Until now, cobia, which has a firm white flesh and grows three times faster than Atlantic salmon, has not been available in any commercial quantity in Europe. However, Marine Farms has built a vast operation in Vietnam and expects to produce 1,500 tonnes of the fish this year for export. The site, which Marine Farms has pumped £10m of investment into, has the capacity to produce up to 6,000 tonnes a year.
Comparable in size to salmon, cobia had huge potential to be used across a number of products, said Mark Warrington, MD of Sea Products of Scotland, which will sell and market the fish in the UK. "We feel it's probably the next big farmed species," he added. "It could potentially be bigger than tilapia."
Talipia bears no resemblance to cobia, but is also farmed in Vietnam and has gained popularity in the UK in recent years.
Cobia had already sparked significant interest in Taiwan and Japan, for use as sashimi, and had been well received by chefs in America, said Marine Farms CEO Carlos Massad.
The fish was likely to be popular with British consumers who liked swordfish, tuna and Chilean seabass, and it would be priced competitively against premium fish species currently sold in the UK, he added. "We also have the advantage of scope to reduce prices, as we improve efficiencies in line with established aquaculture species."
The biggest challenge faced by cobia was the British consumer's traditional reluctance to accept new fish species, said Dennis Overton, managing director of farmed fish supplier Aquascot. However, Marine Farms was rising to the challenge with effective marketing, he added. "I think cobia has a lot more to offer than tilapia.".
Cobia has a mild aroma, with the dark flesh reminiscent of roast pork and the white flesh carrying buttery caramel overtones, according to Young's.