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Interview with Mr Evert Liewes, Managing Director of the “Ferme Marine de Mahebourg”.

21 June 2015

Evert W. Liewes has 34 years of experience in different sectors of the aquaculture and seafood processing business. He is presently the Managing Director of the Ferme Marine de Mahebourg in Mauritius and responsible for the expansion of the production to 3.000 MT per annum. Mr. Liewes holds a BSc degree in Tropical Animal Husbandry with a specialization in tropical pond fish farming, a MSc degree in Fish Diseases (Stirling University, UK) and a MSc degree in Veterinary Sciences, specialization fish diseases (Utrecht University, the Netherlands).

i) After a decade of operation what has been the progress achieved by FMM so far?

The first thing we learned at FMM is that fish farming technologies developed in the temperate zones in Europe need to be adapted to suit the local conditions of the tropical lagoon of Mauritius. And figuring this out can be a rather costly affair. Since the start of the hatchery in 2002 and the installation of the cages at bit later, FMM is the only large scale marine cage farm in the South West Indian Ocean which is still in operation. Marine cage fish farms in South Africa, Mozambique, La Reunion and Mayotte have not been successful for a large variety of different reasons. Some of them related to technical issues, problems with obtaining licenses or marketing difficulties. In the mean time FMM has been steadily producing 400 – 500 MT of fish every year. I think that FMM shows that marine cage farming in this part of the Indian Ocean is feasible.

We started with the culture of Red Drum, also known as maigre or ombrine, and in the beginning selling this fish was not easy. Now we have developed markets in many countries and can start to produce more fish to meet the increasing demand. We have also learned that we have to distinguish our products from mass produced aquaculture fish products. FMM therefore produces fish in a sustainable manner, using very high quality standards, as can be seen from our Friend of the Sea certification.

Since the beginning of our operations we do not use antibiotic or anti parasitic treatments. We also do not use anti fouling on our nets. Anti fouling treatments of cage nets is a kind of varnish containing copper compounds. The copper will stop fouling organisms from growing on the cage nets. The copper will however also end up on the lagoon bottom under the cages. On the lagoon bottom copper will severely interfere with organisms living in and on the bottom, which help keeping the bottom under the cages clean. We also use fish feeds which are GMO free and we do not use land animal proteins or fats. Producing top quality fish in a responsible manner is what modern customers are looking for. As Mauritius has an excellent connectivity by air to all parts of the world, it is an excellent basis for a fresh fish aquaculture operation.

ii) FMM has been the pioneer in commercial aquaculture in Mauritius. What have been the hurdles faced and what kind of policy change at national level would you recommend?

The developments in aquaculture in Mauritius require considerable adaptations in the legal framework dealing with fisheries and aquaculture. The absence of this has considerably delayed the creation and obtaining of fish farming zones and licenses. Government has taken up this challenge and is now progressing fast to amend the legal framework to prepare Mauritius to facilitate the expansion of the aquaculture industry.

Another aspect is that aquaculture, in this part of the Indian Ocean, can only develop when technologies are available to culture local fish species. Unfortunately hardly any research is done on aquaculture of indigenous fish in the region. All new aquaculture projects thus bring technology and fish species from other parts of the world. This is also one of the reasons why FMM cultures Red Drum and European Sea Bass. Both species are non-indigenous in Mauritius. However as both species come from temperate climates, they are both not able to reproduce naturally under the climatic conditions prevailing in Mauritius. More money should be made available for research into aquaculture in this region.

Many of the problems which slow down or hamper the development of aquaculture in this region of the Indian Ocean are similar for all the islands. It would make sense if government services, entrepreneurs and investors share the causes of successes and failures in order to come up with improved technologies, more efficient legal procedures, better training or find solutions to biological issues. One could even envisage centralised research efforts, training or support services.

iii) You have embarked on an expansion programme. Can you tell us how these would benefit the country in terms of food security and value chain? And how do you foresee aquaculture in the next decade?

FMM is well underway with its expansion programme for the production of 3.000 Mt of fish per annum. When we reach this production level we will employ some 200 full time staff in the hatchery, farm and processing plant. FMM processes and packs all its fish products fresh. We also produce fish fillets in a state of the art EU approved fish processing plant. Presently some 85% of production is exported. The activities of FMM will generate considerable volumes of air freight. We also need large volumes of packing materials and fish feed. All these inputs are produced locally.
Our local fish feed supplier is now investing a considerable amount of money in a new fish feed extrusion line to meet our increasing demand for quality fish feed. This investment will also benefit other aquaculture projects in the region. All materials used to build the cages are produced locally, only the cage nets are imported. In this manner our growth also benefits the local manufacturing industry.

Aquaculture has an enormous potential and this is also true for Mauritius. I foresee that aquaculture in the South Western Indian Ocean will play a much more important role in producing seafood for local consumption and export. The region has many interesting aquaculture opportunities.

iv) How do you think the FMM can help in the development of small-scale aquaculture in Mauritius?

In Mauritius artisanal fisheries is an area with a strong political involvement. Government has been supplying fish cages to cooperatives of artisanal fishermen. Stocking these cages is now done by using wild caught rabbit fish fingerlings.

Mauritius imports some 12.000 MT of fish and fish products for local consumption each year. Aquaculture of a local species like Rabbit fish can easily meet part of this demand. However to culture Rabbit fish, more work on the artificial reproduction of this fish has to be done and a central hatchery has to be set up to supply the fingerlings in a sustainable manner to the growers. FMM can of course assist with developing the right hatchery technology and management, if required.

v) The FAO has various guidelines with regards to the development of sustainable aquaculture. How far are you adhering to these guidelines and the EU policy on sustainability of Fisheries and aquaculture?

We follow all guidelines for sustainable aquaculture and aim for GlobalGap certification in the near future to assure our customers of the continuous sustainability of our operations.


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