Almost 15 years ago Javier Hernandez and his three brothers drove by the wetlands near the town of Barbate in their home state of Andalusia, Spain. What they saw was not a pretty sight – an abandoned shrimp farming facility stood empty for decades, the wetlands have dried out and the wild life almost disappeared. The piles of garbage made the whole site look like something from a futuristic Sci Fi movie. Instead of looking away from that unsightly landscape, the brothers saw a business opportunity and a chance to revive the community. Now their sustainable fish farming business Pesquerias Lubimar is a local success story, providing 120 work places in a community where unemployment is about 40%. Today, the gastro world loves his fish and Mr. Hernandez is ready to continue facing the challenge of feeding the world with sustainably raised fish.
Most Natural Conditions for the Fish
Just a stone throw away from the Atlantic Ocean, the sustainable fish farming facility of Pesquesrias Lubimar create the most natural environment for the fish. The two main types of fish – sea bream (dorade royale) and European sea bass – co-exist happily on nearly 1,000 hectares of so-called “esteros”, a wetlands area of bays, lagoons, and tidal river channels, where fish is cultivated inland. Nowadays, the once disgraced area blossomed into the Barbate Cliffs and Wetlands Nature Park.
With every tide, the water from the ocean fills up the Barbate River the flows thorough the “esteros”. Pesquerias Lubimar has a state-of-the art water circulation system where the flooding gates automatically open with the tide and the water pumps begin to work to distribute the water. The controlled fish pools are located along the main channel from where the freshly pumped ocean water slowly pulled into the fish pools by gravity to reduce stress to the fish. Such a system ensures that the water in the “esteros” is renewed by a continuous flow at a rate of 12,000 liters per second.
The outcome of such constant circulation is an absence of any kind of contamination in the water. As a result, the fish can be raised without antibiotics or any other medications and remain disease free during their entire life spam of four years. The fact that the water comes directly from the Atlantic Ocean and flows continuously through the Natural Park’s highly protective areas means the environment is very similar to the fish’s natural habitat. Moreover, the fish density in the ponds is approximately three kilos per cubic meter meaning the rhythm of growth and population density closely replicate the conditions in the wild. All that contributes to Lubimar’s sustainable fish farming philosophy.
Lubimar’s sea bream has a silver color and golden stripes on its forehead and belly, the marks that could be only found in the wild. Photo: Sascha Walz
Sustainable Fish Farming Philosophy
The whole process begins with hatching of the baby fish also called “juvenile” in the industry. Those juveniles are kept in a special indoor facility for about five months until they reach an average size of 60 grams. That point is crucial for deciding which fish will make it into the “wild”. The fish is sorted by size into three categories and only those who made a good progress in growth and are healthy make reach the outside pools. Pesquerias Lubimar specializes in premium fish weighing from one to two kilograms. And it is not an easy task as it takes the fish about three to four years to grow to that size.
Mr. Hernandez and his team know that a happy fish tastes the best. From the beginning of their life the fish fed only plant-based foods as well as fish meal made from sustainably raised fish to replicate the conditions in the wild. The fish also eats small prawns that live in the Natural Park’s extensive wetlands. A very low fish density per cubic meter means an exceptional quality fish. The fish can only have a remarkably tender meat if it grows stress-free. No surprise that Lubimar’s sea bream, for example, has beautiful silver color and golden stripes on its forehead and belly, the marks that could be only found in the wild.
Highly Acclaimed by Top Chefs around the World
Making fish happy pays off. Lubimar’s fish flavor is out of this world – fresh and tender, totally different than the fish that is typically produced in intensive aquaculture systems. The taste speaks for itself and the gastro world takes notice.
Just a half-hour away from Lubimar’s fish paradise in a town of El Puerto de Santa Maria, a Three Michelin Star Restaurant Aponiete is their long-time customer. Chef Ángel León is also known in the gastro world as the Chef of the Sea. His obsession with the sea began when he was a little boy fishing with his father. It was that obsession that brought him to the stove. Aponiente’s entire 20-course tasting menu is created from offerings of the sea. The five-course appetizer menu features, for example, a sea anemone meringue, and a feather-light biscuit made with prawn shell-flour, topped with tiny, crunchy shrimp (the one that is also used to feed fish at Lubimar) and spots of parsley emulsion.
The 13-course main menu is guaranteed to shake up everything you thought about food. Aponiente will serve you a traditional Spanish chorizo. But guess what? It is made from Lubimar’s sea bass, rich with pimentón – served with bread made in-house with seawater and plankton (instead of water and salt), and a deep green seaweed dipping oil. And how do you feel about a sea bass lamb chop?
All ingredients (and wines) follow closely the “zero kilometer’ food concept, and even the desserts contain sea-derived ingredients. The Wall Street Journal refers to Aponiente as “One of the top 10 restaurants in Europe”. Moreover, thhe New York Times once called it one of the best in the world, “worth getting on a plane for.” If you are up for creative dishes from flora and fauna of the sea, it is definitely worth a visit.
Demand-Driven Traditional Fishing
As previously mentioned, the best tasting fish is happy fish. A stressed fish releases adrenalin, which makes its meat tougher. Lubimar thrives to catch its fish in the most humane way. Using a traditional fishing net, Lubimar’s employees quickly remove the fish and place it in the isothermal tanks with ice water. In such a cold environment fish falls asleep within two minutes.
The fish is only removed from the pond on a request from a customer and reaches its customer within 24 hours to ensure freshness. One big advantage is that the whole fishing and packing procedure can be completed within a very short period of time at any time of day or night. Outside of Spain, Lubimar’s fish is sold in all Frische Paradies stores in Germany, Austria, and Mallorca. The fish is awarded QSFP designation given only to Frische Paradies’s most premium products with absolute quality and freshness.
Restoring the Environment
A couple years after Lubimar took over the dried out wetlands of the Barbate Cliffs Natural Park, the wild life, mostly birds, and the plants in the area began to flourish. The “esteros” area first attracted migrating birds that used them as a rest stop on their journey between the Europe and Africa. Although the main fish pools are covered with a net, in the extensive wetlands areas the food is unconditionally shared with the wildlife.
In the last ten years Lubimar worked hard with agencies responsible for bird preservation to become once again a home for more than 150 kinds of different birds, such as European flamingo, common spatula, or osprey, just to name a few. The richness of the water and the abundance of food created an optimal environment for the explosive growth of the wild life in the area.
Looking over the vast wetlands, Mr. Hernandez sees a flock of flamingos take off. “We are not only selling the fish, we are selling a business philosophy. If you give back to the community and the environment, it will surely pay you back”, – he says proudly and smiles. And he sure has something to be proud of!