You must be crazy to farm eel!

Young fish farmers have an optimistic approach to their endeavours. Jan Götting is one of them.

“I am willing to invest in this on-going adventure.” Jan Götting.

Jan Götting runs the eel farm Aalhof Götting situated close to Cloppenburg, in Germany. Aalhof Götting was founded in 1986 by his father Gerd Götting who grew up on a traditional farm that dates back to 1654. Agriculture and cattle were his passion and he started studying his field of interest.

Why not try something new?

However, when Gerd Götting was hospitalised due to an accident he realised that he could no longer pursue his agricultural ambitions. As luck would have it, he came to read an article in a magazine, informing that in China people farmed fish in hammocks suspended in a lake. “Why not try something new?” he thought, and soon after having finalised his studies, he paid a visit to some eel farms that recently had popped up in Denmark to learn what would be required to start up an indoor eel farm at his premisses Cloppenburg.

First attempts of RAS farming were made in 10-15 tanks of the size of bathtubs. Learning by doing means accepting that the learning curve can be steep and very expensive at times. But the outcome was promising. He later built new buildings for the indoor farming, and now the farm produces around 180 tons of eel.

At arrival at the farm, the glass eels weigh around 0.3 gram. Half of the eel are sold when they reach 3-10 grams, to fishery organisations, public authorities, and angling associations, for restocking in the wild. 10- 15 % of the farmed eel are sold to privates via the farm shop. According to Jan Götting on-farm sales are labour intensive but allow for good sales prices and gives the opportunity to promote eel as a healthy, tasty and sustainably farmed alternative to other animal protein sources. Other grown-out eels are sold fresh and gutted to smokeries, while others are sold live to wholesalers.

Engineering background

As a child, Jan Götting grew up on this eel farm, giving a helping hand to his father when he was out feeding the fish, and to his mother who was – and still is – responsible for the on-farm sales to locals.

Jan Götting holds a master’s degree in industrial engineering. After his studies, he worked 7-8 years as an engineer in a company, mainly dealing with agricultural construction projects for poultry and pork, but for a short period that company also was involved in projects for in-door farming of European catfish.

“In 2018, I quit my engineering job in order to get much more familiar with the management of the eel farm. I am now a full-time eel farmer, I am the manager of Aalhof Götting, I co-own it with my father, and I feel lucky that I could take over this well-established business”, Jan Götting tells. “We are three persons working here right now, and hopefully soon we will be four. It is important to have good employees that take responsibility for the farm and the fish – it is a big chunk of money, after all!”

Farming fish? Are you crazy?

Back in 1986, people in the rural neighbourhood were shaking their heads about Gerd Götting’s eel farming adventure plans: “Farming fish? Are you crazy? You will never succeed.” Now, 37 years later, Jan Götting meets the same astonishment. “But it is a passion for me, and I see successful years ahead of us”, Jan Götting explains. “Farming eel is expensive, but the more you can farm and sell, the more profitable it gets. The market is stable, and I am willing to invest in this on-going adventure.”

I do not see any bad signs

“The eel industry is main contributor to restocking and enhancement of eel in the wild”, Jan Götting says. In Germany, restocking of the inland waters with eel started more than a century ago. “And with the EU restocking obligations for European eel in force since 2007, we now see that the eel has relatively well recovered”, Jan Götting explains, and continues: “I see good signs for the recovery of wild eel. I have good collegial relationships with colleagues in Germany and in the Netherlands and we are all concerned about the political decisions that are being taken regards the availability of glass eel for restocking our farms. But I do not see any bad signs. I am an optimist!”