By Danny Benjamin
We have been producing pond fish (Koi and goldfish) for over 30 years at Kibbutz Hazorea in the Jezreel Valley in the North of Israel and in the year 2000 our newly formed company, Hazorea Aquatics pioneered the commercial production of indoor, system grown Biosecure Koi. Today the facility at Hazorea is the largest indoor/re-circ commercial Koi production facility of its kind in the world, and high quality Koi from Hazorea are shipped from around the world – including the US and Canada, Western Europe and South Africa. We are also well known in North America for our wide selection of high quality waterlilies.
The Israeli Ornamental Fish Industry:
Israel is one of the largest exporters of Ornamental Fish in the world and the second largest exporter to the European Union. Almost all varieties of Coldwater fish and many Tropical and Marine varieties are grown successfully in Israel. All fish are system or pond grown in intensive or semi intensive recirc facilities. Total exports of Ornamental Fish from Israel have been growing over the last decade from about 15 million US dollars in 2004 to about 23 million US dollars in 2014.
Exports of coldwater fish are about double the exports of tropical and marine fish and Israeli Koi and goldfish comprise about 70% of the pond-fish market in the UK, Holland and Belgium and about 60% of the market in France and Germany. Israel is the leading supplier in the world of Biosecure Koi. (More on Biosecure Koi later in this article). In general, Israeli pond fish (and especially goldfish) fetch a higher price in markets in Europe than competing products from other sources – mainly because of the ability of Israeli suppliers to provide a better and healthier product, while maintaining year round availability. In fact, for most years, requests for Israeli pond fish outstrip supply and the farms in Israel are hard pressed to keep up with demand.
Background on Koi exports from Israel
With the outbreak of KHV in 1998 Koi farms in Israel developed two major methods of dealing with the threat of this virus.
1. Some of the farms in Israel vaccinate their Koi against KHV using a vaccine that was developed in Israel.
2. Other farms do not believe that the vaccine provides a complete or environmentally appropriate solution* and grow their Koi in a Biosecure environment.
*Viruses tend to mutate and there are already several strains of KHV; the vaccine is expensive; vaccines are of no use against the spread of viruses once carriers escape into the wild; biosecurity provides a solution against other pathogens as well as future unknown viruses.
What are Biosecure Koi?
The biggest lesson to be learned from KHV is the havoc and damage that an unknown pathogen can wreak on businesses and pet lovers world-wide.
Modern farming and animal rearing today demands a holistic approach and must therefore concern itself more with prevention. Unless the background challenge from disease causing organisms can be controlled, and good management practices strictly followed, medication and vaccination alone are not capable of adequately protecting fish stocks. A Biosecure environment is not a sterile one – and fish in a Biosecure system are exposed to the pathogens they would eventually be exposed to at their final destination (a garden pond, for example). However, in a Biosecure environment the level of infection is controlled to the point where medication can achieve beneficial effects. In short, a Biosecure system aims to prevent, or seriously limit the entry of specific dangerous pathogens as well as unknown pathogens to the production site. In the unlikely event one of these does enter the production site, its transmission to customers can be prevented, while infected stock is treated or (if absolutely necessary, in the case of a contagious or fatal disease), destroyed and the production site can be completely disinfected.
After the farm at Hazorea was infected by KHV in the year 2000, Hazorea Aquatics decided to invest in a completely Biosecure, indoor facility for the breeding and growing of high quality Koi. The immediate success of the product and the inability to meet market demand led to a decision for a major expansion in 2007. To date, almost 3 million USD have been invested in the production facility of BIOSEKOI™, and the market has quickly absorbed the additional supply.
The facility has a Brood-stock holding and quarantining section that enables rotation of parent fish. All new brood-stock are quarantined for a year before use and. New bloodlines are brought in regularly, usually from Japan.
Water treatment: The spawning facility and growing systems hold about 1.7 million liters of water and include advanced recirculation and purification techniques allowing high density stocking of Koi leading up to the season. Trickling towers are used for bio-filters while drum filters are used to get rid of solid waste. The water also passes through UV filters. No compressed oxygen is necessary due to the rapid recirculation rate.
Using temperature as a "layer” of Biosecurity: The water temperature in the facility is maintained between 23ºC and 28ºC all year round. At these temperatures KHV, and some other viruses and diseases, are most active. This temperature "window” acts as an extra layer of security in the Biosecurity concept. The idea is to make it easy for viruses that do manage somehow to enter the facility - to spread and infect stock, so that their presence can easily be noticed or detected by staff before infected fish are shipped out to customers. The reverse side of the coin is that since all our stock is held in one huge re-circ system, if one of our customers has a health problem with fish received from us and we (or other customers who receive our fish) do not have a similar problem, the customer knows he needs to look elsewhere for the source of his problem.*
*In 2013 a European customer’s Hazorea Koi were diagnosed positive for KHV by the local Government Lab. Since there was no sign of KHV in our facility, our Biosecurity assurance was strong enough to overturn the lab result and prove that the test had produced a false positive result.
Nutrition: Since Hazorea more or less pioneered the commercial indoor production of Koi we had to develop our own Koi feed and this was done over a period of years and numerous trials together with one of the major European fish feed companies. The feed is critical, especially during the stages of initial growth as it is instrumental in the development of the bone structure and immune system of the fish, and it needs to replace what the fish would have received in a natural environment like a pond.
Production: The facility is capable of producing about 1 million Koi annually in sizes between 2 and 16 inches (5 to 40 cms) in 3 main grades - Standard, Selected and Premium. Hazorea’s competitive advantage lies in its ability to supply an almost stable high quality mix of smaller sized Koi throughout the season – something that is becoming increasingly important in a market where large expensive Koi are losing ground in terms of popularity, and most of the sales are of small fish. However, some fish are grown on for customers to hand pick. Most of the stock is usually sold out before the end of the season.
Staff: About 12 people work in the Koi facility. Two thirds of the staff is comprised of skilled/professional people, either with degrees in aquaculture/biology or with years of hands-on experience. The rest are seasonal help – usually young people after their mandatory military service. (The Israeli Government provides incentives to young people who take up jobs in agriculture in the hope that some of them will eventually stay on and choose to make this a career).
Hazorea Koi remain in one indoor closed facility from egg to shipping box. We also supply fish from other suppliers including Biosecure Butterfly Koi and these are always packed at the source by the suppliers. Hazorea Koi are never mixed with other Koi or goldfish.