Sustainable Seafood from Veta la Palma and What Makes It Unique
Veta la Palma is a vast farming estate covering more than 27,000 acres situated in the heart of the Marshlands of Spain’s Guadalquivir River and is an example of the world’s first “Sustainability Plus” fish farm.
Once a natural wetland that was drained to raise cattle, a sophisticated reverse pumping and channeling system was developed to re-establish a marshland habitat on the Estate lands by drawing water in from the Atlantic via the nearby river. This new ecosystem benefits from a natural filtration process of aquatic vegetation that results in the natural cleansing of the water, which leaves the farm cleaner than it comes in. This natural enhancement to the environmental quality of the entire area has created a habitat for raising fish species such as Sea Bass, Grey Mullet, and Meagre in natural, pristine conditions. It has simultaneously becoming one of the largest bird refuges in Europe, attracting almost 250 species of birds to the Estate annually. Those fish lost to birds are simply viewed as a sign that the entire ecosystem is balanced and thriving.
Rod Browne Mitchell, President of Browne Trading Company, defines the Veta la Palma practices as ‘Sustainability Plus’. “It is within a biodynamic ecosystem in which the contained environment is enhanced by the wildlife that makes up the natural system” says Mitchell. “Veta la Palma’s food chain starts with simple micro alages, produced naturally by the sun and waters. Mysis shrimp thrive on the algae, larger Camarones shrimp feed on the Mysis, the fish feed on the Camarones, and Flamingos and other rare birds feed on the fish.”
“Humans in turn harvest the fish for haute cuisine. The entirety of the process, coupled with thriving aquatic plants, effectively filters and cleans the river waters, so that the water that runs back to sea is in fact cleaner than when it flowed into the farm. The farmers at Veta la Palma quantify the whole process as ‘fish farming that is extensive, not intensive’.”
Of the total 27,000 acres held by Veta la Palma, over 8,000 are involved in low density, “free water” aquaculture. The fish farming production involves the application of advanced sustainable aquaculture technologies, starting with native fry that are raised to size by resident biologists on a natural algae diet. Once released into the free flowing ponds and lagoons, they feed on the rich nutrients and sea life of the Atlantic which flow into the tidal estuaries, providing them a natural diet of shrimp, smaller fish and aquatic insects already contained within the stabilized biological ecosystem. Unlike other aquaculture environments where the fish are fed on an artificial diet that can be enhanced with growth hormones, these fish are all natural and are as close to wild fish as could be found in an controlled environment.
James Beard Award Winner “Outstanding Chef” Dan Barber of Blue Hill Farm is a proponent of Veta la Palma’s seafood, not only because of its sustainability practices, but because the fish are simply delicious. “Veta la Palma’s fish is unlike any farmed fish I’ve ever tasted,” he says. “It’s unlike any fish I’ve ever tasted. It’s sweet and clean – like tasting a bite of the ocean.”
Chef Barber also discussed Veta la Palma in Saveur Magazine, February/March 2011:
The result of this extensive farming practice is seafood that has an unbeatable quality in terms of freshness, texture and flavor not found in other farmed fishes. Biologists and aquaculture experts monitor and oversee the growth and health conditions of the fish from fry to harvest. Once matured to market size, the fish are harvested by hand in low impact seine nets, immediately put into slush ice, and shipped for sale, resulting in absolute freshness upon arriving stateside. The practices at Veta la Palma are rapidly gaining acclaim not just in Europe but in the U.S. as well as a unique model of both farming and aquaculture. In 2009, TIME Magazine recognizing their efforts for not only raising superior fish, but for setting the tone for a global focus on truly sustainable and responsible aquaculture practices.
Browne Trading has begun to bring in select shipments of these fish and is the exclusive distributor of these fish in the United States. Fish are shipped fresh to us directly from Veta la Palma and are never frozen.