Purchaser of AquaChile’s tilapia operations focusing on multitrophic aquaculture

Published on
January 6, 2022
A Martec aquaculture operation.

Costa Rica-based seafood company Martec, the recent purchaser of AquaChile’s Rainforest Tilapia operations, is experimenting with integrated multitrophic aquaculture (IMTA) in an effort to drive the development of natural ecosystems from its aquaculture programs.

The tilapia acquisition – still subject to approval of the competition authority in Costa Rica – includes tilapia production in Guanacaste, a processing plant in Terrapez, and the commercial operation based in Miami, Florida, U.S.A. The operations will complement Martec’s off-shore cage aquaculture focused on the spotted rose snapper (Lutjanus guttatus), which it claims to be the world’s first company to grow and sell commercially. The snapper operation has 4-star BAP certification for its hatchery, offshore farm, and processing plant, with a closed-cycle hatchery located in Guanacaste.

Martec’s origins are were focused on wild catch, but the company started aquaculture operations 13 years ago that it plans to continue to expand.

When this company was founded nearly 40 years ago, it was fully focused on the wild catch concept, one of the first in Central America. The snapper innovation project was started 13 years ago, and since new ownership came in three years ago, we’ve made improvements in operations, management and defining the best scenario to scale it up,” Alvaro Teran, sustainability and innovation manager at Martec, told SeafoodSource.

Current production per year reaches 4,500 metric tons (MT) between farmed snapper and wild catch fish, and the company plans to expand total production to 15,000 MT in the next five years.

As a part o Martec’s aquaculture expansion, the company is working on a multitrophic model that helps improve other parts of the environment.

“We’re operating in an extraction industry and we want to create a model that gives back, so we take fish but we also create an ecosystem where fish reproduce to compensate our extraction,” Teran said.

Martec’s research and development areas include three initiatives – growing out coral, macroalgae, and oysters – in an ecosystem-based approach for carbon sequestration and the upside potential they provide. In working to create a multitrophic model, the company uses nutrient enrichment generated by fish mariculture (feces, feed) as inputs to grow out native environments.

“We work with an NGO that does coral restoration and in growing coral in the nurseries, which are closer to the coast,” Teran said. “The coral spend their first 1-4 months of critical growth in the pens, there is nitrogen and phosphorus from fish excrement, where they can double their growth. We’re starting pilots to prove that – grow them fast in an initial stage and bring them back to the reef so they can adapt to the local conditions.”

A similar program is being implemented for the grow-out of tropical macroalgae, with Martec looking to capture carbon in the process and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. The programs are slated to be running by the second quarter.

Other initiatives in its rose snapper mariculture activities include improving the company’s feed conversion ratios and fish in-fish out ratios, the latter of which it says is close to zero.

Infrastructure-wise, the company has room to grow its snapper farming operations, while sourcing for wild fish catch will be from other countries. In both areas, Martec is setting up a sustainability and innovation approach in Costa Rica, with similar plans to launch in Panama and Ecuador in the coming months, which Teran says he believes can make the company one of the most net positive impact sources of seafood in the region.

“We’re looking for other places in Central America to expand snapper farming, working to identify places that have optimal conditions in terms of oxygen, microbiology conditions, and starting to monitor, build data, and identify the proper conditions to do it,” he added, the whole time coordinating with Costa Rica’s fishing and aquaculture service, Incopesca, regarding new regulations, concessions, parameters of water feed, bio-risks, and complying with protocols.

The company recently signed a new partnership to develop a large-scale genetic breeding program for spotted rose snapper with U.K. headquartered aquaculture genetics company Xelect. In joining forces, Xelect and Martec expect to introduce modern genetics techniques which will balance pedigree control and inbreeding with continuous gains in important traits through selective breeding.

Quepos, Costa Rica-based Martec was founded in 1984 as a processor and exporter of wild-catch fish. In 2008, it expanded into off-shore cage aquaculture focused on the spotted rose. In the wild-caught fish program, Martec launched its own fishery improvement project (FIP) in November 2020 in Costa Rica and Panama, where it also sources, for yellowfin tuna and mahi mahi.

The scope was later extended to include swordfish - the three species most sold by Martec and those with the highest commercial value - and in November 2021 another extension was submitted to include Ecuador.

Photo courtesy of Martec

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