By Colin Ley
By Colin Ley
While much has happened, and many changes made, during the farm’s development from 1898 until now, one key factor has remained absolutely steadfast throughout the past 115 years, namely the reliable bubbling of pure spring water from beneath the foothills of the Chartreuse mountains, feeding the farm’s broodstock and production areas with their most essential ingredient at a constant 11.7°C and at 1800 liters per second.
“The quality of this precious resource is as valuable to us today as it was when our great grandfather first recognized its potential at the very beginning,” said Laurent. “Keeping the business within our family for all those years has been a personal decision, of course, taken in turn by each generation. The richness of our water supply throughout the history of the farm, however, is what has always made the operation far too good for us to ever think of selling it on.”
Located in the village of Beaufort on the edge of the Alps, 60 kilometers southeast of Lyon, the family’s Sources des Fontaines farm’s annual production of 650 to 700 tons includes brown, rainbow and brook trout and Arctic charr.
“Once our great grandfather acquired access to the Oron Springs in 1898 he set about producing trout for sale in Lyon,” said Laurent. “He saw the potential of that marketplace which was relatively undeveloped for fish sales at the time. He was obviously correct in his assessment, however, as we’re still selling fish to several high quality outlets in Lyon today.”
Current farm production is 45% for the supply of live fish to other farmers and angling organizations and 55% for the delivery of fresh fish to restaurants and top level retailers.
“The highly seasonal nature of the farming and restocking sectors means that we couldn’t survive on live fish sales alone, even if we wanted to,” said Laurent. “As it is, we enjoy the fresh fish part of our operation just as much as our live fish business. Selling to restaurants and specialist fish outlets allows us to highlight the quality of our output in terms of appearance, taste and texture.”
Taste considerations and a keen awareness of consumer confidence, also plays a major part in Laurent and Vincent’s choice of GMO-free cereals and marine-based items for their fish diet selection. They moved away from the use of animal-based feed ingredients more than 20 years ago in response to BSE and are only now beginning to look at the renewed possibility of softening their marine-only feed requirement.
“Using GMO-free cereals and marine-only feed has given us good Omega 3/Omega 6 status with consumers in recent years,” said Laurent.
Dispensing feed at Sources des Fontaines is always carried out in tune with the ‘biological rhythms’ of the stock. This is another aspect of their desire to maintain calmness and tranquility across the farming system.
Quality a key
Fresh fish output is processed in the farm’s own plant, enabling deliveries to be planned so that consumers are regularly tasting Murgat fish little more than one day after their slaughter.
“Attention to product quality is obviously a vital part of our business and has been throughout our 115-year history,” said Laurent.
While clearly a valuable point for their own business, quality is also important to the brothers in their position as long-term contributors to France’s trout farming industry which currently has a combined annual output of about 35,000 tons.
“While this is considerably less than what was being produced 15 years ago, when production peaked at around 55,000 tons, our industry today is doing ‘okay’ with the definite possibility for producers to operate profitably,” said Laurent, “especially with the pressure on caught sea fish stocks continuing to increase.”
Pressures are also growing, however, in relation to fish farming resources in France, with the business and environmental demands of agriculture, energy, road building and housing all having a bearing on land and water requirements.
“There are many competing demands for these resources, of course, but they are still being well protected by the French system,” said Laurent. “In addition, the way in which our water supplies originate in the local alpine region, filtering down to beneath the Chartreuse Mountains, provides good natural protection for this precious commodity.”
Whether or not this means their business will still be functioning 115 years from now is impossible to say. For the foreseeable future, however, the venture which great grandfather Charles founded in 1898 is well placed to play a sustained, leading and tasty role in the future of French trout farming.
Certainly, Charles Murgat Pisciculture is maintaining a long-term R&D investment programme, the latest part of which features the development of a ‘revolutionary’ automatic feeding system which will be completed within the next few months.