Of course, for me the culinary aspects are first in the foreground. But for me, this also includes getting a feel for how the fish is raised. How does it feel to live in such a mariculture – and what exactly is it? This question was answered after an extensive helicopter flight that took us from the capital Panama City to the Caribbean coast of the country. For kilometers over jungle-covered rolling hills, past river courses that carry little water these days, over Indian villages that are now run as thoroughly controversial tourist attractions. And of course we also crossed the Panama Canal, Panama’s landmark and for the country in every respect formative achievement of the high engineering of the last century.
The Panamanian coast is wonderful. In large parts natural. Bright beaches, palm trees, white spray on the breaking waves on the shore. About 12 kilometers off this coast, the large nets lie in the open sea, moored tightly to buoys, rotating around almost any axis. In these nets swim the fish. And since the current at this point is very strong, they not only proverbially swim ahead of themselves, but also permanently against the movement of the water. “They never see the water twice” was one of the essential declarations of Brian O’Hanlon, founder of Open Blue, who accompanied us on this trip. This is impressive and, most importantly, a huge difference from almost all other forms of aquaculture currently practiced. The fish can grow here in its native environment and is exposed to the tides and the power of the sea. Of course, he is caught in the net in the process. He would probably not voluntarily choose this fate. The fishhook, however, neither. Attracted by the large school of fish in the net, many sharks have become native all around. They also accompany wild cobia in symbiotic fish unions in the wild.
But again a few steps back to the Panamanian mainland. Because that is exactly where the further part of the excursion in the Heilkopter took us. Mariculture is only one aspect of Open Blue’s large breeding facility. The first months the fish grow up on land, in the hatchery. The process used here was developed at the University of Miami. A highly complex undertaking that allows the fish to grow up under almost authentic conditions. Basins with varying temperatures create a sense of changing seasons for fish. The stocking density is kept lower and lower as the animals age. One has the feeling that nothing is left to chance here. Even the right temperature of the feed is crucial for the ideal absorption of nutrients by the young fish. Because, of course, these should grow quickly and out into the open sea.The sum of the innovations with which Open Blue is raising the Cobia is unique in this form. In fact, this is nothing less than the most modern and sophisticated mariculture in the world. In many conversations with both the founder and the investor behind the company, it becomes clear how great the potential is and how relevant considerations for the sustainable production of fish are in this day and age. On the one hand, we are threatened by overfishing of the world’s oceans; on the other hand, we will be confronted with a further drastic increase in the world’s population in future decades. It is completely unclear how a protein-rich supply for billions of people will be ensured in the future. Here, Open Blue not only outlines an option for producing fish sustainably in the coming decades, but directly demonstrates its implementation. Whereby the focus in the breeding of the Cobia is not quantity, but rather quality.
At present, the production volumes are correspondingly clear. A typical fish leaving mariculture at the age of 16 months has a weight of just over five kilos. From the coast of Panama, the fish are transported to Panama City and prepared for shipment all over the world. Currently primarily to the USA, Japan, England, Italy and Germany.
Depending on the requirements of the import markets, the fish is cut into different cuts and then delivered by air freight. The production facility looks surprisingly small and at the same time surprisingly professional and in line with the usual international hygiene standards. One may get an impression of the requirements in the following picture.
At the moment, the route to Europe is still centrally via Amsterdam, but the establishment of a direct shipping route to Germany is also planned for the coming months. In the German stores, for example in Frischeparadies, the cobia is then available about three to four days after the catch.
In the second part of my travel report, I will take you into the kitchen in the coming days, show you some tips & tricks in the preparation of cobia and a few typical dishes that we tasted in Panama.