Zeeland, on the Dutch North Sea coast, is not the first province you think of when it comes to innovation. All the more reason for Innovation Origins to adjust that image. In six episodes we show a cross-section of the organisations in Zeeland that give innovation a face.
The Yellowtail – a fish that up to now is mainly cultivated in cages in the seas and oceans around Australia and Japan – is not yet on the daily menu of an average European. But if the ambition of Kingfish Zeeland comes true, this may soon change. With forty employees, the company has moved the fish from the warm waters to the Netherlands, from where it can guarantee fresh supplies of Dutch Yellowtail all year round with southern temperatures. This makes them not the first in Europe – Denmark also has a kingfish farm – but one that claims to do it more efficiently and sustainably than anyone else.
Kingfish Zeeland is based in Kats and uses the seawater from the Oosterschelde. “We started here in the bankrupt estate of an oyster farm,” says Christo du Plessis, the South African Head of Sales and Operations at Kingfish. “The reason? This location is really perfect. We are close to our markets, can use fresh seawater and achieve all the sustainability benefits you can imagine.”
Firm like tuna
Before Kingfish Zeeland was there, the Yellowtail was flown in freshly or frozen from the other end of the world. Not exactly a sustainable model. And so something else had to be thought of to make this fish accessible, says Du Plessis. “It deserves a place on our menus. Yellowtail contains a lot of good fats. The meat is firm like tuna but white and has a different structure. And it’s just incredibly tasty!” Cultivating this fish in cages at sea, like it’s done in Australia and Japan, “is not nearly as sustainable as a land-based farm, as Kingfish Zeeland does,” says Du Plessis.
“Our Dutch Yellowtail is a high-quality fish that can be prepared as sushi or sashimi or can be grilled or smoked. Moreover, the fish is recommended by the Good Fish Foundation as a “green choice”: an excellent and sustainable alternative.” Thanks to Kingfish Zeeland, the Yellowtail is now available throughout Europe all year round. For the time being, it’s still mainly used in restaurants, as it is sold through the wholesalers where the hotel and catering industry does its shopping. “But that will soon change.”
The well-being of the fish
During a guided tour of the basins with Yellowtail in all sizes, it becomes clear why animal activists sometimes compare this type of fish farming with the bio-industry as we know it from chickens and pigs. Closely packed together, thousands of fish swim their rounds against the continuous stream in the tanks. Their inescapable goal in life: food for mankind. Du Plessis assures us that the well-being of the fish is of paramount importance to his company. He substantiates his claims with the awards and certifications that his company has received in recent months, including ASC– and BAP-recognition and the “Best Horeca product” at the Seafood Excellence Global event in Brussels in May 2019. “We really don’t get that recognition if you don’t get your act together; we are in fact a large water conditioning and filtering system in which fish does very well.”
Although no one can look into the fish’s head, the list of sustainability measures is indeed impressive. Du Plessis not only points to the fact that the fish are swimming around in their tanks without any antibiotics or vaccines, but also that the energy used is “100% green”, that each basin has its own filter system and that the wastewater is stripped of usable fertilisers before it flows back into the Oosterschelde. Moreover, there is no danger for biodiversity in the Netherlands, because the Yellowtails are in a closed circuit and will not mix with the local fish stock. “In this way, we will continue to work on new ways of cultivating sustainably, under the best possible conditions. We farm our fish as prudently as possible so that we can guarantee the highest quality.”
According to Du Plessis, farming fish on land is “the only way forward” for an ever-increasing world population. Because our need for proteins can be met in this way, Kingfish Zeeland is an important solution, he says. At the moment, the company’s activities are divided between the main building and an annexe in Kats, both directly behind the dyke of the Oosterschelde, with the Zeeland Bridge in sight. The offices are in the main building, but most of the space goes to the tanks with fish, which are separated according to their sizes. For each stage in their growth, they move to another tank. If they are large enough – between 800 grams and 3 kilos – they are ready for sale. “We could make them even heavier, but then it’s no longer economically viable. The cost of cultivation then increases much more than the price we get in return.”
Eating for new generations
In the second building, some tanks contain bigger fish. These are the mothers, or future mothers, who have to take care of the next generations. “Every quarter we rotate the group of fish that deliver fertilized eggs for hatching. We also constantly select new fish that are then conditioned to provide eggs for new generations in the future, when they reach adulthood. Both the light and the temperature of the water simulate the seasons in such a way that every quarter of a year a new group of fish is ready for sale.” In the meantime, a constant selection takes place: especially based on the growth rate, but also on colour or fat content.
In addition to the headquarters in Kats, Kingfish Zeeland also has a production department in Colijnsplaat. There, the fish is cleaned and packed for sale, only to be served 24 hours later on a plate of a starred restaurant. Du Plessis calls it a great success. “We expect to double in size next year.”
There are plans for expansion in Kats, but also for a gigantic new fish farm in Maine. So, in the long run, not only the visitors of top restaurants will be able to benefit from it. The recommendation of chef Mart Scherp at restaurant Scherp in Middelburg will already appeal to every fish lover: “From cold-smoked to grilled, baked or raw, the Dutch Yellowtail combines well with all kinds of tastes.”