Ja­panese feast on African sushi

. . . Moun­tain­ous fish farm links Le­sotho with Ja­panese chefs

Lesotho Times - - Feature -

TOKYO — The flash­ing neon ad­ver­tis­ing signs and crowded cross­walks of Tokyo may not re­sem­ble the slow sub­ur­ban set­tle­ment of Maseru — the cap­i­tal of the tiny moun­tain king­dom of Le­sotho in south­ern Africa, but the two coun­tries are now be­ing linked by an un­likely dish: trout.

Thanks to High­lands Trout, and their op­er­a­tion 2200 me­tres above sea level in the Ma­luti Moun­tains, su­per­mar­ket shop­pers in Osaka, Ky­oto and Tokyo can now get their seafood fix from the land­locked African na­tion.

“Le­sotho pro­vides ideal, pris­tine en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions for the farm­ing of large trout,” ex­plains Fred For­manek, man­ag­ing part­ner of Ad­vance Africa Man­age­ment Ser­vices, who has de­vel­oped the High­lands Trout project since 2009.

“Wa­ter tem­per­a­tures are close to ideal (for trout) for most of the year due to the al­ti­tude.”

Pro­duc­tion started in 2012 with a haul of 500 tonnes of trout in the first year. Dur­ing the cur­rent fi­nan­cial year, the company aims to pro­duce three-times that amount.

While the business says the Ja­pan-bound fish are stuck on a ship for four weeks, ex­ec­u­tives in­sist the added lo­gis­tics — and ex­tra costs — are worth it. “The price pre­mium that we cur­rently re­ceive... makes up for any ad­di­tional lo­gis­tics costs,” says Mr For­manek.

Business begin­nings

The pro­duc­tion process starts with the fish ar­riv­ing in Le­sotho from Den­mark as eggs. They are then stored in tem­per­a­ture-con­trolled pens un­til they be­come “fin­ger­lings” weigh­ing around 10g.

The baby fish are so frag­ile at this stage that the wa­ter qual­ity is mon­i­tored reg­u­larly.

Once they be­come fin­ger­lings, the fish are trans­ferred to small nurs­ery cages in the Katse dam — Africa’s sec­ond largest. In th­ese more nat­u­ral con­di­tions, the fish grow to around 20 cen­time­tres in length and a weight of around 150 grammes.

They are then moved to larger “grow cages” where they live their last days in the moun­tain king­dom. Through this whole process, which takes around 20 months, some of the fish grow as heavy as 2.8 kilo­grammes — lean fish meat fresh for sushi, soups and siz­zling grills.

And it’s the vast majority of th­ese fish, 85per­cent, that will be gut­ted and loaded onto 40-feet re­frig­er­ated con­tain­ers and shipped from the South African port of Dur­ban to Asia. The re­main­der is sold to South Africa (10 per­cent) and Le­sotho (five per­cent).

For­eign in­puts

But it’s not just the fish that make a long jour­ney to keep this business afloat.

Us­ing ma­te­ri­als and ex­per­tise from abroad has been key to the suc­cess of the project.

Spe­cially de­signed cages have been im­ported from Norway (which is also where the farm man­ager was based for 20 years), while most of the pro­tein rich pel­lets the fish nib­ble on whilst grow­ing come from France.

But not all as­pects of this op­er­a­tion are im­ported. “We em­ploy just over 100 (lo­cal peo­ple) on a per­ma­nent ba­sis,” ex­plains man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of High­lands Trout Grant Merrick. “The bulk of the em­ploy­ees are di­rectly in­volved with the grow­ing and pro­cess­ing of fish....we have many em­ploy­ees who have never been in for­mal em­ploy­ment prior to start­ing at High­lands Trout.”

This is an im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tion in a coun­try where 24 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion was un­em­ployed in 2008 — the last year records were col­lected. Gov­ern­ment es­ti­mates from fig­ures col­lected in 2010/11 show that 57% of the coun­try lives in poverty.

Fu­ture fish

While this might be a sig­nif­i­cant op­er­a­tion now, the project has had to deal with dif­fi­cul­ties to get to where it is to­day.

“The ex­tremely re­mote area, de­vel­op­ing a high-tech business with the high­est lev­els of food safety cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, in a coun­try where aqua­cul­ture and fish­eries did not ex­ist, pre­sented plenty of chal­lenges,” ex­plains For­manek.

And when the business is com­pared to the global mar­ket the im­pact is limited. Ex­pert Peter Rand of the IUCN Sal­mon Spe­cial­ist Group de­scribes the pro­duc­tion fig­ures as “very small” com­pared to other sec­tors.

He ex­plains that sal­mon pro­duc­tion in coun­tries like Norway and Chile “is more than 1 mil­lion metric tons per year.”

But the Le­sotho is show­ing no signs of shrink­ing in the face of the com­pe­ti­tion. “Pro­jected growth is ramp­ing up by some 750 tonnes per an­num,” ex­plains For­manek. “Ex­pan­sion into a sec­ond dam in the High­lands called Mo­hale Dam is in plan­ning.”

While High­lands Trout may not swamp the su­per­mar­kets any­time soon, their use of Le­sotho’s nat­u­ral re­sources and re­mote moun­tain land­scape could help the op­er­a­tion see some suc­cess. — cnn.com

Work­ers at the High­lands Trout plant in Le­sotho gut the fish in prepa­ra­tion for ex­port.

Once the eggs be­come fin­ger­lings they are trans­ferred to larger tanks which are kept inside. They will stay in this en­vi­ron­ment un­til they grow to around 12 grammes.

When the trout are in the cages in the dam, they are fed a diet of pel­lets which are high in pro­tein.

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