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A. Kimonides explains how he led Limassol to the top of the fish farming standards worldwide!

23/10/2019
* NOTE: All the tributes of All About Limassol (as the Official Guide of Limassol) aim to ONLY highlight the special aspects of this wonderful city, so that everyone can be aware of the exceptional options they offer. Under no circumstances do they have any promotional or nominal value, and they do not serve the interests of Companies, Municipalities, Organizations or Individuals.

Antonis Kimonides, born and raised by the Limassol sea, was an average student at school. Neither he, nor his parents expected him to continue his studies past high school. Until, shortly before he was discharged from the army, he read an article about a French biologist who had managed to breed and cultivate bass in breeding farms for the first time.

Everyone has a defining moment in their life that marks the path on which their journey will take them. And so, for Antonis Kimonides, that article proved to be the crucial link between his childhood years spent by the sea of Limassol, and his professional career as Cyprus’s first fish farmer. The inspiration Antonis drew from this article led him to undertake oceanography studies in France, gain work experience in major organizations worldwide, and establish the first aquaculture unit in his city, eventually making his Limassol-bred sea bass the top pisciculture product worldwide.

His childhood was a poor one. There were 5 of us under one roof and the father, who was a knife maker, was suddenly left unemployed when the British decided to classify knives as weapons and outlaw his profession. “I remember spending nights eating only bread that we had toasted in the oil stove,” says Antonis, who, to this day, feels a deep gratitude towards his father, as he was forced to immigrate to Saudi Arabia in order to make a living and send all his children to university. 

“I learned to swim before I could walk,” he says, emphasizing the close relationship he always had with the sea.  

Antonis’ uncle was more financially comfortable, and he had his own boat, which the entire family would use to go fishing. “We would throw a long line into the Amathountas area and always pull it out full. There were plenty of fish in our seas back then, but after years of overfishing, the sharp increase in population after the war, as well as a lack of the nutrients that are usually carried into the sea by rivers (the marine area around Cyprus is considered to be the Sahara of the Mediterranean), fish populations declined sharply,” says Antonis. 

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The impressive facilities of the fish farm, the first one that was built in Cyprus, was a way for Antonis to return to the island and tto the sea he always loved.

“My father’s family would always go fishing. Five people would climb onto a bike and set off at dawn for Akrotiri,” he recalls. He boasts that from a young age, he himself was a formidable fisherman, and would always catch the largest fish of the ‘mylokopi’ variety, which would gather around the Lady’s Mile area every August.

“Despite my love for the sea, I had no interest in pursuing studies or a career relevant to this interest. Of the 5 children of the family, 4 had gone to university, but I, the youngest, was considered to be the ‘black sheep,’ and I didn’t perform well in school,” he admits.

He found himself serving in the army immediately after the war of 1974, at a time of chaos and turmoil, when young recruits did not know when or if they would ever be released. This made it even less likely that he would be pursuing studies beyond high school. “Suddenly, one day in December of 1976, I was informed that I was going to be discharged. It was at that time that my sister, who was studying in France, sent me the article on seabass breeding. It convinced me to gather my strength and make my way there to study,” he says.

Antonis may have ended up returning to Cyprus, but his fish have made it across Europe and beyond. 

7 years in France

And so, this average student from Limassol, found himself setting off for oceanography studies in France. “My good foundations in mathematics and physics helped me through it. The concern for my father, who worked hard to send us to university, was another driving force for me to succeed. So I continued on to obtain a Master’s degree in recycling aquaculture water, and doctorate soon after.”

“I worked hard in France so that I could support myself after completing my first degree. My father could no longer finance us. I did various odd jobs, from gas station attendant to painter,” he says.

This is why I have a different perception of the foreigners who come to Cyprus seeking a job to make a living. It was not that long ago when 40% of Cypriots immigrated to other countries in search of a better life.

Upon finishing his studies in France, Antonis knew that there were no prospects in Cyprus other than teaching in schools. He thus began sending his resume to various organizations in search of a job, from the WWF to oil companies. The response were always negative.

The daily route of the fish from the sea to the packaging facility takes approximately 2 hours. There are thus always fresh fish on the market. 

How did you finally end up back in Cyprus?
There finally came a point when something was created here that genuinely interested me. From 1983 to 1987, I had been working on the Mediterranean Regional Aquaculture Project, a program for FAO (UN Food & Agricultural Organization) which aimed to transfer marine culture technologies to other Mediterranean nations. We managed large funds which actually helped implement the technology required for the development of aquatic cultures.

I participated in the Mediterranean Fisheries Initiative and was working in North Africa at the time, with a base in Tunisia.

Greece was one of the early adopters of fish farming, which was made possible due to the country’s large number of closed-off bays, which created the right environment for fish farms to flourish. There were no such advantageous conditions in Cyprus, but, by examining the circumstances at hand, I became convinced that I could create such facilities in the bay of Limassol. And so, in the late 1980s, the first aquaculture units were created.

The first marine fish farm in Cyprus and Kimagro

Today, the first and largest fish farm to ever operate in Cyprus is located at a distance of 600 meters from the Limassol port, and approximately 1.5 kilometers out from the coast. This is where Antonis has spent a greater part of the least 30 years, initially working all the posts, driving the boats, drawing the nets, distributing the feed in the cages, and transporting fish to the merchants.

“During those first years, my office was my truck. When I would finish working on the boat, I would get into the truck and handle the orders and finances,” says Antonis.

A lot has changed since then, as the company has now expanded to include offices and a space for sorting and packaging, and employs a staff of 160. The expansion of Kimagro has put Limassol and Cyprus on the world aquaculture map, with its sea bass receiving top accolades, including the Diamond Award from the International Taste & Quality Institute (iTQi).

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There are now 2 fish farms in Limassol and 3 in the Moni – Vassilikos area. The Limassol unit processes up to 30 tons of fish daily. 

Why did you choose to breed sea bass?
This fish has always been well-known to the Mediterranean people. It is tasty and nutritious, because it feeds on smaller animal organisms rather than plankton. In fact, it was once such a highly sought after fish that it led to the creation of a Greek expression, ‘I caught a sea bass,’ which means ‘to strike gold.’ Of course, once fish farming caught on, this fish was no longer so elusive. That was the aim, of course: to be able to offer this delicious fish to as many people as possible, at affordable prices.

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The staff who work in the water begin their day at 5:30 in the morning. Just before 6am, the divers enter the water in full suits and gear, often swimming alongside the seals and dolphins which frequent near the fish farms. 

Is it possible to eat fish every day?
I can speak only for this particular fish, and the answer is yes. It is a good source of protein and Omega-3 fats. Just 100 grams of sea bass can cover a person’s daily Omega-3 requirements. I eat this fish at least 4 times a week.

Why would someone opt to eat farmed fish?
The biggest advantage of farmed fish is how quickly they perish after they are removed from the water. Farmed fish do not struggle to be released, such as they would if they were caught with a rod or in a net. Thus, they do not struggle, which can cause contractions that release substances into their flesh and cause it to harden. 

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Once fish are caught within their cages, we place them in containers at -3 degrees, where they go into hypothermic shock and die instantly.

Did you face any difficulties when starting out with fish farming in Limassol?
This process is unique due to the nature of our waters. Our bays are open and exposed to all weather conditions. I was daring however, and quite lucky in this respect.

There was a great sea storm that first winter, which destroyed all the cages, but luckily, I didn’t lose the fish. If I had, I would have been financially ruined.

Did you ever think about giving up?
Never. During that storm, of course, my stomach was in tatters. Even today, whenever the weather is unsettled, I am on constant alert. I go to the unit very early and watch every movement up close. Thankfully, new technology allows us to monitor weather conditions and take relevant actions ahead of time.

Behind every difficulty, however, and every hurdle, there is also an advantage. The point is to be able to manage the setbacks and reap the benefits as much as possible.

For example, the reason why storms impact us so is because we are exposed to the open seas. But it is this precise characteristic that protects our fish from diseases, and this is why we never need to use antibiotics in our fish food.

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The team members who work at sea daily work together in harmony, coordinating their actions so as to smoothly handle a relatively difficult job, even though the roles, specialties and backgrounds of each vary greatly. 

Do you feel proud of what you have achieved?
After raising a family of 4 with my wife, the second thing I am most proud of is this business, which was set up exactly how I had envisioned it in my city. We overcame difficulties and convinced the Department of Fisheries that fish farming could be developed in Cyprus, and 8 more licenses have been issued since then.

Antonis himself usually brings good vibes an humor at work.

“The pollution of the sea in Limassol has not been studied properly.”

Does fish farming have an impact on the sea?
Since 2000, we have been requested by the EU to conduct studies of the marine area around the unit, in order to monitor whether the environment is affected, and to what extent. For this purpose, we analyze areas at a distance of 50, 100, 300, 500, and 2000 meters from the fish farm, and the results are compared with the control points located at a station in an area not affected by fish farming.

In addition to not causing any serious environmental damages, we have found that there were also positive implications for aquatic life.

Rich biotopes have been created beneath the farms. The feed we use allows smaller or larger fish and even turtles and other species to survive near the cages, protecting them from larger, more aggressive species. If there was any negative impact on our seas as a result of our activities, I would be the first to be up in arms about it.

The boats used to transport staff and fish between the cages and the docks of the port were built by the company that manages the Limassol shipyard. These boats combine the elements of a catamaran and a heavy-duty vessel, a patent by Antonis himself. 

Where does the fish waste end up?
A small ecosystem is created around each fish farm, which operates separately to other areas. It hosts small organisms or little fish such as picarel, bogues, sardines, and smelt, which are either planktonic or scatophagus. Thus, some consume phytoplankton, which is abundant due to an increase in fish natural fish waste, some consume fish waste, and others feed on the organisms that consume plankton. In this way, the aquatic life in our seas is enriched, and we have the good fortune of seeing large fish, such as amberjacks, as well as smaller ones.

After all, aquaculture is an activity which functions within the framework of the natural environment of the sea, which is why balances are automatically restored.

Do you remember sea pollution when you were growing up?
The issue with pollution in the sea of Limassol is a serious one, but it has not been studied properly. To illustrate, I’ll use an example: when a piece of chicken is boiling, and part of it protrudes slightly out of the water, foam gathers around it. This is the case with the breakwaters that stick out in various places around the Limassol coast.

Breakwater structures should never rise above the surface of the water. They are necessary in order to prevent soil erosion, but they should have been studied correctly.

At these points, the currents do not circulate correctly in order to remove materials picked up by the waves, and they end up stagnating near the shore. Following the creation of the new port, erosion became more pronounced, because the coastline was not regularly refreshed with sediment from the seabed, and breakwater structures were deemed necessary. However, it is possible that alternative solutions should have been studied.

Sea bass feeds on fish meal, that is, the ground remains of smaller fish, from bio-certified areas. The feed is stored in 6 silos, each holding 11 tons. For a production of 1000 tons of fish, approximately 10 tons of food are needed daily. A feeding system has been developed which allows the feed to be distributed in 6 places at the same time, thus cutting down on time requirements.

From a truck and a boat, to an entire factory

For the past 2 years, the Kimagro facility has been running a modern packaging business. The safety procedures followed there are akin to those followed by surgeons: anyone who enters is required to wear a special apron, a mask, head and shoe coverings, and to sterilize their hands and feet. Besides the surgical gear, workers also wear warm clothing, as the temperature is kept particularly low in order to prevent the fish from spoiling. 

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The fish are initially sorted by hand, so that no injured fish are packed by mistake, and are then separated by weight and size via machine. 

What necessitated the creation of a laboratory for filleting and airtight packaging?
It is necessary to keep evolving. Filleting is not a common practice for Mediterranean people, and I scorned it myself, until I tried a fillet and realized that this form of consumption allows you to fully enjoy the flavor of the fish. This is why an entire unit was set up to sort, clean, and fillet our fish.

We did not start making fish fillets in order to ‘push’ older fish onto the market and make them more consumable. Rather, we wanted to offer our international award-winning Levantina sea bass to the public in its best possible form.

We fillet the freshest fish and this is immediately airtight sealed in order to ensure it is as fresh as possible when it reaches the consumer.

Why is there more promotion of the Levantina sea bass brand, as opposed to the Kimagro company?
Our sea bass has several quality characteristics, and it has been awarded the gold star from Brussels for 7 years straight. As such, we wanted to give this prize product a unique identity so that people would recognize it.

Levantina Fish was named after our location, the Levantine Basin.

Are there any plans for the future or is there no more room for development in the field of fish farming?
There is always room for improvement. As we have now managed to develop our fish farm near the coast, the next step is to spread out into open waters and into the oceans. The Mediterranean, as a sea, allows us this opportunity.

“I want Limassol to maintain its nobility”

Are you satisfied with the image of the city?
This is a city that has grown very rapidly. What was once a population of 30,000 has now multiplied. Where we once all knew each other, we now see unfamiliar faces, from different places and cultures. This does not bother me at all, because I see a city that is evolving, that remains alive and vibrant. On the contrary, I am saddened by the fact that there are some nights when you go out and you see practically no one.

Limassol is known as the city of entertainment and one would expect that the liveliness would carry on well into the night.

What would you like to see in Limassol in the future?
I would like Limassol to maintain its nobility, with its beautiful people, its hotels and restaurants. What we should take care to improve is its cleanliness, and this isn’t just the responsibility of the authorities, but has to do with the attitude of our people.

From the boat to the office to the packing facility, Antonis always has a pleasant word or a joke to share with the staff he meets daily. The relationship he has developed with the people of the company is an indication of his caliber as a human being. 

I judge myself, too, when I say this, because I am a smoker but I’m also a bit of a rebellious Limassolian. When I found myself in Japan 12 years ago, I was informed that smoking was prohibited in the streets, and only allowed in designated spaces. Though this soured me somewhat, out of curiosity, I bent down and touched my finger to the pavement, and found that there wasn’t a speck of dust on it. I immediately put out the cigarette that I had lit in breach of the rules, and never lit it again.

Its impressive how, simply by following the rules, people have managed to upgrade their quality of life.

Is there something that bothers you in everyday life?
More than anything, I’m bothered by the procrastination that is the norm in all public services. For example, it’s unacceptable that we have a commercial attaché in China who is unable to inform me of the procedures I need to follow in order to export to China. What is this person’s role? What are these products that Cyprus exports to China, which would be the proof that his work bears results?

“I am also bothered by the atmosphere that is created in our country through the canvassing conducted by political parties.” 

Politicians do not say what is right or what is fair, but rather, what sounds pleasing to peoples’ ears. Having lived through the period of British rule to the present day, I will say that I am quite

Do you regret anything about your journey to this day?
The years I lost when my children were growing up is what I regret the most. During those early years I even worked on Sundays, so I was away from them quite often.

What satisfies me to some extent is the fact that all my children came to work in the company growing up, and I know that they are proud of Kimagro.

My youngest daughter has just finished her studies, though she has already worked in the company. I am now urging her to pursue a postgraduate degree in New Zealand, so that she can experience a whole different kind of world, one beyond Cyprus and Europe.

What is your greatest job satisfaction?
The company has evolved, and the number of our employees has increased, so my greatest satisfaction is seeing everything run smoothly.

In general, I like to be efficient at work at and home, not so much for the financial gain but because I believe efficient people are a benefit to society.

This is something I want to pass on to the company staff. It is an element that we must all adopt, in order to survive as a country. This is why procedures in the public sector bother me. When people receive a salary, without knowing what for, this means they are not contributing to the sustainability of the local economy.

A heavy smoker for decades, Antonis admits that this habit is one of his biggest flaws.

What are your flaws?
I like to do things in a certain way that I believe to be correct. This can prove to be annoying to those around me, both at work and at home.

I am not one to hold back, and I often give my opinion on things, even if it’s not favorable. This has often resulted in the creation of tensions.

This has had negative consequences on my work at times, and I have even lost partnerships and favorability that would likely have been useful. Then again, favorable treatment was never something I sought out.

What do you enjoy in your life?
Good food and drink. I don’t eat out often, nor do I drink often, but when I do, I like to enjoy it to the utmost.

Additionally, in recent years, I discovered the joy of mountain living. Since starting a family, I have settled in the Limassol mountains, in the outskirts of Lania, where my children grew up.

This was a very wise decision, as was its extension of sending my children to private school, because I do not believe in the system of after-school lessons and I don’t understand why children should carry on with lessons after school. And so, we avoided a lot of driving back and forth.

Living in the mountains offers many pleasures, from a walk in the woods in the fresh air, to the ability to cultivate your own fruit and vegetables. Contact with nature and wildlife is one of the greatest pleasures I am lucky to be enjoying now.

lania from above.

Antonis did not start his life off with high expectations. His humble background, the small size of Cyprus, and his poor performance at school, were all factors that forced him to keep his feet planted firmly on the ground. Perhaps this in itself was an element which contributed to his success. Down to earth and human, cheerful and jovial, it is almost impossible to tell that he is a successful international entrepreneur, one who introduced Cyprus to a whole new economic activity.

He is not the type to simply be content with the achievement of a goal. Rather, success is also marked by the journey it took to get there. This is why many of the company’s employees who had been with him since Kimagro’s first steps, are today like members of a somewhat unusual family. The satisfaction that comes with creating something from scratch, the dream for something bigger, and a sense of work ethic and humility have always been the main components of success, and they are the main characteristics of all Limassolians who have stood out from the crowd. These are the core messages that such a tribute by All About Limassol (The Official Guide of Limassol) holds dear and aims to highlight.


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