Which fish production systems are most profitable?


Fischteich mit Haus.
Organic fish farms occupy a niche market. To produce organic is cost intensive. Thus, the common small farms depend highly on direct marketing.
(© Tobias Lasner)

In the case of fish, Germany is import champion. Only every tenth fish in the supermarket is from German fishing trawlers or domestic aquacultures. Is fish production in Germany ultimately not viable?

The Thuenen-Institutes of Fisheries Ecology and Sea Fisheries analyse the competitiveness and profitability of fisheries and aquacultures worldwide. In particular, our researchers are interested in location factors, cost components and returns structures of different aquatic production systems.  

Take a look at trout, for instance. Trout is one of Germany’s favourite fresh water fishes. In addition to a small amount from domestic production, the majority of trout offered in German supermarkets are imported. Denmark and Turkey are two of the most important market suppliers. Across the world’s trout regions, fish farmers combine their classical production factors labour, capital and land very differently to adapt perfectly towards local production conditions. Nowadays, fish farmers use ponds, net cages, raceways, and partly or fully recirculated systems to grow-out trout.

No matter which type of grow-out system is used, the feed management is overall the most vital factor. The costs for feed share up to 70 percent of total cash costs like in a typical raceway in Muğla, one of the most important trout regions in Turkey. Perfect climate conditions, good water supply and temperatures lead to a very efficient grow-out process here. In addition, Turkish farmers benefit from low local wages and investment costs. Although the prices per kg trout at farm gate are comparably low, the profits are still good.

Countries with worse climate conditions for trout rearing and very high labour costs like Denmark have only two options for being competitive: automation and specialisation. In fact, large modern recirculating systems (RAS) and specialised organic farms have a greater degree of profitability than traditional farms do. RAS reduces labour input and optimizes the feed management. Organic farms are often able to get better prices for their certified trout. 

In Germany, there are few large trout farms. Fewer than 60 farms produce 100 t trout or more per year. The majority of those large farms are located in Baden-Württemberg. Nonetheless, the few large German trout farms are highly profitable. In consequence, competition on the international level seems to be possible. So, what hampers the development of the German trout sector if is not farm economics? Asking fish farmers and trout experts lead to one major presumption: highly complicated bureaucracy and too strict environmental regulations.

But no matter where trout are produced, the energy-return-on-energy-investment ratio of trout is much better than it is for most of terrestrial livestock farming. This finding is a result of our research, too.