger because of the catch quotas."

Not too expensive

In addition to protecting fish stocks, eu fisheries policy echoes the post-World War II ideals: never again hunger and never again poverty. Fish must not be too expensive for the consumer, and the fisherman must be able to earn a good living from it. Large scale and efficiency are seen as the answer to this. Over the years, Brussels has provided many millions in subsidies for the construction of modern freezer trawlers and cold stores. PP has also perfectly adjusted the antennas in that area.

Ten years ago, research agency Profundo listed for Greenpeace what this Brussels policy brought dutch shipowners: Between 1994 and 2011, PP received a subsidy of around 40 million euros for the construction of trawlers and factories. The small fishermen who are left behind are being out-competed and their quotas are being bought up.

"EU policy is doing its job," says Maarten Bavinck, professor of fisheries management at the University of Amsterdam. "Fishing is better managed and has become more efficient." There's a downside to that. "It's also: the winner takes it all. Fishing communities are being lost. In a short time, a kind of aristocracy has emerged. Given away actually."

So says Jeppe Höst, a Danish scientist who researches the trade in fishing quotas. "Wherever these systems with tradable fishing rights have been introduced in private ownership, you see a concentration arise. You get quota kings who own everything. For small fishermen, there is little left."

"It has become more difficult for us," confirms a North Sea fisherman who works for a small family business, who prefers to remain anonymous, because he is dependent on large players such as PP in the quota trade. "We have to rent quotas. We do get out of the costs, but there is no money left to invest in, for example, a more modern ship." This makes it uninspiring for young generations to take over the family business.


This development of quota concentration is met with resistance. On 22 September 2021, a motley fleet of small fishing vessels will sail up the Thames, towards Westminster to draw attention to British politics. Martin Yorwarth from Newhaven in the south of England sails with his ships Sarah Jane and Jessie Alice in the procession to London. "My customers want fresh fish up close, sustainably caught. But the quotas are in the hands of industrial fishing companies. They see fishing rights as an investment, as stock exchange trading. Their motive is greed."

Even more worrying than the quotas are the small British fishermen's overfishing by large freezer trawlers like PP's, "They say it's sustainable," Yorwarth says. "And they rely on science. But the scientific research into fish stocks is focused on how much you can get out of the sea, it is in the service of the large, powerful parties. We see a big difference between scientific research into fish stocks and reality at sea. We simply catch far fewer fish than we used to."

The action in London is supported by Greenpeace. Under the name Operation Ocean Witness, the NGO has taken photos and videos of industrial vessels fishing in the Channel. PP's large trawlers lend themselves perfectly to the message that Greenpeace wants to convey.

It is not the first time that PP has had to deal with resistance. At the end of the nineties, the American fishing town of Gloucester was on its back legs when Parlevliet & Van der Plas announced that they would come and fish for herring and mackerel off the coast of New England. As a matter of urgency, there was a law that chased foreign fishermen out of American waters.

In Australia, pp also ran a blue when the politicians, after loud protests from NGOs, drew a line through the fishing plans in Tasmania. Last year, French fishermen walked in a funeral procession through the Breton coastal town of Concarneau to 'carry their profession to the grave': made impossible by the industrial trawlers, with Cornelis Vrolijk from IJmuiden as the head of Jut.

Diek Parlevliet responds: "All these NGOs accuse us of knocking bread out of the mouths of small fishermen. But those French fishermen can't even fish for herring or horse mackerel. They don't earn anything from that. Those fish scallops Saint-Jacques, there is a lot more money in there."

In the UK, PP does not have quotas that small fishermen use, the company stresses. Pp does, however, fish for herring in the English Channel with Dutch and German quotas. Also in Africa, PP avoids waters where local fishermen prey on the same species as PP. "In Senegal there are many artisanal fishermen who fish for sardinella. We don't want to get in their way."

Strong lobby

Like a handful of mossy rocks, they lie in the Atlantic Ocean between Norway and Iceland: the Faroe Islands. A strategically important place for Parlevliet & Van der Plas. The mini-country has 50,000 inhabitants but due to its location has control over a huge area of fish-rich waters. PP owns minority stakes in a triad of ships, companies with fishing rights and two factories.

It is precisely on this strategically important group of islands that politicians adopted a law in 2017 to expropriate PPs fishing rights. In an attempt to reverse the "privatization" of fishing rights, the country prohibits foreign companies from holding shares in fishing companies. PP's stake in a Faroese fishing company should be reduced from 33 to 0 percent. Quotas are expropriated and nationalised. In the future, fishermen will be able to obtain quotas through an auction.

But that's outside pp's lobby. Through the Ministries of Economic Affairs and Foreign Affairs, the company is putting strong pressure on the Faroese government to get the law off the table, according to documents that Leidsch Dagblad and Spit received through a WOB procedure. On pp's payroll is advisor Niek-Jan van Kesteren, former leader of employers' organization VNO-NCW, CDA senator and confidant of Mark Rutte.

On 10 June 2017 he will speak to Rutte. The prime minister promises Van Kesteren to personally contact the Faroese prime minister. On 21 June 2017, Rutte calls his counterpart in Tórshavn. According to former fisheries minister Høgni Hoydal, Rutte threatens to make it difficult for the Faroe Islands in the negotiations on a new trade agreement with the EU if the fisheries law is not off the table.

Whether that really happened is unclear. For the time being, the Ministry of General Affairs refuses to make Rutte's speaking notes public. Rutte said earlier in the answer to parliamentary questions about the issue that there is no threat, but that 'the option has been mentioned to discuss the issue at European level'.


The efforts are having an effect. "The Faroese parliament left yesterday on recess and the proposal for new fisheries legislation that we contested did not make it," the ambassador in Copenhagen e-mailed two weeks later. In the cc there are at least twenty officials who have dealt with it. 'That's fantastic news', is one of the reactions. The joy is short-lived. The law was later passed, albeit with a delay. From 2030, PP's companies can be expropriated.

The WOB documents raise the question of whether it is the task of the Dutch government to interfere in legislative processes in other countries, only for the private interest of the Quote-500 family business Parlevliet & Van der Plas. Isn't pp's lobbying power too great? Diek Parlevliet thinks it's only normal. "The government must stand up for Dutch trade interests We have invested a lot of money in that, haven't we?"

There is also criticism of the close ties between the Ministries of The Hague and PP. In his recent dissertation on tradable fishing rights, lawyer Martin Schilder observes that the trade in quotas has created an elite that has the power within the producer organizations, in which fishermen work together. The influence on the ministry is therefore great. "Government policy is responsive," Schilder explains. "This means that the ministry mainly responds to developments in the sector, and does not actively make its own policy." As a result, the ministry identifies with the major players. "They think that the importance of PP is also the importance of the fishery."

Only the interest

Is it the winner takes it all in fishing? Are the large freezer trawlers a threat to the seas? No, says Diek Parlevliet. He does not recognize himself at all in the criticism of his company. "There are plenty of small fishermen who earn a good living. We fish for species that are generally not caught by small fishermen. They don't have the ships for it. Species such as herring, mackerel and blue whiting are very cheap, you have to catch them in large quantities, otherwise it yields too little."

Hence the large freezer trawlers. "Our ships have a lot of storage space and a processing plant on board. That's why they're so big. The criticism from NGOs is not justified. They use the image of large trawlers for their own political purposes, and bringing in members."

PP has no interest in emptying the seas, says Parlevliet. "I have nine grandchildren, I want them to be able to work in fishing later on. That is why we only fish the interest from the sea. We leave the capital."

This story and the other stories about Parlevliet & Van der Plas were created with the support of the Quality Impulse South Holland Journalism. It is a collaboration between Leidsch Dagblad and research collective Spit.