Large rainbow trout for retail markets

by Thomas Jensen

Currently eggs are imported from Denmark, but as production grows the company will consider investing in its own broodstock.

A number of fish species are produced by the fish farming sector in Latvia, but of the species where data is publicly available only three or four are produced in significant quantities. These include carp, sturgeon and rainbow trout. The volumes produced of other species, including tench, crucian carp, and pike, are between 10 and 15 tonnes a year. Rainbow trout production jumped in 2014, the last year for which data is available, by a factor of 9 from the year before, from 4 tonnes to 35 tonnes. The huge increase in production is all the more impressive if one considers that average annual production for the 10 years to 2013 was 4.3 tonnes.

Although trout farming in Latvia is relatively new, as a farmed species trout is very well established. Trout is farmed in 17 EU countries and accounts for 14% of the value and 15% of the volume of seafood farmed in the EU. Of the top 10 species farmed in the EU trout is number two in terms of both value (following salmon) and volume (after mussels). Rainbow trout is a thoroughly-studied fish and every aspect of it is well documented. It is farmed in different systems, in ponds, raceways, and recirculation plants, and the availability of eggs, specialised feeds, and hatchery and on-growing equipment for trout is widespread.

In summer when the temperature is higher the fish are introduced into ponds for the final growth phase.

Focus switches to rainbow trout

In Latvia a company that has recently started breeding trout in a recirculation system is the Anna Fish Company. It started 10 years ago farming fish in small ponds, but then some seven years later changed to a recirculation system. We started with rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), tiger trout (a cross between brown trout, Salmo trutta, and brook trout, Salvelinus fontinalis) and Arctic char (Salvelinus alpinus alpinus), says Kristaps Romanovs, the chairman, but are now planning to focus only on rainbow trout as in Latvia there is far more demand for that than for the other species. The paucity of demand can be attributed to a general lack of awareness about these new species as well as a reluctance to try something new and unfamiliar. Changing this attitude will call for a concerted and long term effort and for now the company would like to focus its endeavours on switching to supplying the species for which demand is high on its markets in Latvia and Lithuania.

For the moment Anna Fish does not have its own broodstock. Instead the company buys eggs from a Danish supplier with whom it has had a collaboration for the last four years. We know the quality of the material he supplies and that his deliveries are reliable so we are not buying eggs from others. The company has divided its production into two units, one is the hatchery for incubation and juveniles up to a maximum of 100 g. This unit has three independent systems which allows the company the flexibility of being able to purchase eggs at any time rather than having to wait until the system is ready to accept them. This is a bit different from other systems which tend to run a batch of eggs from the first stage to the last before introducing a new batch, according to Mr Romanovs. The second unit is the on-growing phase, where the fish are grown to market size, which in this case is 500 g to 1,000 g. Currently, Mr Romanovs says, the company is growing fish to 500 g because the demand is so strong that they cannot let the fish grow any bigger. The idea originally had been to sell 1 kg fish, but as the leader of a newly launched company, Mr Romanovs was concerned about building a market for the product and felt that marketing fish at this size may call for bigger investments and higher risks.


Recirculation systems are more reliable than raceways

Today, three years later, however, he is planning to apply for support from the EMFF to expand the production facility, because he knows that there is a market for the large-sized fish. Some of this is taken by Norwegian salmon that is diverted to Latvia from the Russian market that is now closed, but Mr Romanovs maintains that this fish does not pose a problem for him. Anna Fish has a capacity of 100 tonnes, while production last year was of 50 tonnes mainly due to the premature harvesting at 500 g. The new project to expand the production facility will enable the introduction of a higher number of eggs and Mr Romanovs is hopeful that at least some of the stock will be grown to 1 kg. The shift to a recirculation facility from ponds was a big change. There is no comparison, says Mr Romanovs. Outside there are so many factors that cannot be controlled yet that can influence the production – weather, temperature, water quality etc. And while they may also have a positive influence, with so much uncertainty the risks are much higher. In a recirculation system, on the other hand all the parameters can be carefully controlled and the fishes’ environment can be maintained at a level with only minor fluctuations.

Newly designed modified atmosphere packaging will give the fish a shelf life of about 12 days and is intended for retail outlets without a fresh fish counter.

The retail shops in Latvia often do not have counters where fresh fish can be placed on ice. The company has therefore developed a series of modified atmosphere packages that will give the fish a shelf life of 12 days. The design and execution of the packages was a long and demanding process, but the end result is a smart package which Mr Romanovs wants to use in retail shops that do not have fish counters. Currently, more than nine-tenths of the production is sold in Latvia through a big retail chain with a network of over 130 shops across the country. So far the final product is whole and gutted fresh fish, but frozen products are an option too once the production increases. In addition, the company is experimenting with adding a small package with a marinade to the fish. Fillets too are produced, but that too is on hold as a result of the lack of stock. Five years ago if someone had told me that the market for trout in Latvia was 500 tonnes I would not have believed it, says Mr Romanov, but today I am sure it is possible. For the last two years we have been selling the fish under our own brand and now consumers are starting to recognise it and choosing it over fish from Lithuania or Poland, not only because of the brand, but also because they feel local fish must be more fresh.

Feed, electricity the main running costs

While growing the fish to a market size of around 500 g takes about 10-15 months, if the weather is suitable then the fish can be placed in ponds outside and they will grow faster. But to grow fish to 1,000 g will take 2.5 to 3 years. Anna Fish is getting its feed from a Finnish company. The company tried various suppliers and finally settled on the company in Finland as the feed met all the fishes’ nutritional requirements and the company was flexible and accommodating even though the volumes are not large. Recirculation systems use the water in the plant repeatedly, filtering it after each use so that it can be returned to the system again. However, small volumes of new water are added with each cycle. The water is sourced from a spring and each hour 500-700 litres are added to the plant. The water is however not the biggest running cost. Feed and electricity are bigger posts in the budget, the latter because the water has to be heated from a temperature of 9 degrees, when it is pumped up to about 15 degrees, which is the temperature at which the system is maintained. This is the temperature most suited to the bacteria in the biological filter, the heart of any recirculation system. Anna Fish is planning an expansion during the course of 2016 which will result in a three-fold increase in production capacity as well as storage for frozen products.

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