Sturgeon farm expands production

by Thomas Jensen

Antoni Lakomiak, the CEO and board chairman of Gospodarstwo Rybackie Goslawice Sp.z.o.o., as well as owner of the group.

Gospodarstwo Rybackie Goslawice in Konin was established fifty years ago to exploit the availability of warm water from a nearby thermal power plant to raise grass carp, bighead carp, and common carp. In the years that followed the production of other species was introduced including whitefish, pike-perch, tilapia, paddlefish, ornamental fish, European catfish, and sturgeons.



Marek Szczukowski, the CEO of Gospodarstwo Rybackie Olsztyn II and chairman of the board.

For the last thirty years Gospodarstwo Rybackie Goslawice has been run by Antoni Lakomiak, a graduate from the University of Olsztyn’s popular faculty of water protection, fisheries, and ichthyology. In 1992 the radical political changes in Poland also brought changes to the fish farm which started rearing catfish, ornamental fish and sturgeon in addition to carp species. The introduction of some of the new species had far-reaching consequences on the company.

Sturgeon bred for caviar, carp for the table

Szymon Lakomiak is production manager at the Olsztyn site.

Today, sturgeon breeding for caviar is the main occupation, but the company also has two other commercial activities. A hatchery for the production of fry and the rearing of market-sized table fish. In addition, the farm provides angling facilities for pleasure fishermen, an activity designed more for promotion than for commercial gain. The hatchery was established in the 70s and at its peak was one of the biggest suppliers of fry to farms all over the country. Today the production is mainly intended for the company’s own purposes, but other farmers can still buy fry of carps (grass carp, sliver carp, bighead carp) and catfish if the order is placed in advance. The rearing of fish for the market benefits from the thermal plant’s warm water, which prevents the ponds and channels from freezing in winter and thus prolongs the period when the fish can be fed. This means that the breeding cycle can be reduced as the fish mature faster and reach market size more quickly.

Anglers coming to try their luck also benefit from the warm water from the thermal plant as the ponds do not freeze in winter and the fishermen can pursue their hobby also in the cold season. The angling ponds and lakes are restocked with fish from the hatchery and pleasure fishermen come both from within Poland and from outside to fish these ponds. A number of facilities, fishing platforms, small vessels, bathrooms etc. add to the attractions of the site, but most important is probably the chance to catch a large specimen whether common carp, grass carp, bream, roach, chub, or a predatory fish such as pike or perch. These catches are acknowledged on websites and social media generating useful publicity for the company.

Production based on two species of sturgeon

Since 2004 the company has focused on the production of two species of sturgeon, Acipenser baerii or Siberian sturgeon, and A. gueldenstaedtii or Russian sturgeon, which are used for the production of caviar. Mr Lakomiak did a lot of groundwork before deciding to produce caviar, travelling extensively in Italy, France, and Germany to meet with people, visit farms, and learn about the market for caviar. The original idea was not to produce the caviar, but to establish collaborations with some of the producers in western Europe and sell them eight to nine-year-old female sturgeons for them to produce the caviar. This business model lasted from about 2010 to 2012 after which, for various reasons, the company decided to take the plunge and enter the caviar market itself.

Channels at the Konin site where the water comes from a thermal power plant and is warmer than usual – a big advantage in winter.

The first step was the purchase of an existing farm that had been used for the production of trout in raceways. The new acquisition was located in Olsztyn some 300 km away and was selected for its existing infrastructure and abundant, high quality, supply of water, which, critically, was also the right temperature. The farm was adapted for the production of sturgeon and a new facility to process the caviar was also built. For Mr Lakomiak this was a fundamental departure from what he had originally envisaged. As a fisher and an ichthyologist I did not want to get involved in processing and marketing caviar, he says. “But then I realised that we had a number of young and talented people around us, who could make things work, and I changed my mind.” Mr Lakomiak was keen to maintain the conditions under which the sturgeons grow as close to natural as possible. This meant allowing them to feed and gain weight at a natural rate as this would also have a bearing on the quality of the caviar. According to him sturgeons raised in other systems may mature faster, but at the same time they tend to be much more fatty and this also affects the caviar, not only the quality, but also the volume. Processing caviar that is excessively fatty is also more demanding and the final product is never as good. Excessive fat also shortens the shelf life of the caviar.


Sturgeons live first on one farm then the other

The sturgeons are divided between the site in Konin and the one in Olsztyn. Fingerlings from the Konin farm when they weigh around 5 g are brought to the nursery at Olsztyn. The fish are moved from the nursery to the ongrowing tanks after two or three weeks, when they reach some 20 g in weight. As they grow the fish are kept under close observation and when they reach about two kg they are transported back to the Konin farm. The reason for this distribution is partly logistical. The smaller fish do not require much space and so can be accommodated in Olsztyn, where space is at a premium. The bigger fish which require more space are kept in Konin, where the farm is much larger having an area of 500 ha.

At about four years the males and the females are separated and the males are sold as meat. The male fish do not produce caviar and the market for meat is not lucrative to justify the expense of feed and the space they will occupy. A year or so later the remaining females are subjected either to an ultrasound or a biopsy to check the status of the eggs. Fish whose eggs are at the same st
age of maturation are placed together. The eggs go through distinct phases as they develop, changing colour from white to grey to dark and also growing in size from 0.1 mm in diameter to the final 2.5 or 2.6 mm in diameter when they are ready to be harvested. At this stage, the fish are eight to nine years old and ready to be transported back to Olsztyn for the final stage of their lives.

The nursery at Olsztyn, where the young sturgeon are brought before they are transferred to the outdoor raceways.

Caviar is produced from October to April thanks to the low temperature of the water at Olsztyn. Cold water is essential for the production because the females need to be in water that is below 10 degrees centigrade for four to eight weeks before the caviar is harvested. Under natural conditions there are two signals that tell the sturgeon to go upstream to spawn, one of these is temperature, and the other is light. While light conditions are much the same at the Olsztyn site and in Konin, the water temperature differs significantly. In October when the water at Olsztyn is five or six degrees, it is 16-18 degrees in Konin. These signals influence the production of hormones in the female, which cause her to direct her resources to maturation of the eggs and preparing them for release. The fish must be slaughtered to retrieve the caviar. According to Mr Szczukowski, this is the only way to produce genuine caviar that has the expected taste, aroma, and mouth feel. Experiments that stripped ovulated caviar from the fish resulted in quite a different (and inferior) product though they spared the fish and allowed them to reproduce again.

Exacting standards result in quality product

Two species of sturgeon are reared on the farms, Acipenser baerii or Siberian sturgeon and A. gueldenstaedtii (pictured) or Russian sturgeon.

The plant where the caviar is processed is equipped with all the facilities to ensure a product of the highest quality. Air filters to purify the air, which is circulated some 20 times an hour, cooling to keep the rooms at 12 degrees, hospital levels of sanitation and hygiene, fully sterilised equipment, a disinfection programme that takes eight hours to implement each day for just two modest rooms, regular laboratory controls, daily bacterial checks etc. Ensuring that the facility was hygienic enough for the production of caviar was the work of Mr Szczukowski, who explains that the reason for this almost obsessive cleanliness is because caviar is not a pasteurised product and therefore needs to be produced in a completely germ free environment to ensure a decent shelf life. Every step in the production has to be carried out with the most meticulous attention to detail as the slightest error can jeopardise the end product. Washing, drying, salting, packaging, must all follow a strict regime if the product is not to be discarded. At the same time each fish is different and the caviar is also different, so the workers have to be able to sense the amount of washing, drying, salting is appropriate for each batch of eggs. Producing good caviar is, in other words, an art rather than a science, says Mr Szczukowski.

Production is typically between May and September, but new tanks are planned at the Olsztyn site to make better use of the available water and to expand production. The plans will also cover the processing plant which will not be rebuilt, but will be enlarged. The expansion should allow the company to produce caviar for 9-10 months in the year as opposed to six months which it is currently doing.

Gospodarstwo Rybackie Goslawice Sp.z.o.o.
Ul. Rybacka 2


62-510 Konin


Tel.: +48 504 048 420

Fax: +48 63 246 7129


Board chairman: Antoni Lakomiak

Gospodarstwo Rybackie Olsztyn Sp. z.o.o.
Rus 97


10-685 Olsztyn


Tel.: +48 505 664 221

Fax.: +48 89 541 03 29

Board chairman: Marek Szczukowski

Activity: Production of sturgeon for caviar; production of caviar


Stock: 2,000 tonnes

Species: Acipenser baerii (60%), Acipenser gueldenstaedtii (40%)

Processing capacity: 200 kg of caviar per day

Brand: Antonius Caviar

Markets: EU, Asia, USA

Employees: 62

Can sizes: 30 g to 1.7 kg

Selling under own brand is a challenge

The final stage in the production is when the caviar is packaged for maturation, a process that varies in duration from caviar to caviar and depends on factors like temperature and humidity. The taste of the caviar intensifies under maturation, and a one-month old caviar tastes quite different from the product that has matured for a year. But Gospodarstwo Rybackie also packages caviar under its own brand “Antonius Caviar” in cans that start at 30 g. These are sold mainly in the EU. Only about two percent of the production is sold in Poland, where a combination of the high price and a lack of a caviar-eating tradition deter sales. What is sold under this brand is only a small proportion of the production. Most farmers only manage to sell 5-10% of their production under
their brand, says Mr Lakomiak. The bulk of the production is sold to traders who mature the caviar and then repackage it into 30, 50, 125 or 250 g tins. Within the EU, France, Italy, and increasingly Germany are important markets, and thanks to a single-minded focus on the production of quality caviar that list of countries can only increase in the future.

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