Flexibility is an absolute must

The young generation of fish farmers is fully aware that it requires a flexible and entrepreneurial belief to cope with the ups and downs that come with animal husbandry. Young eel farmer Marieke Swinkels is well prepared to succeed.

“I see the future of eel production in a positive light.” Marieke Swinkels.

Marieke Swinkels is born out of a family of entrepreneurs, on her mother’s side as well on her father’s side. Father William Swinkels is the general manager of the Nijvis Group. Nijvis Group was founded in 1989 and comprises five companies – a smokehouse and fish trader, four eel farms and a glass eel collecting station, located in the Netherlands, Germany, France and Morocco.

As a child, Marieke Swinkels did not live on an eel farm, but in her holidays and weekends she followed her father when he was out supervising the eel farming and processing sites of the Nijvis Group.

“I somehow always knew that I would work with animals. I have similar interests as my father and it does not surprise that I chose to enter my studies the same way as he did, by studying animal science at Wageningen University. For my master’s degree in Aquaculture and Marine Resource Management I specialised in culturing of fish as such, not necessarily eel.”

Want to work with fish

After university, Marieke Swinkels worked in a feed supplements company for a year and then realised how much she missed working with fish. Decision was taken, and Marieke is now a product manager at Koolen eel farm. This is the largest eel farm in the Netherlands and part of the Nijvis Group while also being its headquarter.

At Koolen Eel Farm, Marieke is working with feeding and sorting the eel, besides some tasks from her father when he is on holidays and some administrative tasks.

While learning to master all aspects of farming the eel, Marieke Swinkels sees various job possibilities lying ahead, within the Nijvis Group. She speaks Dutch, English and Spanish and learns French now, for being prepared for the challenges to come.

Learning by practice

For Marieke, learning business management is learning by practice: She worked at the Klooster fish trader and smokehouse, part of the Nijvis Group, and of course, she has also been at the Moroccan facility and other Nijvis Group sites to learn more about glass eel catches, eel farming, processing, and the sales of eel products. “Taken the turnover and balance capital and the number of employees in the Group it is compulsory to provide a sustainability report, so I am already taking care of compiling that one, and of the risk and safety management of the Group. Later, maybe I’ll do more office work.”

Sustainably farmed fish

Marieke Swinkels’s father William has been a driving force behind the success of the DUPAN foundation that strives for a sustainable preservation of the Dutch eel and the eel industry. To Marieke, such initiatives matter a lot: “The market is eager to know more about sustainability aspects of what they eat. Given the many positive aspects of eating sustainably farmed fish I am convinced that the whole industry, including the eel farmers, has many good stories to tell.”

Our eels are in good hands

“Fish is my most important interest factor. Right now, I want to be on the farm to get to know all processes, and to learn how the farm is running”, Marieke tells. “We are a quite new team here on Koolen, many young persons, and we all need to learn and to secure a smooth, stable production. We are five persons taking care of the eel, working 40 h a week, and having one night shift per week. Sometimes the job also requires working during the weekends. I want to try this out.”

“One must understand that to do successful fish farming, flexibility is an absolute must. There can be an alarm on the fish farming system at any time and you must react instantly to secure good fish welfare. Most of us live close to the farm to be on the spot in case of an alarm. At Koolen Eel Farm, we do our best to treat our employees well, with free time possibilities and reasonable salaries and wages. Our eels are in good hands!”

There is room to grow

It lies in Marieke’s blood to have a flexible and entrepreneurial mindset, topped by a positive approach to the future. Marieke’s way of expressing this is when she says: “Eel is a traditional food stuff, so there will always be a market for eel consumption, and for its production. Therefore, I see the future of eel production in a positive light”