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Is Turkish trout here to stay?


Fact file

  • Company: Bagci Alabalik, a member of Papila Group
  • Farm location: Koycegiz/Mugla, Turkey
  • Species: Trout
  • Production volume: 900-1,000 tons
  • System: Tank system

Turkey is best known for its booming seabass and seabream industry — but on the back of those two species’ success a number of other fish farms are gaining ground in the global seafood market.

One of the older and bigger operations is tucked away in the sleepy area of Koycegiz, Mugla. Despite the rocky drive to the farm — and its traditional roots — it’s a modern business with clients across Europe and Russia and big ambitions to cement its position as a provider of quality trout.

Established in 1981, Bagci Alabalik today produces around 900 to 1,000 metric tons of trout every year. In 2013, it was snapped up by the family-run Papila Group in a deal worth around €3.5 million ($3.9 million). Papila Group is one of the pioneers in Turkey’s trout farming industry. In total, the group produces 2,300 to 2,500 metric tons of the fish annually.

The walk through Bagci’s farm – which also includes a processing area — seems like a walk through an orchard: Crickets are chirping, and Yavuz Papila, owner and managing director at the group, regularly points out olive trees, apricot, orange, figs and pomegranate trees, while showing around this Fish Farming International journalist during a visit in July.  Keeping things simple and natural is a top priority at the farm, he says.

It starts with the water resource for the farm, which stretches across an area of about 52,000 square meters. The water is supplied from a nearby mountain spring into a small dam adjacent to the tanks, and feeds the whole operation. Once a year, the dam is emptied and local farmers use the mud to dung their fields, Yavuz Papila says. From the dam, the water is conducted into a purification unit, and then pumped into the nearby ongrowing and numerous grow-out tanks – at a speed of about 2.5 cubic meters per second.

It takes around seven months to grow the fish from 1-gram big baby fish to market-ready 400-grams heavy fish. The juveniles are left for a maximum of two months in the ongrowing tanks, Yavuz Papila says. Then they are transferred to the bigger tanks. The baby fish are sensitive to sunlight, which is why they are kept indoors. At the beginning, the fries are fed every two hours by hand, but once in the grow-out ponds feeding is reduced to six times a day, he says.

“Hands-on” is the motto the 90 employees at the site live by: The fish are graded by hand from the very beginning of their lifecycle, and the daily harvest of about 20,000 fish is also taken out of the water manually. From there, they are directly brought into the close-by processing plant – resulting in fish that’s “fresher than fresh,” as Yavuz Papila calls it.

There, the company produces various forms of value-added fresh and frozen products such as gutted, fillets, and its signature hot-smoked trout fillets for both private label and its FISHOCK brand.

Yavuz Papila has big plans for the group and for Bagci Alabalki. Today, the farm and processing venture reports an annual turnover of around €12 million to €13 million. “That will grow in the years to come,” he tells IntraFish. “Growing is the only way to survive.”

Growth will happen both in terms of its farming operations, but as well in terms of markets, he says. First off, the company is planning to raise the fish to a market size of more than 1.2 kilograms. According to Yavuz Papila, this will only add about four months to the grow-out cycle. The main reason for this is a duty of 8 percent which has to be paid on smaller fish when exporting to the European Union. In addition, the company is planning to build its own hatchery, which will go into operation in 2016. Yavuz Papila expects to be able to raise half of the fish farmed at the farm from its own broodstock production. The wider Papila Group is currently also prepping several cage farms in the north and northeast of Turkey, which will add an additional 2,000 kilograms of fish per year, he says.

In terms of markets, the company is seeing further potential in Japan and Russia, Yavuz Papila tells IntraFish. Russia in particular “is a big market for us,” he says, and is growing on the back of the import ban on fish from Norway and the European Union. “The ban was good for us,” he says dryly. “We now start with fresh [exports] into Russia.”

Further growth is also expected from its existing markets in Germany, the United Kingdom, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Bulgaria. Dubai as a market is also on Yavuz Papila’s mind. Due to better margins, the domestic market in Turkey could become interesting too.

But how exactly the long-term future will look like is still unclear, he says. Papila Group is owned by four brothers – including Yavuz Papila – and one sister, but with growth come bigger expenses and more managerial responsibilities. It is also facing a big challenge in terms of marketing. “We’re no marketing professionals,” Yavuz Papila says. The group is therefore looking for a partner, and they don’t have to be Turkish. “We’re looking for a foreign partner, especially for the marketing of our products,” he tells IntraFish, adding “we still have to learn a lot from the Norwegians in that respect.”