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Sourcing Sustainable Tilapia

Encore Seafoods CEO Matt Mariani, right, tours Royal Springs tilapia farms

Quality, flavor and sustainability: that's what Encore Seafoods looks for when sourcing ingredients.

Encore's hunt for quality seafood harvested and farmed sustainably led CEO Matt Mariani to a mountain lake in Mexico's Sierra de las Veinte Casas in November.

The destination was Acuagranjas Dos Lagos, a new, environmentally sensitive tilapia operation in the lush green hills of Chiapas, Mexico. Acuagranjas is the newest site developed by Regal Springs. In the rainforest highlands, the global seafood producer has created a hatchery, juvenile fry nursery, closely-monitored "free range" floating pens, and a state-of-the-art processing plant producing fresh and frozen tilapia.

Encore secured Regal Springs tilapia because it prefers sourcing raw materials from sustainable North American suppliers, and keeps a close eye on quality control in its own plant and its suppliers, Mariani said.

"Regal Springs is our major supplier of Tilapia. They invited us to tour Acuagranjas to get a better understanding of their facilities and what they do," explained Encore CEO Matt Mariani. "I was very impressed with their operation -- and I've toured a variety of seafood plants around the world in the past 20 years."

At Acuagranjas Dos Lagos, the Encore leader found a tilapia operation that starts with a modern lab and hatchery. Tilapia are bred there and grow to be small fingerlings. The juvenile fish are then transported upland to a natural freshwater lake -- Lake Pinitas -- and transferred to large floating pens.

The "free range tilapia" floating pens allow the tilapia to swim, feed and grow in the clear waters at the surface of the lake. This prevents the "muddy" taste which can sometimes occur in pond-raised tilapia allowed to feed in shallows and bottoms.

Regal Springs tilapia are fed a corn and plant-based diet custom-milled to company specifications. Company employees sample Lake Pinitas waters several times weekly to analyze, record and monitor water quality.

The lake itself is fed by streams and rivers in the surrounding area near the border of Mexico's Chiapas and Tabasco regions and the "Sierra de los Veinte Casas" (Mountains of the Twenty Houses).

The highlands surrounding Lake Pinitas receive an average of 104 inches of rain a year. The clear, rain-fed streams of the highlands flow into the lake as the mountain waters move to the Gulf of Mexico. This continuous flow of fresh water through Lake Pinitas means the entire volume of the lake is completely refreshed roughly every three days.

Regal Springs harvests the fish when they’re fully grown, and process them at an internationally-certified custom processing facility. The Regal Springs plant produces both fresh and frozen fillets, loins, and round fish. The plant itself has between 40 and 50 metric tons of frozen storage capacity.

The entire operation -- from hatchery to freshwater lake pens to processing and shipping -- employs 850 to 1,000 people.

Encore Seafoods is also concerned with how its suppliers treat their employees, Mariani noted. At Acuagranjas Dos Lagos, Encore learned about Regal Springs' construction of a school for the area's children, medical clinics for employees, and financial support for the Ocote Jungle Biosphere Reserve nearby.

Tilapia is one of the most popular fish in the United States, so sourcing from sustainable suppliers which have internationally recognized certifications in both food processing and environmental stewardship is extremely important for Encore Seafoods, Mariani stressed.

"We have a long tradition of producing center-of-the-plate entrees using sustainable raw materials from around the globe," Mariani explained. "American consumers want quality foods. And in addition to flavor, they're focused on the environment. They want and foods and goods produced sustainably."

Regal Springs' operation at Acuagranjas Dos Lagos has received certification from the Aquaculture Stewardship Council’s (ASC) International Standards for Responsible Tilapia Aquaculture (ISRTA) program. Acuagranjas has also received the Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) certification from the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA).

Encore Seafoods produces 14 different portion-controlled and value-added items on sale in all SuperTarget stores in the United States since spring 2016. Those include ready-to-cook entrees like stuffed tilapia and portion control tilapia fillets.

Acuagranjas Dos Lagos 2016: Encore's Royal Springs Tour

Photos (c) Royal Springs, Encore Seafoods 2016. Contact Encore Seafoods to request courtesy photo use.

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