In line with our stance of providing customers with fresh, traceable produce from sustainable sources, Tom Harvey, protein commercial manager at Spinneys, started working with Fish Farm LLC in late 2017.
Founded in 2013, Fish Farm is a pioneering aquaculture company headquartered in Dubai that comprises an offshore farm located in Dibba, a hatchery in Um Al Quwain and an inland farming facility in Jebel Ali. The farm currently has the capacity to produce 2,000 tonnes of fish with 500 tonnes coming from its onshore facility and 1,500 coming from the enclosures in Dibba.
Fish Farm produce first hit our shelves towards the end of last year in November and has now been rolled out across select larger stores. We recently visited Fish Farm’s facility in Dibba where we spoke to Nigel Lewis, the company’s technical director. After showing us around the offshore site comprising several screen-walled enclosures, the fish-farming expert gave us an insight into the process: “The species we produce are sea bream and sea bass but we also produce hammour, yellow tail king fish, red sea bream and limited quantities of gabit and shaam, which are two local species.”
Fish Farm’s aim is to minimise the effect it has on the environment. Farming local species allows the company to use its resources to help relieve the pressure on local fish stocks and to support the surrounding community. Lewis says that so far, the response from the government and the local community has been positive: “We employ and recruit locally and for every tonne of fish that’s in our farm, that’s one tonne less that has to be fished from the wild. Fisherman still catch the fish but we’re relieving the pressure on the endangered species here.”
In line with all GCC countries, Fish Farm adheres to Halal requirements but they go one step further. Lewis explained: “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.”
The feed used at the fish farm is organic, completely traceable and used in a way that has little to no impact on the environment. Lewis affirmed: “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.”
The fish take between 11 and 12 months to reach market weight – that’s typically 400 to 600 grams for sea bream. Lewis gave us an overview of the process: “The fish are harvested 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 market. They should be in Dubai five or six hours from the time we take them from the sea.”
This is in stark contrast to Fish Farm’s European competitors. 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 by the time it gets to the supermarket.
Certain examples of badly executed fish farms have resulted in negative connotations when it comes to farmed fish, but Bader Obaid Mubarak, CEO & owner representative of Fish Farm is keen to dispel this notion: “There should be no reticence whatsoever. Farmed fish is like any farmed animal. Fish is the only food that we still hunt. It is a healthy source of protein that has special nutritional values. It’s good brain food, it keeps cholesterol down, and is in every single way, a very good food.”
Back in Dubai, at Fish Farm’s Jebel Ali facility, we met with Edmund Broad, Fish Farm’s business manager and Tom Harvey, who visits the site regularly. Here, the company produces the sea bass, sea bream and hammour which they currently supply to Spinneys.
The room, nicknamed ‘Mission Control’, is where the recirculation tanks are monitored and it wouldn’t look out of place at NASA. It’s arguably one of the most high-tech fish farms in the world, they can control the oxygen, salinity, PH and the current in which the fish swim. Speaking about Fish Farm’s partnership with Spinneys, Broad said: “We’re really pleased to be working with Spinneys as it’s a retailer that fits perfectly with our ethos. Harvey added: “We’ve got the consistency, the quality, the traceability and we’re still delivering just as much freshness as the local wild-caught fish, but in a sustainable manner.”
And this is just the beginning of a fruitful partnership – the range of fish species on offer is set to expand with even a regional first on the cards. “We’re working to deliver more locally produced fish species in collaboration with Fish Farm so watch this space”, said Harvey.