Birgit Schmidt-Puckhaber from the German Agricultural Society (DLG) was happy to answer our questions about this. She is in charge of aquaculture projects at the DLG and runs a fish farm with her family.
Find out more about aquaculture at the DLG here:
Could you give us a brief overview of aquaculture in Germany: Which forms (types of farms) and which kinds of fish are the most common?
Aquaculture in Germany is dominated by conventional fish ponds. These ponds utilize a natural source of water for aquacultural purposes, which requires a special permit. Ponds are bodies of water that can be drained, unlike lakes, which cannot be emptied and re-filled. We distinguish between warm- and coldwater fish culture, depending on the kind of fish that is being reared in these ponds. In warmwater ponds (carp etc.), water is flowing at low rates and has a high temperature. These ponds are primarily used for cyprinidae in conjunction with compatible fish (tench, zander, catfish, etc.). Salmonid fish (including trout), on the other hand, prefer clear, cool, flowing water. As a result, coldwater ponds tend to be longer, have a higher flow rate, and are filled with clear, cold water. Both types of ponds use naturally occurring water for breeding fish, and the water is returned to nature (i.e., a creek or river) after passing through the pond. Unlike in conventional ponds, the water used in so-called integrated recycling systems is purified in special filters for re-use. As a result, these systems require only a fraction of the water used in conventional ponds. However, these systems require heat and electrical power for rearing fish and water purification. They are used for catfish, sturgeon, and eels, as well as for prawns.
In 2015, the number of farms that relied primarily on producing fish in aquacultures was approximately 3,600, with most farms operating warmwater ponds (2,100), followed by coldwater farms (1,450), and only 50 integrated recycling systems.
How does aquaculture in Germany compare to the rest of Europe and the world?
We can be proud of our fish farmers and the traditional pond farms, but we only play a minor role in European and international markets. In 2015, German aquaculture produced 21,000 tons of fish, but could not even come close to meeting the national demand for fish and seafood. We rely heavily on imports when it comes to fish. The production of carp and trout in Germany has not increased in years; only the yield from integrated recycling systems is steadily growing.
Is there a typical “German” fish that has a rich tradition of being farmed in this country?
Yes, there is. Even if we cannot shine with large yields, fish farming is an important part of German culture, and especially carp farming has a long-standing tradition here. It contributes to the typical landscape of several regions and forms a mainstay of our culinary tradition. Anyone who ever tried a tasty Franconian baked carp will never forget this experience. The main areas of production are in Saxony and Bavaria.
How many certified aquaculture farms are there in Germany?
Very few German fish farms are certified. Organic fish farming accounts for less than 2 % of farms, and labels such as GGN or ASC are not expanding as much as they are in other countries. This is due to the fact that most fish farms in Germany are small family-run businesses that sell their fish directly: local production trumps certifications. There are only very few fish farms that supply wholesale distributors who demand certification.
Where do you see future opportunities? How about, for instance, “German shrimp”?
I believe that the most lucrative opportunities arise wherever there is something special about the product, some kind of story. This can be a certain sign of quality, a special way of producing or selling the fish, or a beautiful place where buying fish is a special experience.
Fresh prawns from Germany are such an experience. Everybody knows frozen prawns, and consumers love using them for all sorts of recipes. But fresh prawns from a well-run salt water prawn farm are an entirely different - and delicious - product; a real treat for the senses. However, I would argue that this model can only be successful if it stays limited to a small number of farms, so that the price of around € 50 per kilo can be maintained.
Germany imports approximately 80 % of its fish and seafood. Which growth opportunities do you see in the German market, for instance when it comes to meeting the national demand for fish and seafood?
Regional production is promising. I can once again point to the challenging task of convincing restaurants and consumers in your own back yard with your very own products, and getting local grocery stores involved. German fish farmers will not succeed by trying to ramp it up and offering their products at global market prices.
Personally, do you look for labels when buying fish, and if so, what influences your choice?
I do not really look at labels and my purchases are not determined by them. However, I do like to look into standards and certificates. I think it is an excellent idea to have a code on each package that takes me directly to the farm where the fish was raised.
What is your favorite fish to eat and how do you prepare it?
A fresh perch fillet from lake Selent in Schleswig-Holstein, just blanchéd in butter and served with roasted almond slivers - that’s our absolute favorite.