Kingfish Zeeland, a new high-tech, land-based seawater recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) in The Netherlands, officially opened its doors on 6 April, 2018.
The new facility is dedicated to the production of Dutch yellowtail (Seriola lalandi), also known as kingfish and hiramasa, and is the largest of its kind in the Netherlands.
To create a sense of drama for the 250 guests, a drone was deployed to remove a large key from the nearby water of the Oosterschelde, and deliver it to Jo-Annes de Bat, deputy of the province of Zeeland, who performed the ceremonial duty.
"Innovation, sustainability and aquaculture are things that we are at the forefront of and proud of. Kingfish Zeeland is a good example of this," de Bat said.
Kingfish Zeeland was set up by Ohad Maiman, former vice president of the Merhav Group, Kees Kloet of Silt Farm, and Hans Den Bieman, director of Sealand and former CEO of Marine Harvest. Together, they raised more than EUR 20 million (USD 24.7 million) from private investors and Rabobank in 2017, following successful trials at an adjacent small facility.
The trial unit, which has a capacity of 50 metric tons (MT) per year, now houses the broodstock tanks and hatchery, as well as a small grow-out area. To date staff have completed three full egg to fingerling cycles, with mortality and feed conversion ratios proving to be better than expected. Around 80,000 fingerlings were transferred to the new site earlier this year.
The founders hope that the project will prove that large-scale RAS systems can finally deliver profitable land-based aquaculture.
Trial fish have been on the market since October 2017 and have been well received by select customers in the Netherlands and France, according to Maiman.
“With the new facility now in commercial production, and an anticipated volume of 600 MT per year for the next few years, the aim is to introduce premium grade fresh fish into markets across Europe and the U.S.A.,” Maiman said.
If successful, it is hoped to develop to a capacity of several thousand metric tons per year and to recreate the farm elsewhere, including the U.S.A.
Large kingfish, between two and three kilograms in weight, have traditionally been imported to Europe fresh or frozen from Japan and Australia for use in sushi and sashimi dishes. Kingfish Zeeland has decided on a different approach, offering a wider range of sizes, from 700 grams up, that have found appeal with fine dining chefs and sparked interest with high-end retailers.
According to Maiman, the fish are fed an organic diet, certified by the French FR-BIO 10 standard, with fishmeal primarily sourced from trimmings. No antibiotics or vaccines are used in the production process, and green energy including windmills, heat pumps and biogas, provides all the power requirements.
Kingfish Zeeland is a “Green Choice" recommendation by Dutch VISwijser, the Good Fish Foundation, and is undergoing audits for Best Aquaculture Practice (BAP) and Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) certifications.
Chef Patron Mart Scherp, who runs an eponymous local restaurant, is ambassador for Kingfish Zeeland and is enthusiastic about the pale pinkish-white color, delicate taste and firm texture of the company’s fish, which he said is similar to swordfish or tuna.
"Kingfish may be excellent for raw preparations such as tartare, sashimi, and ceviche, but it is equally good grilled as a fillet or a whole fish, fried or smoked,” he said, as guests enjoyed his kingfish canapés.
Yellowtail kingfish grow fast and are relatively easy to cultivate. In the wild, they live in large schools, which makes them suitable for growing in tank systems. Of particular benefit to fish farmers is the fact that this fish breeds naturally in aquaculture, which means that no hormonal treatments or human intervention are required to induce spawning.
Thanking his guests for attending, Maiman declared that land-based marine aquaculture is facing a watershed moment, graduating from an experimental to a practical technology that is poised to fill the growing supply gap.
“Sustainability and respect for our fish and the environment are at the core of Kingfish Zeeland's values, and inform our design, operations, and technology decisions,” he said. “This fish is a wonderful alternative to endangered bluefin tuna or swordfish and is produced sustainably here in Europe, thanks to the development of innovative systems.”