A land-based, recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) kingfish farm in the Netherlands is aiming to have samples of fish on the market this year, before ramping up in 2018.
Kingfish Zeeland -- which has raised over €20 million from private investors and Rabobank and has Hans den Bieman, the former CEO of Marine Harvest and Nutreco as a shareholder and chairman -- will introduce the first samples of 1-2 kilogram fish to the market in October 2017, CEO Ohad Maiman told Undercurrent News.
In January 2018, the aim is to have 2-3kg sizes, with a fast ramp up to production at capacity of around 600 metric tons a year reached by May/June 2018.
Phase one of Kingfish Zeeland’s main site will be stocked in December, with constriction nearly completed.
“We previously purchased a neighboring farm (site B) and converted the existing building into a RAS facility with several independent active grow out systems, which are currently stocked,” he said.
Site B also has a broodstock and hatchery unit where the company has recently completed our first full cycle, starting with eggs from our breeders and on to fully weaned fingerlings moving to grow out, said Maiman.
“Overall zoning and water source availability at our current site in the Netherlands allow for expansion to 4,000t,” Maiman, who was formerly the vice president of business development with Merhav Group, an Israel-based project management firm covering the oil and gas, petrochemical, water treatment and agricultural industries, said.
“We expect to sanction first on-site expansion to 2,000t, as well as commence development of a US operation as soon as steady initial production is demonstrated,” he said.
“US site selection will only commence once we have demonstrated stable production in our current phase one, and will be guided by water source availability and proximity to main premium seafood customer hubs,” said Maiman.
The €20m plus funds are just for the first stage of development of the company’s site A, so 600t of 2,000t total capacity at the site, he said.
Maiman is confident of the "current investor base support" for future funding. "We have built in a mechanism allowing us to include additional investors with a strategic, added-value both now, as well as during expansions. Otherwise, we expect expansion to be largely based on revenue, however we may opt to conduct additional fundraising if the market demands a faster expansion," he said.
He declined to reveal turnover targets from the operation.
Kingfish Zeeland has made “higher-than-typical” investment in high capacity water exchange and filtration capabilities. “Funds were provided partly by high net worth private investors from the tech and agro industry sectors, and completed by financing from Rabobank.”
Due to being engaged in the high capital and operating expenditure sector, the company has “borrowed a page from the Tesla playbook”, said Maiman, in reference to US entrepreneur Elon Musk’s electronic car firm.
The company has “chosen to commence with the high priced 'roadster', with the intention of eventually reaching a position in which we are able to go into mid-market products, once production efficiencies grow and market prices for seafood in general continue to rise”, he said. Musk’s Tesla is, in fact, just getting ready to launch its first 'mass-market' car.
As well as den Bieman, the company’s chief operating officer, Kees Kloet, has decades of experience in aquaculture.
According to the company’s website, Kloet is the first to build and operate a RAS yellowtail kingfish RAS farm, named Silt.
He has been involved in the start-up of approximately 30 RAS fish farms worldwide, the site states.
New Kobe beef category of fish
The response from the market has been positive.
“We are quite excited by preliminary reactions from chefs and their suppliers, as well as initial discussions with premium retailers, as it seems that the choices we made towards sustainable and high quality production resonate well particularly with the premium market segment,” he said.
The facts the farm is running on 100% renewable energy, using high grade trimmings-based organic feed, as well as the built-in RAS advantages of enabling antibiotics and parasite free production, have all played well, he said. “I personally see RAS as a technology that offers a unique opportunity and a competitive advantage particularly when producing a high-grade product.”
RAS is the only fish production method where all inputs can be chosen, controlled, and optimized; “we can -- and I think should -- opt for high performance systems and the highest-grade inputs”, he said. “Since the end product is a direct outcome of its inputs, we have the opportunity to go further than is currently available, where we control everything that 'goes in', and make sure that only the highest quality 'ingredients' are used.”
Also, the company is able to offer fast delivery of fresh fish. Maiman is confident the market to be “positively surprised by what a truly fresh high quality yellowtail tastes like, compared to the current long range questionably fresh supply that the EU market has grown accustomed to”.
Given the choices made toward high-grade inputs and system capacities, Kingfish Zeeland sees its product as a “new Kobe beef category of fish”.
Rabobank sees benefits of RAS
Maiman feels Kingfish Zeeland has found a like-minded financier in Rabobank.
“We are grateful to Rabobank for having the vision to venture into the RAS sector, as to our knowledge no other commercial bank has been willing to finance a RAS operation,” he said.
Of the ten-plus banks Kingfish Zeeland approached, only Rabobank was willing to get involved in the RAS sector, said Maiman.