Living close to shores and estuaries rich in micro-organisms, the European seabass has long been reared in traditional aquaculture. Fish were allowed to enter lagoons or fitted tanks (often saline), after which the entrance was closed off, trapping them inside. This is the principle of Italian valliculture and of esteros in southern Spain, which are still operational today. The trapped seabass fed naturally until they were harvested, which presented a drawback: their voracious appetites often put a real strain on the lagoon’s ecosystem. In some places, immature fish caught by local fishermen were used to populate tanks. In the 1960s, however, the growing scarcity of young fish and the example of salmon farming in northern Europe led Mediterranean scientists to develop an intensive rearing process based on a complex hatchery technique and the production of specific feeds.
Latin name: Dicentrarchus labraxProduction (EU-27) – 57 893 t (2007); 92 % of global production.Value (UE-27) – EUR 304 million (2007).Main EU producer countries – Greece, Spain, Italy, France.Main producer countries worldwide – Greece, Turkey, Spain, Italy, France, Croatia.Fact sheet
The reproduction of seabass is controlled from start to finish in hatcheries, using broodstock selected in fish farms.
To prolong the seabass spawning cycle, the technique of photomanipulation is used. This consists of inducing the species’ seasonal sexual behaviour by lengthening the period of artificial ‘sunshine’. The eggs, fertilized by the male, are collected on the surface of the spawning tank and placed in incubator tanks where they hatch 48 hours later. The larvae are then transferred to rearing tanks.
Rearing seabass for intensive breeding involves a complex process developed through lengthy scientific research programmes in the 1960s and 1970s. Its development allowed the launch of seabass (and seabream) farming in the Mediterranean in the 1980s. The hatchery’s operations are fairly technical and require highly trained staff who must maintain the proper conditions for growth of the larvae, ensure that the recirculation system works correctly, provide food, etc. Consequently this first stage of the rearing process has become quite specialised. Cases of vertical integration do exist, but European hatcheries are generally independent and sell young fish to fattening farms. Rearing generally involves three stages:
• Rearing of larvae – Larvae lose their yolk sac six days after hatching. At this point they are given a very specific diet, based first on seaweed and rotifera (a microscopic zooplankton), then, when their size permits, on artemia (a small crustacean living in lagoons, deltas and estuaries). This live food is always produced in the hatchery.
• Weaning – After 40 to 50 days, the larvae are transferred to the weaning unit where they are gradually accustomed to a high-protein diet essentially of fish oil and fishmeal. Administered in the form of tiny pellets, this feed is very close to what the seabass will receive throughout their rearing. This protein-rich diet and high water quality ensure maximum growth and survival of the larvae during these first critical months.
• Rearing of juveniles – Three to four weeks later, the fry are transferred to the juvenile breeding unit. They feed on pellets and, around two months later, reach a weight of 2 to 5 g at which time they can be moved to the fattening farm.
The purchase of young fish from hatcheries represents one of the biggest recurring investments made by fish farms. The fish are fattened in floating cages set up a short distance from shore, at least for the bulk of European production (i.e. in the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands). Other farms raise seabass in land-based tanks, generally using a recirculation system that controls the water temperature, making it possible to raise seabass at more northerly latitudes.
The seabass are fed pellets consisting mainly of fishmeal and fish oil, but also vegetable extracts. In the wild, seabass can reach 1 m in length and weigh 12 kg, but farmed seabass are generally harvested and slaughtered when they weigh 300 to 500 g, which takes from a year and a half to two years depending on water temperature. To be complete, it should also be mentioned that a few semi-intensive farms, offshoots of traditional extensive aquaculture, still exist. In these facilities, lagoons and coastal ponds are stocked with fry from hatcheries, which are fattened with a commercial feed supplement.
Once slaughtered, farmed seabass is generally sold fresh and cleaned, mainly through supermarkets and restaurants.
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