Historically, Mantasoa was the stronghold of Jean Laborde, an entrepreneur at heart who served the Queen of Madagascar. Not only were cannon, rifles, swords, and gunpowder made there, but also soap, tiles, paint, crockery, etc.
The landscape, made up of valleys of red earth or laterite planted with pines and eucalyptus, gives it a unique dimension. Malagasy farmers naturally knew how to make the most of the hilly terrain in the area to establish their rice fields and market gardens, and in this way produced an enchanting setting.
Due to the preserved surroundings, the waters of Lake Mantasoa are of outstanding quality, ideal for producing the best quality caviar.
The Acipenser fish farm comprises nineteen large ponds, a hatchery, an area dedicated to pre-growout, a feed mill and a processing workshop spread over more than 8 hectares on the banks of a river fed by Lake Mantasoa upstream. It is this same lake that hosts the sturgeon when they reach 1.5 kilos in weight, holding them in about fifty giant 25m-diameter cages.
At 1,400 metres above sea level about sixty kilometres east of Antananarivo and far removed from any industries and cities, Lake Mantasoa covers 2,000 hectares to a depth of 4 - 10 metres. It is in fact a vast impluvium that collects only rainwater and is therefore protected from pollution. The fish farming ponds are fed by the waters of this lake.
Madagascar is a very large island as big as France and Belgium combined. So the climate varies considerably depending on the region. In the highlands at Mantasoa, the climate is temperate with water at a minimum of 13°C in winter and a maximum of 25°C in summer. This singularity is called a « growth optimum », i.e. the temperature range is the very best one could hope for as the fish develop.
Fish-farming performance in Madagascar is outstanding. Currently, oocytes (unfertilised eggs) measure 2.7-2.9 mm when the fish are 6 years old and weigh 9 kg on average. The caviar yield is also impressive, averaging 15% in the farm.
Ensuring that the sturgeon develop in comfort also entails sustainable Acipenser farming by preserving the ecosystem. So the quality of the lake water was monitored even before the first farming facilities were built there. Every day, oxygen, temperature, hydrogen potential (pH) and turbidity are checked on all farming facilities. In addition to this, the weather station monitors the rainfall, air temperature, wind speed and direction on the lake. So it is possible to predict more or less difficult times during the year and to take action accordingly. Also, sturgeon growth is an essential performance indicator that is constantly watched. Care must be taken to feed them enough without overfeeding so that they do not develop more fat than caviar. Currently, the Acipenser farm has 400 tons of fish, which means 100,000 sturgeon for over 70,000 m3 of available space giving stress-free farming for the fish.
In 2019 4.2 tons of caviar were produced, falling to 3.22 tons in 2020 due to Covid-19, but production rose to around 9 tons in 2021.
So Acipenser opted from the start for vertical integration with very few middlemen, giving it total control of production and fish-stock traceability in order to deliver outstanding caviar.
The Acipenser sturgeon farm is divided into two facilities called the « onshore » site and the « lake » site respectively, and includes six pure species of sturgeon producing six different caviars.
For the time being, the two caviar-producing species on the farm are the Baerii, ideal for a first taste and discovering caviar, and the Osetra, the favourite of leading Chefs.
So it has taken ten years to build the farm and import all the species we wanted, and it will take another ten years to give each species enough time to produce its caviar.
Acipenser will have reached its cruising speed by 2029.
The Siberian sturgeon was the first species on the farm, arriving in 2013. It takes six years for a female to give Baerii caviar. It is amber brown in colour, and you will enjoy its buttery texture and mineral, sometimes slightly fruity, notes.
2014 marked the arrival of the Russian sturgeon. It takes seven years to produce Osetra caviar. Its brown grains with golden highlights will delight your taste buds with their firm texture and more tangy flavour. 2022 marks the first production of Osetra caviar.
This sturgeon arrived at the farm in 2016. After seven years, it gives Osetra persicus with its characteristic golden glints, firm texture and very delicate seafood flavour. This sturgeon had disappeared from CITES registers as it was thought to be extinct but it reappeared in the Acipenser farm, a ‘lucky dip’ in a batch from its supplier.
Will weigh 100 kg at maturity. 2016 also marked the arrival of this sturgeon. We will have to wait ten to fifteen years to collect its Beluga caviar. Its large, crunchy, light grey eggs and very mild taste will make it your favourite.
This is a rather unknown species because it is only farmed in Russia and at Acipenser. Its arrived at the farm back in 2017. After eight years, the farm hopes to introduce you to its Shipova caviar, with its grey and green shades, robust texture and nutty taste. Eventually, this caviar will be the most precious and the most sought after by fish-farming connoisseurs.
2019 was marked by the arrival of the Star sturgeon. Seven years are needed to raise it and make Sevruga caviar. Much appreciated by Russians for its anthracite grey to jet black colour, these small grains have a soft texture and powerful taste that lingers on your palate.
The Acipenser farm manufactures its own feed for its sturgeon in a dedicated facility called the “feed mill”. Three tons of pellets are produced on a daily basis. This practice was introduced to provide control over the entire production chain. In this way the Acipenser feed gives healthy fish, optimises their growth and produces quality caviar. Manufacturing such feed requires particular expertise because sturgeon requirements need to be matched with the technical feasibility of the machines. Sturgeon feed is composed not only of tuna meal and blue fish oil, but also non-GM plant flour such as rice bran, brewer's yeast, amino acids, soy lecithin and vitamins. No antibiotics or hormones are used, and raw materials and finished products are systematically checked, either in-house or by specialised laboratories. In order to adapt the feed to the sturgeon’s size, the feed mill produces several different grain sizes. In order to meet its environmental and corporate commitment, 78% of the raw materials are sourced from Madagascar.