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Sustainable fish farming on Sri Lanka

Food Security

OceanPick is Sri Lanka’s first marine fish farm for sea bass. Normally speaking, these fish are farmed in brackish water in lagoons. The business is focused on responsible and sustainable fish farming, to ensure the capacity to supply sufficient numbers of high-quality fish. The current sales market consists of a small number of hotels in the upper segment and the island’s larger supermarket chains. The owner requested assistance from PUM in the logistic and value chain process, to allow the business to prepare for expansion of the local sales market and possible global exports.

Liesbeth Scholten (66) from Harlingen set off for Sri Lanka at the end of February, to advise the company. Liesbeth was employed for years as managing director, commercial manager and sales and marketing manager at a variety of fish-processing companies. Liesbeth kept a diary of her experience as a PUM expert.

Day 1

Today was my first introduction to the management team. All of them are well-educated young people. In total, the company employs 80 people at two locations in Colombo and Trincomalee. It soon became clear what was expected of me. The founder of the company had put down the essence of his request for assistance from PUM on paper, in considerable detail. A good start, that allowed me to prepare well.                                   

Together, our task will be develop both the local and international markets for the sea bass farmed according to a unique approach in the Indian Ocean, close to the delightful slice of paradise that is the small town of Trincomalee. The process will be a complex one. We will draw up a plan, visit the fish market, the fish farm itself and a fish-processing plant. We will also identify and visit potential customers and discover the various possibilities for delivery and packaging with supermarkets and hotels. It goes without saying that we will also consider the value and cold chain.

Day 3

Today we took the train to Trincomalee. It left early in the morning from Colombo Fort Station. During the journey, I discussed the project with the enthusiastic Mr Fazli. The reason for starting the farm at this specific location is obvious: beautiful clean, clear seawater, where the Barramundi (the international name for the Asian sea bass) grows in an almost entirely natural manner. However, the processing and marketing of the fish are carried out in the Colombo area, at least five hours’ drive away on the island’s poor roads. We brainstormed about transferring all activities to Trincomalee. This would certainly have a positive influence on the quality of the finished product. Since the end of the civil war, this area still offers few employment opportunities. For example there is no processing plant. What an excellent opportunity to help boost local family incomes, in particular for women in the area.

Day 6

Today, Thursday we visited a processing plant in Nittambuwa, which could be used as a model for setting up a similar plant in Trincomalee. This plant meets all the requirements, and holds all the necessary certificates. I was able to arrange an opportunity for us to take a look during production. It is hard work to prepare a 100-kg tuna for transport to Europe. This physical aspect means that most of the work is done by men. However, for the finer tasks, such as cutting tuna for sashimi, there is no alternative to the precise work of women.

Throughout the world in the fish industry, this task is entrusted to women. However, the work is undervalued, both for women and men. As a rule, there is no difference in pay grades. There are however fewer women in managerial positions. In ‘my’ time as project and sales manager, that was already the case. My past experience gave us common ground, and I shared that same common feeling in Sri Lanka with a group of women in the packaging department at a well-turned out factory in Dankotuwa. I was completely astonished to see an example of precisely the same packaging line that I had once introduced at a processing plant in Den Helder! There was no denying the pleasant atmosphere when we all got down to work together. Women and fish go well together.

Day 9

Together with marketing manager Jiffry, I visited a number of different supermarkets. We examined the possibilities and discussed the company’s marketing strategy. I also visited several restaurants and hotels that have our Barramundi on the menu, together with the Food Service Manager Shabir. While tasting the fish, we discussed possibilities for raising volumes, and the best ways of approaching new customers.


Day 10

On my last day, we organised a sales promotion event with tasting at a fast food restaurant in an A-location in Colombo. Some 700 people visit this location every day for their meals. Today, they were able to taste Barramundi. A successful end to yet another remarkable mission.