Peruvian paiche farmer to conquer international niche markets

LIMA, Peru — Farm-raised, fresh-water paiche from Peruvian firm Amazone has carved a niche in high end retail and foodservice outlets to meet sustainable fish demand.

But this is just the beginning.

The next step is consolidating in those countries where the company is already exporting – such as the US to retailer Wholefoods – while looking for new potential markets.

The goal, however, will be challenging: although Amazone has succeeded in its first commercial stage, paiche is still barely known by consumers despite its remarkable size. The fish can reach up to 18 kilograms.

“We have presence in North America, Hong Kong, Mexico, UK, Japan and Peru and, believe me or not, all these markets are complex because we need to educate consumers and teach them how to cook this fish,” said Isaac Gherson, CEO at Amazone.

Although it is premature to speak about a consolidated market for paiche, Amazone has already begun to grow by 10% per year in market penetration, Gherson said.

With initial volumes reaching about 120 metric tons, Amazone has managed to send abroad 99% of its production in markets that demand sustainable seafood for haute cuisine or high end retailers.

Even when paiche exports are addressed to niche markets, prices seem competitive compared to similar farm-raised whitefish species.

“In the US market, paiche is sold at $16/lb while Chilean seabass is sold at $30/lb,” Gherson said.

The company’s commercial push started in 2010, after two previous years of research to develop efficient methods to raise the species and set up operational facilities in the Amazon rain forest.

Backed by Peruvian mining and cement conglomerate the Hochschild Group, Amazone farms paiche to encourage and support low-impact development that is sustainable to the Amazon rainforest and its inhabitants.

“[To} automatize all processing could be an option, but we want to keep processing manual, since we want operations to be environmentally friendly and socially beneficial,” Gherson said.

Amazone, backed by Peruvian mining and cement conglomerate Hochschild Group, also hopes to save the species from extinction by breeding organic, farm-raised fish not only for export but also to release some back into the wild.

Paiche exported by Amazone is registered and certified as farmed fish – it holds natural and sustainable paiche production certification by the Swiss group IMO.

The company has been involved in projects with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to restock paiche in their natural environment and benefit native fishers who supply their nearby markets and could develop export markets in the future.