A Greek journalist who gets a scoop on some exclusive news story is said to have “landed a sea bass” (epiase lavraki), a reference perhaps to the journalist’s skill and perseverance but also certainly to the rarity of the occasion. Sea bass have long been over-fished in the Mediterranean and are now a relative stranger to the Aegean. Wild bass in the fish market will fetch upwards of €40 a kilo—and unless the fishmonger has left the liver in, you may not be able to tell if it’s wild. But even if you can afford it and ascertain it’s wild, you may eat it with a heavy conscience, knowing that the Dicentrarchus labrax is listed as a near-threatened species in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™
One alternative is often farmed sea bass, which has become a standard fish option not only in Greece but in much of Europe. Unfortunately, conventionally farmed sea bass has usually been artificially fattened and fed a diet laced with antibiotics to counter the diseases spawned in the overcrowded and chemically filtered pens in which they are raised. But there is another alternative—organically farmed sea bass, available fresh at some fishmongers but also more widely available frozen (and not just in Greece).
The bass, along with sea bream (Sparus auratus, known in Greek as tsipoura) are farmed by Kefalonia Fisheries. This is sustainable aquaculture at its best. Kefalonia Fisheries is ISO 14001 certified (standards for implementing an effective environmental management system) and the products are certified organic to the Naturland e.V. Standards and by BIO Hellas Institute. The company’s bream and bass have also earned Friend of the Sea certification for sustainable aquaculture.
The company was founded in1981 by Marinos Yeroulanos, scion of a prominent Kefalonian family who had earlier served as General Director for the Environment and Planning in the Ministry of Infrastructure. Yeroulanos introduced sea bass farming to the island as well as to Europe, his being the first such operation in the continent. He was later was the first in the country to raise organic sea bass and sea bream. The company, which has been led since 1998 by the founder’s daughter-in-law and CEO Lara Barazi-Yeroulanou, produces over 3000 tons of bass and bream annually, 80% of which is exported, mostly to France and Italy but also to the US and the UK.
Conventional aquaculture units often have significant adverse effect on the environment, but a ten-year study conducted by the Marine Biology Institute of the University of Crete has found no evidence of negative impact. This may be due in part to the location of the unit in a part of the Bay of Argostoli with strong undercurrents but mostly to farming and fallowing practices, including the rotation of cage groups to prevent waste accumulating on the seabed.
No antibiotics or pesticides are used in rearing the fish, which are given considerably more space than in conventional pens and mature at a rate twice as slow as other farmed fish. In contrast to conventional industry practice, in which farmed fish are fed high-fat foods to raise the fat content of the fish, Kefalonia Fisheries use only wild fish trimmings from existing fisheries and certified organic grains. As Paul Greenberg, lifelong fisherman and author of the Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild, notes in a piece for the New York Times on the sea bass market, this is done for environmental reasons, since harvesting small wild fish for use as feed in aquaculture could have a negative impact on marine ecosystems. In any event, with this diet, the organically farmed fish have about the same fat content as their counterparts in the wild. Yet another reason to go organic!
More on the company in Helen Varvaritis’ related piece for the Athens News