Science - March 3, 2010

Charting new waters for the yellowtail kingfish

Imares lends a hand in breeding and marketing. Tuna-like fish has all it takes to become a success.

Yellowtail
The kitchen in restaurant De Kip in Rotterdam is bustling with activity. Crowded into this little space are six food tasters jostling one another as they move around the trays containing pearly white, raw and lightly fried fish meat: the result of the first yellowtail kingfish reared in the Netherlands - the yellowtail kingfish, a native of Australia seas, bred here by fish farmer and consultant Kees Kloet. The fish experts are judging the Dutch-bred fish on taste and quality. The imported Australian variety is also on the taste list as a comparison.
The pieces of fish are snapped up voraciously. 'A little tough', comments Marnix Poelman, project member at Imares, referring to the raw Austrialian yellowtail kingfish competing for favour. 'The Dutch variety tastes better to me; it doesn't have any penetrating flavour and the quality is sublime.' Maurice Langezaal, quality manager at fishmonger Schmidt Zeevis, also raves about the new product: 'The quality of the Dutch Yellowtail takes my breath away. It can only become better as we get to know more about it.'

Decline
If the yellowtail makes it in the Netherlands, that will be good news for the ailing Dutch fish farming sector which has been on the decline through the years. Their catfish has been a flop in the market; eel-farming faces an uncertain advent of glass eels, and fresh tilapia commands only a small market share due to cheaper imports. The yellowtail kingfish will break through, according to Oliver Schneider of Imares. Schneider is managing a project to rear this new farmed fish variety in the Netherlands sustainably and to bring it into the market. Funds will come from the Fisheries Innovation Platform. Imares, the project manager, will provide know-how on sustainable breeding and the stepping stones to the market.
 
Sustainability
So far, it's been thumbs up for the taste of the yellowtail kingfish, but it needs to have more to succeed in the market as a farmed fish. That's why other qualities of the fish are also being looked into. 'We have purposely viewed it from the point of view of the market, as was requested', says Schneider as he explains the project strategy. 'Apart from a high meat quality, sustainability also plays a major role.'
'Recent developments have enabled the fish to be bred in Australia, thus doing away with the need to fish for young fishes in the sea', project member Poelman continues. 'Besides, this fish can be classified as sustainable because it can serve as an alternative to the threatened swordfish and tuna, it grows fast and can be reared efficiently.'
According to Poelman, if the fish is reared in a recirculation system at about 23 degrees, it would take only about seven months for it to grow from a few grams to a saleable weight of about a kilo. While rearing them in Australia is a little cheaper than in the Netherlands, Poelman says this would not pose a problem. 'The biggest advantage of Dutch farming is that we can save a lot of transport costs. So we would have more margin to cover the higher production costs.' 

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