“It was a struggle at the beginning with some of our early fish having to be kept under a wire
mesh to stop them from jumping out of their pens. After adding a requirement for tranquility into our breeding crosses, however, our eventual strain became much more docile and easy to manage than they were when we started out.
“Today, for example, our broodstock will return to feeding within 15 minutes of a grading operation. That contrasts with the two days it took the fish to settle after being graded 30 years ago.
“We’ve also been able to develop substantially better growth rates, during that time, alongside an increase in fillet yields, advancing from a starting point of 40% to a current yield of 45%.
“As a result, our broodstock are now known as the ‘Dutch Strain’ across Africa, which is obviously a great compliment.”
Based in Someren, near Eindhoven, Fleuren and Nooijen was set up in 1985 as a spin-off business from Wageningen University, sharing facilities and office space with Til-Aqua International, a specialist tilapia-based hatchery and hatchery training company.
Fleuren and Nooijen was originally focused solely on achieving African catfish breeding improvements. However, regular requests from customers for help in setting up recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) in which to start growing their fish, caused the company to make a gradual move into the RAS sector. As a result, the business today combines RAS design and production, created to meet hatchery and grow-out demands for African catfish and tilapia, with the running of its own hatchery operations in the Netherlands.
“From a starting point of being 100% based on catfish production in 1985, our business is now about 90% dominated, in turnover terms, by designing and producing RAS for customers world-wide,” said Roosendaal. “Even so, the remaining 10% of hatchery turnover is extremely important in that it allows us to show our customers that not only do we do a lot of talking about fish farming, we also have ‘wet hands’.
“In that context, although our hatchery in the Netherlands is relatively compact, we maintain a
completely open-door policy in which customers can visit at any time to see our fish and our technology.”
Local and foreign markets
The business is also split in its focus between relatively ‘local’ markets in Europe and the more distant demands of the business in Africa.
The company’s European customer base spans the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and Bulgaria. The business in Africa, meanwhile, is run through the wholly-owned subsidiary, Jambo Fish, located in Kenya.
“We are equipped to deliver fingerlings to our European customers with practically no transport losses,” said Roosendaal.
“For destinations in Africa, we use air transport to transfer small fingerlings, up to a maximum of 0.5 grams, using specially designed transport boxes for delivery to the farms, which allows us to supply locations which are 24 hrs away.
“In addition, whenever we have a broodstock requirement for a new farm hatchery in Africa we are able to send individually packed fish of between 1.5 and 2.5 kilos to many locations, often adding a few boxes of fry as well to help the new farm get started right away.
“This approach also means we are able to have our staff on site at the delivery location to accept the stock and provide any necessary training for the farm workers involved. Sending broodstock and fry together allows all initial training to be completed within no more than two weeks, often with a follow-up refresher course being given two or three months into production.
“Where possible, however, we supply new stock through Jambo Fish, an option which reduces the need to move fish into Africa. Although a lot of fish is exported from Africa, not a lot of stock is brought in. This means all our broodstock shipments have to be extremely well planned with all the receiving officials being carefully prepared concerning what to expect and what needs to be done. Obviously, stock movements of this type need to be processed as rapidly as possible to minimise potential losses.”
Currently, Fleuren and Nooijen’s Dutch hatchery produces about 800,000 fingerlings of 8-10 grams for customers in the Netherlands, Germany and Austria each year and about 1.5 million smaller fingerlings of 0.1-0.2 grams for delivery into Slovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria.
“There are many differences between the catfish industries in Europe and Africa, both in terms of the production systems being used and the end product requirements of consumers,” said Roosendaal.
“While African hatcheries will make use of RAS, for example, the grow-out units tend to be much simpler pond-based developments than we have in Europe.
“One of the reasons for this is due to a major difference in energy supplies. In the Netherlands, for example, we complain if the power supply goes down for 10 minutes once in a year while some of the African locations we supply have to operate without power for 17 hours of every day.
“European consumers are also used to buying their fish as a filleted product, with the original stock being taken off feed and kept in freshwater, for cleaning, prior to slaughter.
“The African industry, in contrast, is still very much a straightforward pond-to-pan business, often with households keeping their newly purchased catfish alive in a bowl of water in the kitchen before they’re ready to cook it.
Reason for optimism
With his company’s ‘Dutch Strain’ catfish becoming increasingly well-established across Africa, Roosendaal is upbeat in his expectations for the future of the species in the different countries and regions from where its genes were first collected.
“I’m optimistic about the continued development of catfish farming in Africa,” he said, “even more so, perhaps, than in Europe.
“The current big requirements from catfish producers in Africa are for quality fingerlings and production knowledge, alongside the need for good quality fish feeds. I believe therefore that we have a major role to play in this market. I’m also confident there will continue to be a growing consumer demand for the species in Africa and therefore a good market for catfish farmers to address.”