Friday, July 24, 2015

24/07/2015: Cobia: is it the next big thing? In Brazil

First published in International Aquafeed, May-June 2015
The difficulty in Brazil with cobia farming was that it was not well recognised as a high-quality food fish in some regions, particularly in the South. However, this scenario is changing, and first farmed cobia productions have been well accepted by local consumers, restaurants and fresh fish markets. The increasing demand for high quality fresh food fish and seafood, combined with the lack of local fish production, has driven up the price of farmed cobia.  Currently, the emerging cobia production in Southern Brazil is being sold for US$18-20/kg for whole gutted fish.
With an increasing demand for fresh fish, an increasing production of cobia is expected and for that reason, this promising market has attracted the interest of medium and large entrepreneurs for cobia cage culture.  One issue holding these farmers back at present is the lack of high quality commercial diets for marine fish. This continues to be the biggest obstacle to development of cobia aquaculture in Brazil. 

In Brazil, there are several promising marine fish species with great aquaculture potential. In the last seven years there has been a strong interest from the government through the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture to promote marine fish culture starting with key species such as cobia.  This native species was chosen for several reasons including fast growth rates, good flesh quality, and well-developed husbandry protocol that could easily be adapted to local culture conditions.  Therefore, research programs, partnerships and regional hatcheries were created to promote marine fish culture. 

Wild cobia is mainly captured on the northeast coast of Brazil, where it is appreciated by consumers in many restaurants. The high water temperatures in this region throughout the year allow a certain consistency in wild cobia supply. However, wild cobia is rarely caught in southern Brazilian waters, particularly during the winter, as water temperatures drop below the cobia’s requirements.  As a result wild cobia is largely unknown in southern markets. For this reason, cobia production was questioned due to its market potential and the challenges of promoting an unknown fish with a nonexistent demand. 

Clearly though, having high-quality flesh in a market where there was a lack of fresh marine fish supply and an increasing demand enabled an opening for fresh cobia. It is now well accepted by local consumers, restaurants and fresh fish markets. Maybe not surprisingly, the Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo markets easily and readily absorbed the first farmed cobia productions. Whilst this is still a minor production in comparison with the potential consumer market of these two major centres in southern Brazil, it is a good indicator of the potential of marine fish culture and the demand for fresh fish.  

The majority of the production is absorbed by fine Japanese restaurants where cobia is served as sashimi.  Due to its high-quality flesh and favorable texture, the Japanese chefs appreciate this species. In addition, other restaurants are serving cobia in a variety of ways to attend the consumer’s needs. The freshness of the final product is important, and therefore having the culture sites close (most farms are located less than three-four hours’ drive away) to the final consumers enables efficient logistics. As a result, a fresh, high-quality product is delivered from farms to the restaurant doors.
The high selling price is working well for the farms as they have to deal with high operational costs including floating cages, nets and particularly feed costs. A lack of commercially available diets for marine fish in Brazil, especially one that meets the specific requirements of cobia, is holding back the opportunity but effort is going into research and development.
Farmed cobia has several characteristics that lead to a consistent promising market, including freshness and high-quality flesh being a good source of health-promoting omega 3 fatty acids.  

To establish a niche market, it requires demand for a specific product, and more importantly a consistent supply of high quality product. Aquaculture exhibits the benefits of controlling the production cycle to meet consumer demands in terms of forecasting production and consistency in size and quality of the final product. In this context, farmed cobia is a potential candidate for a niche market; however, it is important to highlight the necessity of industry support and sustained marketing effort. 

Whilst the increasing demand for fresh seafood and marine fish is expected to continue into the future in Brazil, there is still much to be done regarding feeds and farming techniques.
Luís André Sampaio from Universidade Federal do Rio Grande is involved in a current study on the performance of juvenile cobia reared in low salinities (three and six percent), with or without alkalinity correction in a RAS. He is presenting at WA2015 in Jeju and will highlight that the survival rate was 100 percent at all treatments, but growth parameters (final weight, weight gain, SRG and feed intake) decreased significantly at salinities of six and three percent when compared with the control. 

Results suggest that cobia has a limited euryhaline capacity, but they can be reared in low salinity (three and six percent) for six weeks with no mortality. However, when reared in three percent salinity, juvenile cobia can benefit from alkalinity supplementation and the higher pH associated with this, in order to sustain better growth than those reared in the low alkalinity treatment.

Read the magazine HERE.

The Aquaculturists
This blog is maintained by The Aquaculturists staff and is supported by the
magazine International Aquafeed which is published by
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