Circle of life at Greece’s fish farms

December 16, 2013

Sofiko village, Greece

By Yorgos Karahalis

Fish farming was a business that a few decades ago was completely alien in Greece, where eating fish was strictly related to the local fisherman, the weather conditions and the phase of the moon.

These days, regardless of the moon and the weather, we can all buy fresh fish at extremely low prices, every day. And from my experience of the industry during the days I photographed its fish farms and hatcheries, I realized there is more to the process than I thought – it’s a production line that resembles the circle of life itself.

The first step in the journey is at the hatchery. There you’ll find the broodstock, a group of fish held in the facility for breeding purposes. Once the eggs are chosen, they’re transferred to different tanks where they start growing up. At the same time, ichthyologists, the scientists who study fish, carry out regular checks on the newborns to make sure they’re healthy.

What do they eat? Well, they don’t consume food the way we think. A team at the hatchery is responsible for the daily production of plankton – a microscopic organism fish feed on – from scratch. Just next to the tanks where the fish live, an entire business devoted to taking care of the food has been set up, made up of colorful big plastic “tubes” as well as huge cans with different types of plankton – phytoplankton and zooplankton.

As the fish grow up, they’re transferred in groups according to their age to other tanks until the day they leave the hatchery for the fish farm in the open sea, making room for the younger ones at the facility.

This is where the scenery changes completely. The fish swim in floating round cages, the big ones capable of holding about 200 tonnes. They stay there for a few months until they reach the proper weight and size demanded by the market. As soon as they’re collected from there, they’re placed in thermal-insulated boxes, ready to fill market stalls around the world.

There, the circle of life ends and a new one begins. Some may say that this is unnatural, violent and forced or perhaps even worse, completely related to making a profit. I would tend to agree. But, we can only look forward, without dismissing new ideas and innovations, and just make sure that we keep track of them and be ready to step in before they irreversibly hurt the magic circle of life.

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