A tale of three hatcheries

15 Jul 2010
Kilic Group’s Bafa hatchery is nearly as big as a small town.

Kilic Group’s Bafa hatchery is nearly as big as a small town. (Photo: Kilic)

Turkey’s three leading gilthead seabream and European seabass hatcheries could not be more different if they tried. At one end of the spectrum is the Kilic Group where everything – including the size of the fry they grow ­- is done big. At the opposite end is Akuvatur where philosophy and ethics are discussed so much you start to wonder if fry are transported in a fleet of 1972 VW vans. Smack in-between is Pinar Balik which treads a comfortable middle path between the two.

In the mid-1990s Kilic’s chairman, Orhan Kilic, started on his drive to be No. 1. Everything was built with this idea in mind, from its hatcheries, to its feed mill, to today and the 50-metre diameter cages they use – the largest in the Mediterranean region. Even his fry - grown to 20 grams - are the largest.

“If you are going to build, you build with the idea of where you want to be, not where you are now,” he says.

In a world of hatcheries from Thailand to Newfoundland, where most seem to be put together from odds, ends and design after-thoughts, Kilic’s hatcheries stand out. Efficient, clean and well ordered are the words that come instantly to mind.

“With our three hatcheries we have a total capacity of 200 million fry, making us the world’s largest producer of European seabass and gilthead seabream fry,” says Hakan Kucuksari, Kilic’s Bafa Hatchery production manager. “This year we’ll produce 90 million in Bafa, with a total production of 120 million, divided up around 60/40, seabass to bream. Almost all will be for our own grow-out production.”

When Bafa Hatchery’s site was selected, more than luck was on the company’s side because few places which can boast better water. Although the sea is over 20 kilometres away, a borewell under the hatchery brings up saltwater at just the right temperature (26 deg C) and salinity level (38ppm) that fry require.

The water is so pure that it is only run through a particle filter and then hit with a UV filter before it’s run out to the fry tanks, where oxygen is added – borewell water is always oxygen deficient. The water is checked daily for any traces of bacteria, which comes out nearly always the same - none.

Bafa is divided into three seabass units and three seabream units, with one unit in each section always being dried out. In addition, each of the three hatcheries operates under a 10-month production year; with a complete hatchery two month dry-out period. This period is staggered between the three hatcheries so there is always fry being produced.

“If you try to keep production going year-round without drying out your tanks and doing a proper clean, you’ll only have problems,” says Kucuksari.

Seabream larvae are started first on rotifers (near-microscopic fresh/salt water animals) which are enriched with either Inve’s S.presso or Bern Aqua’s Red Pepper to give the rotifers added nutritional value.

During the first 20-25 days, seabream water is infused with algae causing the water to turn green. Because the fry remain semi-hidden from each other, greenwater helps prevent cannibalisation with seabream and adds a slight nutritional benefit to their diet.

Seabass, which do not require greenwater, are started on artemia (brine shrimp) right away, which seabream are moved onto gradually. The hatchery grows around 50kg of artemia a day, but like all of Kilic ’s operations, the hatchery has the capacity to grow over double that amount.

For seabream, artemia is enriched with Inve’s Spari Selco; for seabass the artemia is enriched with Inve’s Serrani Selco. Both seabass/bream are moved on to Inve’s Proton fry feed.

“In total, about 70% of all our hatchery feed comes from Inve; we use progressively larger sizes of Proton until they can move on to regular feed. We are always experimenting to see what else is out there – all hatcheries do – but we always come back to what gives us good results. All hatcheries have to see for themselves what works.

“All our feeding is done by hand; we think this is very important for fry. You need a person to see the tank. Things can go wrong very quickly at a hatchery; an automatic feeder cannot pick this up, only a human can.”

Before Turkey’s aquaculture regulations were finally enforced two years ago which force all farms to move offshore, most fry were grown to around one to five grams and then transferred to grown-out cages very close to shore. Now, however, because offshore grow-out conditions are rougher, fry are grown from five to 20 grams to give them a better start.

“We grow the fry to 20 grams in 130 cubic metre tanks. No other hatchery has tanks of this size and no other hatchery here can grow fry to this large size,” says Kucuksari.

 

A different way

There are unwritten rules in aquaculture; you only grow species for well established markets; you put quantity over quality; and you never break new trails. Akuvatur has been consistently breaking these rules since 1990 when it first entered the Turkish scene, with the idea of growing shrimp.

Dr Tuncer Haluk, chairman and guiding light for Akuvatur, says that he is after the type of customer who instead of buying a battery chicken every night, buys chicken only once a week but wants it perfect and is willing to spend the extra money. His type of customer want perfect fish.

To further complicate matters, instead of accomplishing this goal with commonly grown European seabass or gilthead seabream, Akuvatur is growing seven “new” species of fish, ranging from red banded seabream to shi drum.

Fed on special feeds made by Akuvatur, the goal is to produce fish that taste as good – if not better – than wild. It’s an interesting idea, but shareholders must be thankful Akuvatur has its hatchery to pay the bills.

Akuvatur’s main hatchery, which grows seabass/bream is located in Turkey’s Milas region, close to Bodrum. Where the hatchery is today is where Akuvatur once grew shrimp until it became impossible to match supply with demand. And so it turned to fish.

“We have three hatcheries with a total combined capacity of around 60 million. But one hatchery we’re using now only for broodstock, so with the other two, we’ll have a production of around 25 million this year,” says Akuvatur board member Tanju Akkaya.

Although differences between Akuvatur and other hatcheries could fill reams of paper, one of the key differences is that Akuvatur does not grow-out the millions of European seabass and gilthead seabream fry it produces.

“We don’t believe a hatchery should compete against its customers so we keep only around 1% of the fry we grow here, everything else we sell,” says Akkaya. “We don’t sell the fry of our new fish species, but grow it out all ourselves.”

Like at Baka Hatchery, Akuvatur brings in most of its water from a borewell, there the similarities end. The water is too cold for seabass and bream fry so it is heated by a coal/olive pit burning furnace. Water salinity is only 6 to 7ppm so it needs to be “topped up” with saltwater which comes in via a 3.8km pipeline. Instead of using greenwater for seabream larvae, Akuvatur is right now using ‘brown’.

“This isn’t some type of new technology, we’re just using dried clay because lately we’ve been having a hard time importing dried algae,” says Akkaya.

“We do grow our own algae but it’s only used to feed the rotifers which we enrich and then feed to the seabream as a first food. We use mostly Inve products for our rotifers and artemia, and then some Bern Aqua’s Red Pepper as well. I think almost everyone uses that combination.”

Akuvatur is aware that customers are beginning to want fry larger than the 2g that they produce, but have not yet been able to make the change to larger sizes.

“We don’t have the infrastructure to grow bigger fry. We have the land but not the finances to build bigger ponds,” says Akkaya. “We’ll have to make the change but I don’t know when.”

What many of Akuvatur’s employees find frustrating is that while Dr Haluk’s ideas over the years border on brilliance, conditions outside the company’s control such as Greek over-production of fish and the world financial collapse have made these ideas come to mote.

“So we have our own new species broodstock, hatcheries, grow-out facilities, we even produce our own special feed making us Turkey’s smallest vertically integrated aquaculture company. But while other companies measure their grow-out in tonnes, ours is measured in 100kgs,” he says. “It is the sale of top-quality fry which keeps the rest of the business afloat.”

 

The middle ground

While in fry production Pinar Balik’s will produce only slightly more than Akuvatur this year – down from the last few years due to industry problems – its managers probably sleep much easier.

Owned by Turkey’s Yasar Group, there are 25 other companies which make up the group ranging from beef production to paint to animal feeds. Kilic and Akuvatur might be going it alone, but Pinar has the backing, expertise and finances of a large group to support it.

“We are the oldest hatchery and cage farmer in Turkey and one of the oldest in Europe,” says Salih Koseler, sea products plant manager in Izmir, adding that Pinar is the second largest fry producer in Turkey, with 4,000 tonnes grow-out capacity.

“Our hatchery has a capacity of producing 60 million fry. In 2008 we grew 35 million; this year we started with the idea of growing 25 million but it will probably be 30 million by year’s end, growing about 30% gilthead seabream and 70% European seabass.

“We only grow fry for our own grow-out cages and for placed orders. We don’t grow fry and then hope to sell it on speculation.”

Pinar is located right next to the sea and so brings in water in from it. Unfortunately, this means in the winter it has to heat the water and in the summer it must use a heat pump to lower its temperature.

Broodstock comes from the local sea and every year about 20% are changed, with fish selected on a basis of body size, shape and health. Light and water temperature manipulation is used to get fish to breed out of season; this gives Pinar four breeding cycles a year.

“We don’t use genetic tagging to ensure that new broodstock is not in the same family group as existing broodstock. The chances of this happening are very, very small,” Koseler says.

For greenwater, Pinar buys dried algae from either Reed Mariculture or Inve. Rotifer and artemia enrichment comes from Inve and Bern Aqua. Yasar Group’s feed factory produces the fry feed Pinar needs.

Despite the hatchery starting to look its age, there are no immediate plans to rebuild it. However, a processing/packaging plant which is located right next to the hatchery is going to move into new facilities in Izmir.

“You have to keep a hatchery as free from contaminants as you can. Having a processing plant right next door with a constant stream of freshly killed adult fish makes this hard to do.”

Taking a page from Akuvatur, Pinar is experimenting with several new species. “We tried dentex but it has too long of growing cycle lasting almost three years. We’ve just put 500,000 sharp nose bream fry into grow-out cages. They should be market ready in about two years.”