Fish Farm is a pioneering local aquaculture company that supplies Spinneys with home-grown and organic sea bream,sea bass and now organic salmon. We caught up with the company’s business manager Edmund Broad and the technical director Nigel Lewis in Dibba to find out more...
Fish Farm was founded in 2013 and has an offshore farm in Dibba, a hatchery in Umm Al Quwain and an inland farming facility in Jebel Ali. What does this mean in terms of capacity?
Edmund: Overall, we currently have the capacity to produce 2,000 tonnes of fish with 500 tonnes coming from our onshore facility and 1,500 coming from the enclosures in Dibba.
Spinneys Commercial Manager, Tom with Fish Farm's Edmund Broad
Your inland farming facility in Jebel Ali is arguably one of the most high-tech and environmentally friendly fish farms in the world. Tell us more.
Edmund: Essentially, Fish Farm’s aim is to minimise the effect it has on the environment. Farming sea bass and sea bream and local species like hamour, allows us to relieve pressure on local and endangered fish stocks and also, critical to our “local is best” ethos, reduce the practice of importing fish from all over the world. For every tonne of fish that’s in our farm, that’s one tonne less that has to be fished from the wild. And running the type of operation that we do allows us to control everything from the food the fish eat, to the current in which they swim. All the indoor tanks are monitored electronically and we can watch them on screens in our “Mission Control” room. If something should go wrong with oxygen or salinity levels, or the PH for example, we’re alerted immediately. While this is a capital intensive business, this really is the future of fish farming.
You’re raising baby fish in the recirculation tanks in Jebel Ali, before moving them out to sea at Dibba to grow to market weight. Where do you source the initial larvae, or baby fish from?
Edmund: We source eggs or larvae from sustainable sources in Greece for our sea bass and sea bream. We harvest eggs from wild fish stocks for the hammour.
How long does it take for the fish to be fully grown?
Nigel: They take between 11 and 12 months to reach market weight. That’s typically 400 to 600 grams for sea bream.
Juvenile fish swim in the carefully-monitored tanks at the onshore facility
What do you feed your fish?
Nigel: The food we use is organic, completely traceable and used in a way that has little to no impact on the environment. We use the best possible ingredients because we are what we eat and there’s no truer case than with fish. One important aspect for the feed is that if it’s used efficiently by the fish, there’s very little waste. If you use poor quality feed you have a lot of waste. Also, we feed only non-land animal protein diets which means halal certification is not an issue. We substitute some of the fish meal that we use with green protein which comes from organic plant-based sources.
Imported fish is about two to three days’ old by the time it gets to Dubai. It takes at least another day to be distributed so the average fish is four days’ old by the time it gets to the supermarket. Talk us through your harvest-to-market process
Nigel: The fish are harvested in Dibba at 6am in the morning. They’re taken straight from the enclosure where they are put to sleep in ice-cold water. This serves the dual purpose of being a humane way of dispatching the fish as well as chilling them for packing. Once they’re chilled, they’re packed with ice, sealed in polystyrene boxes and then sent to the market. They should be in Dubai five or six hours from the time we take them from the sea.
Being able to offer customers like Spinneys a one-day turn around instead of a four-day harvest-to-market process from abroad makes us proud.
Edmund: Being able to offer customers like Spinneys a one-day turn around instead of a four-day harvest-to-market process from abroad makes us proud. Celebrity chef Rick Stein is a bit of hero of mine, and when he was asked what the best fish is, he said “a fresh one!” Knowing that we’re supplying the freshest fish in the UAE is very gratifying.
You've recently launched a ground-breaking salmon project that's a UAE first. Tell us about it...
Edmund: Yes, this is really exciting because we are globally the first company to be farming market-size salmon on land. So far, no one has managed this, or been crazy enough to try. Generally, ocean-based salmon farming is fraught with problems including the occurrence of sea lice, issues with micro plastics, wild fish breaking into the nets and the farmed fish escaping etc. Overall this type of farming has a huge impact on the marine environment. As mentioned, we’re passionate about taking pressure off the oceans, so being able to use our knowledge and resources to now farm salmon is a feat.
Where are your salmon from?
Edmund: This is a funny story! We sourced thousands of fingerlings from Loch Fyne in Scotland and flew them over on Emirates Airlines in fresh water oxygen tanks. Nigel travelled with them all the way. We also bought little eggs from Scotland and hatched our own salmon here.
How does your land-based salmon farming process work?
Edmund: Wild salmon usually swim against the current in the river in which they spawn. When they reach maturity, they know they need to turn around, leave the river, and go out to sea. Our farmed salmon start off in fresh water tanks, swimming against a current we create. When they reach maturity, they know from genetic memory (despite being farmed) that they need to turn around. It’s fascinating to watch as they all suddenly starting changing direction - and that’s when transfer them to sea water tanks.
Edmund: Look out for the “Grown in the UAE” and “Organic” tags on the fish in your local stores to be sure you are buying locally reared fish.