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Volume 25 No 3 – Spring 2011

IQF first for Coral Sea Farms Changing tastes for trout fishout Goldfish still the staple at Boolarra Noosa Fish Health Taskforce Modernisation of oyster farms Barra farmer’s o’seas insights Sustainability guide’s flaws Marketing Tassie’s oysters

P R I NT POST APPROVED NO 768108–00002

ISSN 0818–5522


www.AustasiaAquaculture.com.au

Editor-in-chief Dr Tim Walker Regular contributors David O'Sullivan John Mosig

Contents

27

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Advertising Megan Farrer Design/typesetting Coalface Production Pty Ltd Prepress & Printing Geon Group Copyright Š by Austasia Aquaculture. Contents cannot be reproduced without permission. Statements made or opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Turtle Press Pty Ltd (ABN 98 506 165 857). Austasia Aquaculture magazine (ISSN: 0818 552) is published by Turtle Press Pty Ltd (ABN 98 506 165 857) for the promotion of aquaculture in the Australasian and Asian regions – inclusive of farming in marine, freshwater, brackish and hypersaline waters. Reader's contributions are encouraged on the clear understanding they will be subject to editorial control and, if accepted, will appear in both printed and online versions.

Cover photo A montage of photos taken from stories contained in this issue. Captions and photo credits as per the details inside.

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QF first for Coral Sea Farms Changing tastes for trout fishout Family focus keeps Boolarra Goldfish Farm producing Tablelands farmer wins sustainable barramundi award

MARKETING

4 9 16 20

27

Tassie oyster marketing super group

32

Aussie seafood sustainability guide seriously flawed

36

RESEARCH

F E AT U R E S

Noosa Fish Health Taskforce reports

Qld Barra farmer targets quality to compete with imports

21

Modernisation of the Australian oyster industry

24

Aquaculture, the next ten years...

26

Ensuring the safety of Australian oysters with predictive tools

41

Aquaponics at Challenger Institute of Technology

42

Spring 2011 | Austasia Aquaculture 1


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All photos courtesy of Coral Sea Farms.

This bag of harvested prawns will be in the processing facility in only a few minutes.

IQF first for Coral Sea Farms The Southern Hemisphere’s first changeable vertical/horizontal multiflex Individually Quick Frozen (IQF) freezing system has been built near Ingham in Northern Queensland. The system allows the freezing and glazing of all seafood products instantly on a single production line providing huge benefits in enhanced quality and cost efficient processing. These processing facilities are open to other seafood producers, both fisherman and other farms in the region.

O

ver the past five years both the highs and lows of Coral Sea Farms have been reported in AA. Whilst award-winning sustainable prawn production methods provide an excellent model for other farms, it –like many other north Qld farms – was significant impacted by the recent tropical cyclones and floods.

A staggering $10 million has been spent on the farm’s state-of-the-art prawn/fish farming complex incorporating 48 hectares of grow out ponds/water remediation areas and a highly efficient on-farm processing facility. 4 Austasia Aquaculture | Spring 2011

Owner Francois Naude is proud of his farm’s high standard of environmental practice allowing it to operate within a bio-diverse natural ecosystem adjacent to the Hinchinbrook Channel. The company is also instigating best practice in value adding. “Since 2004 Coral Sea Farms has been producing highly acclaimed Black Tiger Prawns (Penaeus monodon) for the domestic market,” Francois says. “Current annual production is around 250 tonnes of which approximately 75% is sold cooked, fresh chilled with the balance being frozen and sold at a later

stage to take advantage of better prevailing market conditions.” Over the years the farm has been awarded numerous gold and other medals – including Champion Prawn Exhibitor – by the Sydney Royal Fine Food Show. Criteria for the judging of this prestigious event, by a panel of leading experts from the seafood industry, is based on allocating merit points for flavour, visual, texture, peelability, aroma and freshness. Coral Sea Farms have just won the Queensland Seafood Industry Producer Award for 2011 and are now a National Seafood Producer


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finalist of the year which will be judged in October. Thus its prawns are widely regarded as the industry’s benchmark standard. “The bulk of our prawns are bought by Woolworths Ltd,” Francois explains. “We are currently the largest producer of fresh Black Tiger Prawns for the Christmas period in Australia, having supplied over 80% of fresh prawns sold by Woolworths Ltd over the past two years. We also sell to several discerning wholesalers located at the Sydney Fish Markets.” What is so good about IQF? Francois and his team are very excited about the prospects for their KM IQF Multiflex freezing system. For readers to really understand their reasons for this, some background information on freezing technology needs to be provided. We all know (or should know) that the texture and taste of quickly frozen, highquality seafood is nearly the same as a fresh product. The most important goal in freezing seafood is to bring the core temperature of the product to a minimum of at least -18°C as quickly as possible. The choice of freezing methods depends on product types, intended uses, packaging needs and cost. Freezing can be done in three main ways: • circulating chilled air around the seafood (blast freezers); • pressing chilled metal plates on a boxed product (plate freezers), or • immersing or spraying products with refrigerants like liquid nitrogen or chilled salt brines. When seafood is frozen and stored at correct low temperatures (> -23°C), bacterial growth is stopped thereby preserving the product and, in most cases, dramatically extending shelf life (Table 1). The key to top quality frozen seafood is understanding that proper freezing can maintain quality. But it does not improve it. Thus freezing should be fast enough to preserve the quality. Slow freezing (as encountered, for example, in a storage freezer, where heat-transfer

Aerial view of the farm showing filled ponds with aerators and the large settlement and bioremediation areas to ensure only good quality water is discharged.

characteristics of still air are poor) or incomplete freezing affects texture, flavour and shelf life. Most frozen seafood should be glazed with a protective coating of ice (achieved through dipping in freshwater) to prevent dehydration and oxidation (weight loss, freezer burn and poor quality) during storage and distribution.

Brine freezing (invented and patented by Mr. J.A. Ottesen, Denmark in 1913) involves the addition of salt to water to create an excellent medium for freezing large or irregularly shaped seafoods, since typical saltwater (23% salt) remains liquid to -23°C. The process offers good heat transference, so product freezes quickly.

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A Q U A C U L T U R E TA N K S Spring 2011 | Austasia Aquaculture 5


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After cooking the prawns are put into an ice bath to quickly lower their core temperatures to prevent over cooking.

Management Metrics Key Management Decisions for Coral Sea Farms Australia include: • Certification: HACCP • Environmentally sustainable aquafarming - purpose built closed system, HDPE lined ponds, no chemicals or hormones are used, superior health and disease management. • Producing Australian Seafood, superior in taste and texture and free from harmful additives. • Implemented a number of operational procedures, farming improvements and automated technology to ensure the delivery of a high quality product. • Multiflex IQF plant produces a premium low sodium content glazed frozen product with an extended shelf life. • Regional processing facility enables other aquaculture farms, professional fishermen and crabbers to process in a fully accredited facility. Provides job security by enhancing the business as well as creating new employment. • Commercialisation of new fish species Goldspotted Rockcod (Epinephelus coioides) and Cobia (Rachycentron canadum).

In a brine freezer, whole seafood is immersed in the mechanically chilled brine. Tuna, swordfish and prawns are often brine-frozen at sea in factory vessels; the brine has to be changed regularly to maintain hygiene standards. Another difficulty is prolonged (>4 hrs) contact of fish and prawns with brine will lead to some salt uptake. Because their greater surface-to-volume ratio, small fish take up more salt during brine freezing than large fish. This is more of a problem for lean fish than oily fish 6 Austasia Aquaculture | Spring 2011

(rancidity is the main problem for oily fish). To avoid excessive salt absorption, products are sometimes packed in plastic bags before they are brine frozen. Kaj E. Christensen is the Managing Director at KM Fish Machinery, a Danish company which is one of the world’s leading seafood processing system manufacturers. In a review report prepared for Coral Sea Farms in 2009, Kaj identified a number of short falls in the methods often used in Australia for prawns:

• The brine freezing is usually at -8°C to -10°C which is not low enough as the processors have to use 14% salt brine to avoid the prawns absorbing too much salt. • This means that when the prawns come out of the brine freezer, it is not possible to get the recommended 10% glaze for complete protection of the frozen product. • Freezing from approx. -5 down to -25°C in the boxes in cold storage (slow freezing) is not recommended as it takes too long time and some of the glaze will drop of and become snow in the box. • Adding extra salt into the brine (to achieve lower temperatures) or to the product is not suitable for a market asking for less and less salt because of health issues. • Blast freezing can be used to freeze pre-packaged items or individual and irregularly shaped products that would require further packaging prior to frozen storage. However, no boxes or other wrapping materials are necessary during blast freezing. “Currently all prawns farmed in Australia use brine/blast freezer combinations mainly because of cost considerations,” Francois explains. “Management elected for the adoption of new freezing technology (IQF) used overseas as we believe this is essential to produce a superior quality value added product with additional health benefits as demanded by the market. “We also need this technology to compete with the superior freezing techniques used by imported product.” With IQF blast freezing fans blow and circulate cold air (normally 30 to – 35°C) over a product that has been placed on conveyor belts through a horizontal tunnel or vertically in an ascending spiral. Tunnel belt speed varies with product size and form, Small fish fillets, for example, might pass through a blast freezer in 25 minutes, while a whole 10kg salmon might take four to six hours. According to Kaj Christensen the main disadvantage to blast freezing is the


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possibility of surface dehydration which can result in “freezer burn,” evidenced by a whitish, cottony or spongy appearance of the flesh, especially along cut edges or on thin spots of the product. “In a poorly designed system this could equal a loss of 6-8% of the product’s initial weight,” he reported. “A one percent weight loss is typical in a well-designed blast freezer with efficient air circulation.” Francois is quite the expert on the subject now and he and his management team knew that they wanted a flexible system that could do a range of products to cover all species they farm and to maximise throughput by freezing for other seafood and vegetable producers. “IQF freezing is the most used freezing method in the world. We chose the KM IQF freezer from Denmark because it is probably the most flexible IQF machine available (Table 2). This is the first multi product IQF tunnel freezer in the Southern Hemisphere. Using air instead of brine, the plant accommodates both vertical (prawns and other crustaceans) or horizontal (fish & crabs) freezing producing a low sodium content glazed individual quick frozen product with an extended shelf life (14+ months).” To overcome space and financial constraints, the cooked processing line was designed to accommodate fresh chilled and frozen prawns on the same fully automated line which includes bin tipper, hopper, inspection station, IQF tunnel and glazing station (for frozen product), batch weigher (18, 10, 5 and 2kg) and packing station. The tunnel freezing using air allows for individual freezing, glazing and packing of prawns in a single process which reduces double handling inherent in blast freezing previously employed. The added multi product feature allows for the IQF of any type of seafood using the same equipment/processing line and is the only system worldwide using this patented technology. The Multiflex IQF freezer system enables Coral Sea Farms to achieve its goal of freezing a high quality product with a low salt content

capable of retaining its condition for an extended period. “This innovative technology is expensive to acquire, especially for a medium sized business,” Francois continues. “We were fortunate enough to be successful in applying for a grant from the Australian Government, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry under its Regional Food Producers Innovation and Productivity Program.” According to Francois an Independent Advisory Panel assessed the IQF project as meeting the merit criteria for the program to a high degree. “The system demonstrated significant innovation which should deliver substantial benefits to industry and regional Australia. From the supplier’s side the Danish Government assisted them financially under their Export Promotion Scheme to facilitate a lower price to ourselves. Our grant from the Government was on a Dollar for Dollar basis. The Department’s help and guidance from the date of our first application was fantastic and much appreciated.” Table 1: Storage life for frozen seafoods

Hand sorting of the green prawns before cooking is the first part of a double grading program to ensure only the highest quality prawns are sold under the Coral Sea Farms band.

Fully accredited facility The unique IQF system is only part of the Coral Sea Farms story. Francois is quick to describe how the prawns are grown and harvested at their best quality. “The location of our fully accredited processing facility adjacent to our growout ponds ensures that our prawns are processed without any delay at their freshest which contributes to the superior quality of our cooked prawn. (Source: KM Fish Machinery, Denmark)

Storage life (months) -18°C

-25°C

-30°C

Fatty fish, sardines, salmon, ocean perch

4

8

12

Lean fish, cod, haddock

8

18

24

Flat fish, flounder, plaice, sole

9

18

24

Lobster, crabs

6

12

15

Shrimp/Prawns

6

12

12

Table 2: Features and special benefits of the KM IQF freezer (Source: KM Fish Machinery)

• Changeable air circulation patterns (vertical or horizontal) and air speeds for flat (e.g. fish fillets) or ‘chunky’ (e.g. prawns) products • Variable belt speed allowing from 7 up to more than 140 minutes of freezing time • The quick freezing maintains the natural colour and shape of the frozen product • Maximum yield as the extremely quick freezing of the surface reduces de-hydration to a minimum. • Product pre-freezing temperatures as low as -18 to -25°C to easily gain the recommended 10% glaze (protection of the frozen product for quality and long storage life) • Product after freezing (recovery of lost temperature in the glazing process) back down to -18 to -25°C. Spring 2011 | Austasia Aquaculture 7


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adds more than 30% to the cost of normal earthen ponds, the extra cost of has been well worth it due to: • Centrifugal water current action in the pond is more effective with less drag from the smooth pond walls thus lowering electricity consumption and carbon footprint. • Bank erosion being prevented, reducing the amount of sludge at the end of the crop as this has been shown to consist of mainly clay. • Minimising erosion maintenance costs. • Benefits gained in health/disease management and bird control.

our boxes of market ready packed prawns. Pricing across all our grades are 50c/ kg higher than the rest of the market – food service customers have no problem paying the premium for our product.” Francois knows that his skilled staff are a major asset to their operation. “Most of our processing staff were trawler owners who availed themselves of the Qld Government’s licence ‘buy back’ offer and others were ex-crew. These people brought a wealth of experience and knowledge to our operation and are instrumental in producing a quality product at all times.”

From top: A retail display of Coral Sea Farms Black Tiger Prawns. Part of the unique IQF freezer which also glazes the product for additional protection. Delicious cooked and chilled prawns ready for sale.

“To guarantee the delivery of a premium product, we double hand sort during processing – first on green prawns to remove any soft, small or damaged (seconds). The second sort is post cooking. “Other farms often only sort once but we believe our practice of double sorting is well worth the expense. Very few, if any, of 2nd grade prawns slip through into 8 Austasia Aquaculture | Spring 2011

To protect the Coral Sea Farms brand name, prawns with this label are only sold through select direct sales and are not auctioned at the Sydney Fish Market. All second grade prawns are marketed and sold under a different name and logo. “Our Coral Sea Farms Black Tiger Prawns have a distinctive strong orange colour,” Francois reveals. “We believe the darker aquatic environment in our ponds resulting from the ponds being lined with HDPE is a major contributing factor. Being one of two farms in Australia with lined ponds we also reap health and disease management benefits over farms with earthen ponds, which have a flow on effect on quality.” He says that although the HDPE liner

Seafood Award ‘Environmentally sustainable aquafarming’ is a core tenet of Coral Sea Farms operational policy. The accolades for Francois and his team have been strong indeed, especially for the company’s strong environmental focus and commitment to improved farming and processing practises through targeted research and development. “The coverage of the new IQF freezing technology in industry publications has generated great response to date. Many other prawn and barramundi farmers have made enquiries. Lessons learnt and successful implementation of this cutting edge technology and its associated benefits are shared with other interested seafood participants. “We are keen to see this become a regional processing facility. We have been making our fully accredited automated processing facility available to adjacent seafood producers (other prawn/fish farms, professional fishermen and crabbers) in our region. We already process for four other producers creating additional employment. Favourable press coverage has been received in this regard.” By Dos O’Sullivan. For more information contact Francois Naude, Coral Sea Farms Australia Pty Ltd, PO Box 84, Macknade, Qld 4850. Tel: 07 4777-2797, Email: info@coralseafarms.com.au


All photos courtesy of Buxton Trout

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The joy of catching your first fish is evident in Violetta with her mother Carol.

Changing tastes for trout fishout Mitch MacRae at Buxton Trout is still in business despite fires and floods. He even jokes about the locust plagues of last summer providing food for his fish. So what is the latest challenge he has to contend with? Well it is to do with the changing tastes of his clientele. Or is this actually a benefit? Mitch is focussed on appealing to whoever wants to visit the farm for whatever reason – fishing, a BBQ meal, enjoyment of the bush or other forms of fun.

T

he Winter ’09 (Vol 23.4) issue of Austasia Aquaculture described the hard work undertaken by a number of people to get the Buxton Trout and Salmon Farm back into production following the devastating ‘Black Saturday’ (Feb ’09) fires.

Now, more than two years later, owneroperator Mitch MacRae has a ‘bring it on!’ approach to life as a trout farmer. Since the fires he has had to cope with floods (September and October 2010) and jokes how the ‘worst locust plague in 75 years’ (2010-11 summer) provided a fine treat for his hungry fish. “Getting more locusts would have been

good,” he says with a wry smile on his face, “That could really have worked for us, not needing to feed the fish. Certainly better than the fires and floods killing our fish!” Mitch is rapt with the assistance he received in 2009 and 2010. He can now keep growing Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar), Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and Brown Trout (S. trutta). “Stuart Rees from Australian Trout Foundation helped out with the donation of an autostart generator worth some $10,000,” explained Mitch. “The generator is very handy in maintaining power to the farm

as there are often outages due to fire damaged tress pulling down power lines.” Around 10,000 yearlings and plenty of eyed eggs from the Snobs Creek Fish hatchery were provided to all the fire affected trout farms by DPI. “Other trout farmers also assisted us,” says Mitch. “To get help from your competitors was quite touching.” Mitch has responded with ‘gifts’ of his own, including a donation to the Australian Trout Foundation (AA 25.1) “I also gave Stuart 10,000 fry (5g) which were used for stocking some western district lakes.” Spring 2011 | Austasia Aquaculture 9


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A 30cm wave of water raced through the fish out ponds and sheds.

Flooding Losses The Buxton Trout farm is located between two rivers, the Little Steavenson (which supplies the ponds) and the Steavenson which is on the fence line. “Our farm used to be a quarry in the 1920s as the area is an old riverbed,” says Mitch. “They dug a lot of the stones and gravel out and then Frank Parkes built ponds in the mid 1950s and started the first commercial trout farm in Australia.”

The floods washed Salmon out of the ponds and over the road into the housing estate where neighbours caught very fresh fish for dinners. Mitch’s wife Deb standing on the Maroondah hwy with one she managed to salvage before it ended up in a neighbour’s fry pan.

Management Metrics Key Management Decisions for Buxton Trout & Salmon Farm include: • Certification: Prime Safe (third party audited) • Integrated hatchery, growout, processing and tourism activities • Wide range of products including eggs, fingerlings, advanced stockers, whole fish (Rainbow Trout & Atlantic Salmon), smoked fish and egg (caviar) as well as fish out activities. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for growout include: • Culture or Holding System utilised: 1.5ha of earthen flow-through ponds • Growth rate (from stocking to market): 12 months (egg to 350g) • Survival rate: 70-80% from first stocking to sale size • Av. stocking density: 15-30kg/m3 • Annual harvest: 70-100 tonnes • Water use: 10-20ML/day range from winter to summer • FCR: 1.1-1.2:1 (number of kg of food to produce 1kg stock) • Productivity: 20-50tonnes per Effective Fulltime Unit.

10 Austasia Aquaculture | Spring 2011

Small floods have occurred several times since 1979 when the MacRae family purchased Buxton. Unfortunately the damage was much greater this time. “The problem in the recent floods was both rivers overflowed their banks at the same time and the farm was surrounded in flood waters. A 0.5-1m levee bank had been built in 1960s to protect the farm’s main ponds and divert surface water inflow away and into the Steavenson River. We had to add 300 sand bags filled with a sand and cement mixture; this method means the blocks last longer than loose sand which erodes away once the bag rots. “We were able to keep the water away from our production ponds and houses. However, we had a 30cm deep sheet of water wash right through our fish out ponds, the work shed and carport and out across the Maroondah Hwy for over 36 hours. “Whilst infrastructure damage was limited, over 2,000 salmon were washed out of the lower fish out ponds and across the road and down to the housing estate where people were catching salmon on their front lawns. During a storm with dirty water from the catchment coming


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through the farm you find the Rainbow Trout would get disorientated and swim down to the bottom of the ponds. However, the Salmon do the opposite and these were the main fish that were lost. The biggest were around 3kg.” Mitch said the losses were not as disastrous as they could have been. “We stock the fish out ponds with good numbers of fish so they are not too difficult for the people to catch but not as heavy as production ponds. We probably hold over five tonnes of fish in the fishout stream covering less than 0.5ha.” Since the flood Mitch and his team have rebuilt and raised the levee bank another 1.5m so he feels he has finally floodproofed the farm “But you never can say never. We will just have to wait until the next flood and see if we have any weak points that we fill before the next time.” Recovery With over 31 years of experience growing salmonids, Mitch knows what needs to be done to keep his operation profitable. “Normally our annual production is around 100 tonnes with a mixture of sales to wholesalers/shops (80%) and through the farm gate and fish out (20%). We had a very good hatch last winter and now the farm is fully stocked. However, it’s the same old story; when I have lots of fish, everyone else does too. When I don’t have any fish, no one else has any either.”

Mitch (left) with TV presenter and actor Paul Mercurio at Buxton Trout for yet another feature story.

To counter this Mitch has been working to expand his product range and turnover. “We have introduced a number of speciality items including caviar and smoked trout product. The caviar is handmilked from salmon and rainbow trout and put in special brine before packing in 100 and 350g jars. Our special Mountain Ash hot smoked trout – whole fish or fillets – is very popular as well as a home-made smoked trout pate. “We do all of it on site so we have complete control of the product. We believe that the Mountain Ash wood fire creates a robust smoky flavour far superior to the automatic smokers.” Spring 2011 | Austasia Aquaculture 11


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Fresh Rainbow Trout and Atlantic Salmon remain Mitch’s stock of trade although fingerlings sales are also important. He says that some year up to 50,000 fingerlings are sold to DPI for their trout restocking programs; other fish are sold to private recreational fishing groups. “At times the Snobs guys will come over and pick up the fish and transport them to the release site; at other times I do it (under Fisheries direction). “We have a 4-tonne tray truck which holds a 2,000 and a 1,100 fibreglass tank. The two tanks allow us to split the loads for different drops. We diffuse bottled oxygen at 4L/min via carbon rods which are more robust than the ceramic ones which also tend to become blocked. We can transport around 450kg for over 6hrs at 150kg/m3.”

Restocking post fires at the trout farm. Note the fire hose reel. The truck has been set up with its own pump and hoses to double as a fire truck. Hot smoking of Buxton Trout is undertaken using Mountain Ash wood to give the beautiful and distinctive smoky flavour that can’t be replicated in gas fired smokers.

Change in Visitor Demographics Mitch has seen a fairly major change in the types of visitors he attracts; more Asian and African families are coming to the farm to catch a fish in a safe and comfortable environment. “You really notice it on Melbourne Cup Day or AFL finals series when these families take to the bush to escape the sports hysteria in Melbourne. Often there can be three generations all travelling together.” This change in visitors has also been observed by Les and Jenny Dovaston (AA Vol 25.2); owners of the Marysville Trout & Salmon Ponds, about 20 minutes drive away.

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Another popular activity is to have birthday parties at the farm with extended family and friends flocking to the farm where there is something to interest almost everyone. Mitch has also noticed a trend in how people want their fish. “Over the past 20 years, things have changed a lot. Back then the average bloke knew how to gill and gut the fish and then he would prepare it in his own ‘special way’ (lemon juice or onions or other herbs/spices) and finally he would cook it. “Now people buy ready to eat foods, so

12 Austasia Aquaculture | Spring 2011


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they want to have the food prepared for them. This means we need to be able to help some people all the way through the catching, killing and preparation process.” However, there is an ever-increasing group of cashed up ‘foodies’ passing by. Mitch said that TV programs like Master Chef, and the popularity of ‘celebrity chefs’ was meaning that more people were taking an interest in seeing how food is prepared. Interestingly, he suggests there are two different groups of foodies – the ‘hands on crowd’ and the ‘interested bystanders.’ He notes that the first group love to experiment and try different cooking methods and condiments (sauces, herbs, seasonings and other flavourings). They’ll take a gill-gutted fish and then experiment with a couple of different recipes. Mitch finds that the second group keen to oversee the whole process from catching a fish through preparation to cooking and serving it, asking questions along the way. “If you are a bit of a showman you can make the process really interesting for the people. “Some of our salmon are over 4kg in size and people are very excited about being able to purchase such large fish. These fish can be either caught by line or netted out by staff. They are sold for $24/kg (whole weight). Our staff are often to gill and gut the fish and make it ready for BBQ’ing at the farm or for cooking at home. “Sashimi takes time to prepare. However, all the cuts and preparation make for a very interesting time.” Food Trails Whilst food and wine trails have been around for many years, Mitch says there’s renewed interest in the Yarra Valley’s and Upper Goulburn’s growing reputation for exceptional food and wine. Accordingly Mitch has put a lot of effort into his website to attract new clients. “The interest in fresh produce is revitalising farm gate sales and farmers’ markets. It’s a fast growing trend to buy seasonal fresh produce. We have more and more people driving out from Melbourne to

From top: Jars of delicious Buxton salmon caviar plus various types of Mountain Ash hot smoked trout. A basket of delicious Rainbow Trout and other local produce.

buy fish, vegetable, wines, cheeses and other produce either direct from the farm or at the scheduled markets. The foodies like to discuss the products with the farmers and many are very well informed.” Held generally on Sundays, over 20 farmers’ markets occur regularly across the area (www.visityarravalley.com.au/ pages/markets/). “It is good business to have a stand at these markets. I used to go to Yering Station (Yarra Valley Regional Farmers’ Market) which has been operating since early 1998 and quite a few others have ccome online. However too many of them tends to dilute the

numbers of customers at each. After a while I focussed on ones held in the metro area – mostly the ones at Collingwood Children’s’ Farm and Boroondara (near Hawthorn). There are also big ones at St Kilda and South Melbourne.” Mitch says after his fish stocks went down due to drought and then fires, he’s not attended any markets since though he is confident that they still provide a great opportunity to sell fish. “However, the HACCP/food safety regulations have been transferred from the local council’s responsibility to Prime Safe. Now you must have a retailers’ Spring 2011 | Austasia Aquaculture 13


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licence and a Prime Safe registered refrigerated vehicle with the HACCP Plan and other certification. It has all got too expensive and complicated for me.” Mitch is president of the Upper Goulburn Food Wine & Culture Group (www.uge.asn.au) and a proud member of the Yarra Valley Regional Food Group (www.yarravalleyfood.com.au). His link on the website states Buxton trout sells smoked trout, rainbow trout, Atlantic salmon and handmade caviar. Another Food Group member is the Yarra Valley Salmon Farm (Mark Fox, www.yarravalleysalmon.com.au) which sells naturally farmed Atlantic salmon (whole fish or fillets), Atlantic salmon caviar and hotsmoked salmon.

Some of the drivers who toured and had lunch at the farm as part of the Bob Stillwell BMW promotion.

The proximity to Melbourne, good quality roads and the peaceful or rugged landscapes, including the fire-scarred hills and forests, provides for interesting drives. Weekends, especially Sundays, sees groups of car or motor bike enthusiast ‘cruising’ through the Yarra Valley. Mitch has been quick to take advantage of these groups looking for something different to do. “In March each year Upper Goulburn Food Group host a local version of the World’s Longest Lunch at my farm with over 100 people from all over. This has been a great way to show case local produce and wine from the area.” Special guests at the table have included (then) Victorian Premier, John Brumby, and celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver (2010) and George Calombaris (2011).

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In October 2010 over 25 people visited Buxton Trout as part of a BMW Drive Day which Mitch remembers well. “Guests of Bib Stillwell BMW enjoyed experiencing the BMW range, including the BMW M3 and 5 Series GT, through the picturesque surrounds of the Yarra Valley. Half way through the drive program guests stopped at our farm for a break and lunch. Travis McAuley from George Calombaris’s Hellenic Republic Restaurant in Brunswick Street, Melbourne, cooked up tantalising dishes which were enjoyed by all.”

Mitch has been busy in lining up a number of features on his farm. In July 2010 Nicky Buckley did some filming for the Guide to the Good Life a TV program and website aimed at people over 50 who are ‘working less and living more’. Paul Mercurio featured Buxton Trout on his Mercurio’s Menu as did Paul Worsteling on his IFish program. Buxton Whole chilled trout (500g) and handmilked caviar were used on Master Chef in early 2010 together with other fresh Yarra Valley produce. “All this media attention gives the business a bit of a kick along.” Mitch is confident he has the right mix of products to keep people coming in through his gates. He, like many others in the region, has put the past behind him and is just getting on with business. “We want people to keep coming up here. We know we have to keep close eye on what they want and need. “The kindness shown from right across community from our business competitor, government departments, fishing groups, the media and general public has been the greatest physiological boost I could have ever got! How could you not get up and have a go each day when you have been shown such support!” By Dos O’Sullivan. For more information contact Mitch MacRae, Buxton Trout & Salmon Farm, 2118 Maroondah Hwy, Buxton, Vic 3711, Tel: 03 5774-7370, Fax: (03) 57747348, email: buxtontrout@bigpond.com Website: www.buxtontrout.com.au


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1. Aerial view of Boolarra Goldfish Farm. 2. Collecting fish by hand as the water level recedes whilst draining a pond

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3. Long range view of the Boolarra farm showing the netted production ponds in the rear, and the sorting / grading she, feed silos and holding tanks in the middle, with broodstock ponds in foreground.

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4. Everyone is busy when sorting fans from nymphs. 5. Catching fish is easy when using a lift net – feed has been used to attract the fish to this corner of the pond.

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6. Some of the Boolarra team sorting shubunkins from uncoloured fish.

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7. A metal sieve is used when grading subbies (sub quality fish) out of a tank of fish ready for market. All photos courtesy of Boolarra Goldfish

Family focus keeps Boolarra Goldfish Farm producing When last visited by AA back in 2002, Boolarra Fish Farm, Australia’s largest ornamental finfish farm was pumping out an incredible 3.5 million goldfish per year. Production increased to over 4 million in the mid 2000s. Recently the local market for goldfish has diminished due to a variety of reasons; however the Wucherpfennig family are still producing and selling loads of great fish.

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estled in the foothills of the Strzelecki Ranges some 160km east of Melbourne, Boolarra takes its name from the Kurnai word meaning “Plenty”. Whilst logging and dairying have been staples for most people of the township since it was established in the late 1880s, Boolarra Fish Farm supplies exotic fish throughout Australia. Franz Wucherpfennig started the operation over 50 years ago; now his son Russell runs the farm. And he makes sure he knows more about the market for goldfish than most, regularly visiting pet shops around the nation to check on their goldfish and to see whether they purchased from Boolarra, other Aussie 16 Austasia Aquaculture | Spring 2011

producers or stocked imports. “I can tell our fish from our competitors and I like to see if new varieties are in the store.” He has observed that the market has changed over the past few years. “There is no longer the seemingly insatiable domestic demand that we saw in the 1990s to the mid 2000s when we were selling over 4 million per year. We are finding that the market for 5cm fish is still strong. However, sales of medium to larger (9cm +) have fallen, probably due to much higher retail prices. “We generally sell between 40,000 and 60,000 goldfish each week. The demand is strongest during Christmas until late February; during this time we

could sell up to 100,000 weekly.’’ Boolarra has 30 production ponds (each with an electric aerator and covered in bird netting) and 155 dams covering 20ha. “We operate all this with four fulltime employees and three part-timers,” Russel says. “Extra assistance is sought when times are busy (e.g. big order pack-outs).” Breeding Russell gets a real buzz out of testing new breeding techniques and he loves it when customers provide positive feedback. “We breed comets, shubunkins, red fantails, telescopic fantails, calico fantails, black moors, orandas, redcap


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orandas, mirror-scale comets and Mexican walking fish. We use our own bloodlines to prevent the introduction of diseases onto the farm.” A six-year program to install concrete walls on all of the 21 breeding ponds was completed in 2000 at a cost over $300,000. “We needed to do this to stop erosion of the walls and also prevent grass or roots growing into the ponds on which the fish could spawn. Now the only substrate for them to use is the spawning mats which can be easily removed.”

Management Metrics Key Management Decisions for Boolarra Fish Hatchery include: • Focus on goldfish varieties and the higher priced Axolotls • Netting of main production ponds to keep out birds and other predators • Avoid using chemicals or hormones, keep the breeding system as simple as possible • Use of home-made or prefab spawning mats. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for goldfish include: • Culture or Holding System utilised: 150 earthen ponds plus 21 concrete-walled breeding ponds • Growth rate (from stocking to market): <6 months (0.01g to 5g) • Annual harvest: 2.9 up to 4 million sales

September to December is breeding season and all the fish spawn naturally; no hormone injections are used. Instead, spawning mats made from 5-6cm long coconut fibre bundles held on steel frames (1.2m long by 600mm wide) – or prefab ones from the US – are used. “These work well for the goldfish varieties as well as the Axolotls. The mats are placed around the shallow areas of the hatching ponds where the water warms up a little more. Once the eggs are on them they are transferred to the production ponds. In the largest pond we can have up to 200 of the egg covered mats.” The breeding ponds are drained between March and September, particularly to remove self-seeded fish – necessary before the new breeding season begins to ensure only selected broodstock are in the ponds. Eggs can take up to two weeks to hatch although it can be as little as 3-4 days if the water is warm. The fry will hang onto the mats or other substrate for a few days before they become free-swimming and start feeding around the ponds. The mats are then removed, cleaned and left to dry out before reuse. Feeding January through to March mostly involves caring for the fry. More than 100 tonnes of fish pellets are purchased each year. “We like to have a low protein diet – around 20% protein – but high in carbohydrates,” Russell explains. “We mostly buy from the local Ridleys factory (Pakenham) which is based on a

This sample of goldfish will be tested for a range of diseases and viruses. Photo by Anneke Rimmer, University of Sydney.

formula from the U.S. These are sinking pellets as unlike salmon, trout or barra; goldfish are bottom feeders. “There doesn’t need to be any carotenoids so the feeds only cost around $700 to $800/tonne. We start with minicrumbles for the fry then go up to 2-3mm long for the larger fish. “During the week each morning we use a superphosphate spreader to throw the pellets along the sides of the ponds. The feed rate is based on experience and will depend on the age and size of the fish,

water temperatures, stocking densities and other criteria.” The fish are fed in the mornings to give a chance to digest their food so they don’t have a full belly when lower dissolved oxygen levels hit at night. During the hotter weather (>30°C) that can occur during December and January, paddlewheel aerators operate in each of the production ponds; these operate on a timer from 4am till 7am and again between 6pm and 8pm. After so many years experience, most of Spring 2011 | Austasia Aquaculture 17


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Research Program The University of Sydney is mid-way through a FRDC project* investigating two ornamental fish viruses. The first is Cyprinid Herpesvirus (CyHV-2, commonly known as goldfish herpesvirus). A closely related exotic virus, cyprinid herpesvirus 3 (Koi herpesvirus, KHV) causes mass kills in carp overseas; however, this virus has not been detected in Australia. The second virus is Megalocytivirus; one variety known as dwarf gourami iridovirus (DGIV) has significantly impacted some overseas – particularly Asian – operations. “There is scientific uncertainty about the distribution of megalocytiviruses in Australia, Dr Matt Landos says. The concern is that pathogens introduced into Australia can have significant impacts on both wild and farmed finfish stocks – in both marine and freshwater species. The program has listed more than 50 species of ornamental fish commonly traded in Australia which it will test. According to Matt, his company (Future Fisheries Veterinary Service, FFVS) is supporting the project, particularly with forming linkages to domestic fish suppliers, importers and retail outlets. “The project is pleased at the cooperative approach taken by Australian farms to learn more about how diseases may have come into Australia through the importation of fish

the problems have been ‘ironed out’. However, bird predation is thorny; it’s the most costly to overcome. “Our main predators include cormorants, crows, herons and ducks. We have spent more than $0.6m erecting netting across all our breeding and production ponds. Occasionally foxes can burrow under the netting.” This capital investment has significantly reduced losses of fish. 18 Austasia Aquaculture | Spring 2011

and how they can potentially be spread.” Recently, a newly validated PCR-based diagnostic test for DGIV has detected the virus in dead and moribund gouramis sourced from ornamental fish retail outlets in NSW. Similar molecular-based diagno-stic tests have been developed for CyHV-2 and this virus has also been detected in sick goldfish from NSW retail shops. These tests are very specific. They cannot detect other viruses or other infections.

ornamental fish already in Australia will be sourced from retail shops and ornamental fish farms and wild (feral) goldfish and gouramis. “People need to note that the PCR tests being used will only detect the two specific viruses. They cannot and will not pick up the presence or absence of other diseases. Hence should sick fish be submitted, the project may not be able to determine the cause of sickness through the testing proposed.”

The project’s primary objective is to determine whether megalocytivirus and CyHV2 are in fact entering Australia despite quarantine practices and to determine whether either type of virus is already established here. A series of surveys of ornamental fish will be completed to detect megalocytivirus and CyHV-2 beginning with fish that have just arrived in Australia.

Another objective of this project is to define the tests for each virus so that they can be deployed into all fish laboratories throughout Australia. It is important that such tests can be used by a large number of veterinarians in the investigation of diseases in sick goldfish and gouramis submitted by members of the public.

“The project is being run by The University of Sydney,” Matt continues. “Industry has been made aware that this is not an AQIS project. The results of the project will be published and be placed into the public arena.”

Dr Matt Landos, Future Fisheries,

The University is an AQIS Quarantine Approved Premise to import ornamental fish so examinations can be undertaken of those fish in quarantine (pre-border). Four importers have now agreed to assist this project by supplying fish just released from quarantine (post border). Finally

As on any fish farm, Russell and his team need to keep a close watch on fish health, particularly if the breeding seasons are cold when diseases like Columnaris bacterial infection (tail rot) can cause mortalities. Medicated feeds are used and regular bath treatments are used for other diseases and parasites, including Tricodina, Gyrodactylus and Chillodonella. Russell collaborates with fish vets on

For more information contact Mobile 0437 4982 863, Email: matty.landos@gmail.com This project is supported by funding from the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation and the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry, on behalf of the Australian Government through the FRDC Aquatic Animal Health Subprogram project titled ‘Surveys of ornamental fish for pathogens of quarantine significance’.

various research projects and has used Dr Jim Greenwood and, more recently, Dr Matt Landos for expert advice. He also is helping with research on goldfish viruses undertaken by Matt and other specialists at Sydney Uni (see box above). Axolotls Boolarra has been selling the Axolotl (Mexican walking fish) for more than 20 years, now providing 300-500 per week


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all year round. “If it gets too warm for them (over 25°C) they go off their feed and can quickly lose condition,” Russell says. “They prefer the colder conditions and will breed during the winter if you let them. However during this time it is too difficult to produce sufficient Daphnia and other live feeds.”

organic fertiliser; we have found that chicken manure is the most potent.” After a couple of weeks they can start feeding on goldfish pellets, reaching – depending on water temperatures – harvest size of 15cm within six months. Harvests

Whilst not too difficult to breed with the spawning mats, these cannibalistic fish are hard to raise, readily eating each other’s tails or legs. “Whilst the tails and legs usually will grow back, it does mean we can’t sell them until they are whole again. As we stock them in fairly high stocking densities in the ponds, we need to be careful with that.”

Likewise it takes goldfish about 5-6 months to be strong enough for harvesting, grading, packing and transport for sales. The ponds are drained and the fish collected and transferred into concrete holding tanks. “It is best handling the fish in the colder months; we have to be careful in summer when fish can wilt from excessive temperatures.”

Axolotl eggs can take up to six weeks to hatch depending on water temperatures. The youngsters are around 0.5mm long, making them around 3-4 times larger than recently hatched goldfish.

All the species and varieties are graded on size from one (smallest) to ten (largest, usually broodstock). Graded fish are held in floating baskets before being packed into a plastic bag with around 3L of water. The bag is filled with oxygen before being sealed and placed in a cardboard box for transport. In the summer months ice can be used to bring down the water temperatures below 15°C.

“The other key to the management of the Axolotls is the provision of live feeds,” Russell continues. “They feed on Daphnia, Tubifex worms, blood worms and mosquito larvae. We fertilise the ponds with

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On Mondays the orders are collated and organised. Packing starts at 4.30am on Tuesdays for delivery to Melbourne wholesalers (only a few retail outlets) or for transport to Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide. Russell believes that people will continue to want to keep fish. “People simply like watching fish swimming around; they represent a consummate form of relaxation. Sales will fluctuate with the economy and the trick to this game is keeping the fish around 5cm, the preferred sale size.” It looks like Boolarra will continue to stay a major player in the ornamental fish industry. By Dos O’Sullivan. For more information contact Russell Wucherpfennig, Boolarra Fish Hatchery, PO Box 33, Boolarra Vic 3870. Tel: 03 5169-6330, fax: 03 5169-6603.

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Tablelands farmer wins sustainable barramundi award Tim and Gail Thiele, Barramundi Gardens

Atherton Tablelands barramundi producers, Barramundi Gardens won the 2011 Award for Sustainable Farming, at the annual Australian Prawn and Barramundi Farmers conference in Sydney.

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ustralian Barramundi Farmers Association President Marty Phillips said that environmental credentials and demonstrated sustainability were an increasingly important part of delivering market place acceptance of farmed seafood.

“Not only must the barramundi taste fantastic, that is a given, but these days

industry also needs to demonstrate that it is produced in an environmentally responsible manner,” Mr Phillips said.

“They also produce their own vegetables which are then used in their spring rolls,” Mr Phillips said.

“Barramundi Gardens ticks all the right boxes.”

When asked of other sustainable practices at Barramundi Gardens, Mr Phillips replied “more importantly, this farm does total recirculation of pond water.”

A fresh water farm situated close to world heritage listed rainforests, no doubt many people nationally and internationally have enjoyed farmed barramundi from the Theile’s Barramundi Gardens. “The Thieles sell their barramundi to leading restaurants in the Cairns and Port Douglas area where it is served as an iconic Australian dish to tourists,” Mr Phillips said. “They are also producers of Barramundi Spring Rolls which are sold nationally,” he said. Mr Phillips remarked that it is their sustainability practices, which set the business apart.

“There is no discharge of nutrient into the environment,” he said. “Perhaps uniquely in this industry, they also use timber harvested on their property for industrial water heating.” Barramundi Gardens is also a participant in the ABFA testing program of fish against the world’s toughest standards for residue, standards imposed by the European Union. “Fish from Barramundi Gardens always pass this tough standard,” Mr Phillips said.

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Noosa Fish Health Taskforce reports T

he Noosa Fish Health Taskforce was set up in January 2009 to investigate a range of fish health problems at the Sunland Fish Hatchery (Austasia Aquaculture 23-2), including fish deaths and abnormalities.

The enquiry was triggered through the persistence of the Sunland’s proprietor Gwen Gilson and her vet, Dr Matt Landos. Dr. Landos’ scientific tests and trials combined with Ms. Gilson’s thorough documentation and photography of the procedures and outcomes throughout the series of events left no doubt that they were abnormal to the hatchery and of a serious nature warranting immediate attention. Ms. Gilson had suffered livestock and fish deaths as well as abnormalities in her developing larvae. She noticed that these events happened only during the spraying season on the neighbouring macadamia farm. And they began only after the nut grower had upgraded to a high pressure air blast spray rig delivering a mist of agricultural chemicals observable well above the nut trees – making it more susceptible to drift. The terms of reference for the Taskforce were to investigate the potential causes of these events from January 2006 with particular reference to: • appropriate aquaculture husbandry practices at Sunland Fish Hatchery; • potential chemical contamination of ponds from agricultural practices, and • other possible causes. It was also asked to: • investigate any links between fish health problems at the hatchery with broader ecosystem and fish health concerns in the Noosa River catchment; • make findings or recommendations in relation to scientific sampling, analysis or experimentation to assist investigations, and

• engage with relevant stakeholders, including the affected parties, industry and relevant local and state government agencies. The Taskforce was to present a final report to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Regional Economies, Tim Mulherin, by February 2010. As it transpired the Final Report wasn’t signed off until June 2010. Even then its release was delayed until June 2011 with the Minister citing a court case between the nut grower and the fish hatchery as the reason for holding it back.

Matt Landos

That legal case is still pending. Releasing the report on June 8, the Mr Mulherin said these types of investigations were complex and it was difficult to identify a specific cause. “Overall, the investigation found that there was no definitive link between chemicals and the events that occurred at the hatchery or in the Noosa River.

Dr. Jim Thompson ® and Dr. Ron Glanville inspect some of the photographic evidence Gwen has accumulated while Gwen’s colleague Bernie Gevers looks on.

“While agricultural chemicals may be a contributing factor in some of the events that were investigated, other factors like fish diseases and parasites, water quality, past environmental contaminants and hatchery management practices cannot be ruled out as the primary cause. Curiously he went on to say: “When this process began I warned that it would be long and complicated, and that there may never be definitive findings.” Was this a pre-ordained outcome? Dr. Matt Landos was one of those invited to join the Scientific Committee of the Taskforce. A widely recognized and highly regarded aquatic veterinarian, Dr. Landos says the majority finding - that chemicals used on a neighbouring nut farm could not be definitively blamed - is seriously flawed. “At the recent meeting of the Australian College of Veterinary Scientists, an Spring 2011 | Austasia Aquaculture 21


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eminent specialist Veterinary Epidemiologist pointed out that science is never able to provide 100% definitive causal proof, and decisions can, and should, be made based on the most likely causes, where there is a significant weight of evidence. “The Taskforce Report ignores the case epidemiology, the existence of vapour drift, the role of a cocktail of mixture exposures, and the now global understanding that endocrine disruptors can alter embryo development, at levels well under the historical traditionally derived toxicological levels. By defaulting to out of date ANZECC Guidelines, and ignoring all of the contemporary peerreviewed scientific literature supplied, the Taskforce director is choosing to act as someone who is badly informed. “The (independent) reviewers of the Report were less expert than the veterinarians who undertook the field investigations. It is curious why such lesser informed opinions were taken as superior to those of the registered veterinarians involved,” he adds. The Report made 29 recommendations to eight government and industry bodies plus the two farmers involved. The recommendations fell into two categories; those suggesting further investigation by government agencies and those suggesting industry bodies ensure their members follow best practice guidelines.

From top: Gwen feeding some bass fingerlings spawned by using broodstock from another catchment other than the Noosa Lakes system. Shooting down the single eye piece of this microscope, Gwen has compiled a mountain of photographic evidence. Dr. Ron Glanville (L) and Dr. Jim Thompson inspecting the layout at Sunland with Gwen. To keep her hatchery going, Gwen had to import water for her hatchery using this 1,650L transporter tank.

22 Austasia Aquaculture | Spring 2011

These included specifying that both farmers (aquaculturist and nut farmer) involved carry out a list of procedures; procedures that would be an insult to their professionalism if they weren’t so laughably naïve. For instance – “Routinely monitor water quality parameters in ponds such as dissolved oxygen, pH, temperature, and biochemical oxygen demand (BOD)”. To any practicing aquaculturist this really is Aquaculture 1.01 – teaching your grandmother how to suck eggs. “The members of the Taskforce made a decision based on the information that they had; where and when they had

enough information,” explained Dr Jim Thompson, Biosecurity Queensland’s Chief Biosecurity Officer, who chaired the now disbanded Taskforce. “Now, because these things were in real time, quite often they weren’t in a position to collect any further information other than that provided by officers on site or by Ms. Gilson or by others at the time in relation to those issues,” he continued. “They didn’t have enough evidence to rule out certain things at various times. There were assessments of chemicals in water samples taken on a number of occasions and there was an inability to find chemicals at levels that could have caused the effects that were being reported. Without that evidence it’s impossible to take that next step to say that chemicals were the cause.” Dr. Landos disputes the point. “Coroners routinely declare someone died of a gunshot wound, and in such instances we do not insist on the actual finding of the bullet or the gun, to be satisfied of the cause of death. There is ample evidence of spray drift, sufficient to highlight the high plausibility of this pathway of exposure. There is ample pathology evidence, ample water quality evidence, ample photographic evidence, ample temporal evidence.” Dr. Thompson went on to say: “There was an expectation that we continue to work now on the issues and we’ve had a meeting of the government agencies involved to make sure everyone’s aware of what’s required of each agency, and we’re going through a process to make sure we can deliver on those as best we can. “Some of the recommendations in relation to distributing information and changing some government processes are underway now and will happen pretty quickly. But others such as research – in terms of trying to find providers and funding – could take quite a while, possibly 2-3 years.” Dr. Thompson said it had been a lengthy and thorough investigation that had considered other possible causes of fish health problems like genetics, environ-


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mental factors, infection, nutrition, nonpesticide toxins and husbandry factors. To test the likelihood of any of these ‘other possible causes’, Dr Landos and Ms Gilson set up a trial based in her hatchery following the Queensland Government advice to ensure biosecurity and protection from spray drift. She used procedures she has employed over the last 20 odd years. The larvae were taken from the one breeding pair and the only difference in the trial was that one half of the spawning cohort was raised in water from the ponds on the Gilsons Road farm; the other half were raised in water from her Ringtail farm, a source well away from the macadamia farm. The results were revealing. All the larvae reared in the Sunland’s water died while all those raised in the Ringtail water under identical conditions survived and developed normally. Dr Landos notes: “Same larvae, same genetics, same husbandry, same hatchery, same everything except the water. The broodfish were brought in from offsite. The fish spawned normally and we had heaps of healthy eggs and healthy larvae. When the larvae were ready to feed we stocked some of the ponds at Sunlands, some in the ponds at Ringtail as well as in 1,000L tanks in the Sunlands hatchery facility. “We sent some off to Dr Wendy Townsend at the DPI laboratory at Toowoomba. She sent back a report saying that there was no evidence of infectious disease in the dead and dying larvae. The pH, ammonia and DO were monitored and throughout the trial were well within accepted parameters; therefore we can rule out water quality. Fish died before first feeding so it wasn’t nutrition. DO didn’t fall below 7mg/L in the tanks, nor did water temperature vary by more than 2°C at any time during the experiment, and the variation was the same in all tanks. “It’s quite clear that we can rule out genetics, environmental factors, infection, nutrition, non-pesticide toxins and husbandry factors. Simply put, those that did not get the contaminated

Gilsons Road water did not die.” In light of the Report’s insistence that there is no conclusive evidence of danger to the operation of the hatchery from spray drift from the neighbouring macadamia farm, the Taskforce’s following recommendation to the Aquaculture industry may seem rather contradictory. It said: 4. Review information and advice on planning issues and potential neighbour land management conflicts when advising on the establishment of a new aquaculture enterprise or increasing the size of an existing enterprise including: • distance of ponds from property boundary • the consideration of biosecurity issues related to the activities of the neighbouring enterprise • assessment of potential overland run off and impact of run off on pond water quality and production • assessment of potential spray drift issues from neighbouring enterprises. Dr. Thompson has noted that Biosecurity Queensland continues to investigate incidents of animal health issues at the hatchery as and when they are reported. “To date, no evidence has come to light to change the final report’s conclusions.” However, according to Matt Landos, Biosecurity Queensland has so far refused to release the slides of fish tissue submitted from the hatchery to allow a second opinion to be sought. By John Mosig The Taskforce’s report, and its 29 recommendations, can be found on www.biosecurity.qld.gov.au. Dr Matt Landos can be contacted on matty.landos@gmail.com

From top: One of the ponds at Sunland. Note the single line of tallowwoods that is the only “buffer” between the two properties.

Gwen Gilson can be contacted on sunland1@westnet.com.au

Activated charcoal was recommended by the government vet, Dr. Roger Chong, to remove impurities from the hatchery water. At $8/kg and a requirement of 3t/pa, it proved to be too costly.

Dr Jim Thompson can be contacted on jim.thompson@dpi.qld.gov.au

Some of the 1,500L spawning tanks at the Gilsons Road Hatchery. The recycling tanks used to clean up the water before it is returned to the hatchery. Gwen’s anti-poaching system is nothing if it’s not innovative.

Spring 2011 | Austasia Aquaculture 23


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Modernisation of the Australian oyster industry As Marketing and Export Manager for TTPPlastics By Design (formerly Tooltech Pty Ltd – a company involved in product design, toolmaking and plastic moulding), my initial involvement with aquaculture industry began in 1994 with Australia’s largest oyster company – Cameron of Tasmania.

I

had seen a segment on the Landline television program one Sunday morning showing Camerons’ plastic trays used for oyster grow-out in subtidal longline suspension near Eaglehawk Neck. As our company were making plastic trays for various other industry sectors I was certainly motivated to establish contact with Ian Cameron and his son Michael. As a result, and within just a few short months after reciprocal visits, we had assisted them in designing a new oyster tray with a number of innovative features to meet their highly mechanised requirements. The ‘Aquatray’ tray with its now nine different versions has gone on to be used for intertidal and subtidal farming in various sea-state conditions in many parts of the world. Whilst primarily for oysters, it has found use too in the grow-out of abalone, clams and scallops. This venture sparked my interest in such a way that over the past seventeen years I’ve assisted in the design and development of almost sixty trays, baskets and accessories to suit a wide variety of shellfish farming needs. That extended involvement in the industry has provided me with an array of memorable experiences, a considerable number of contacts and many friendships I truly appreciate and value. This period also enabled me to witness a vast array of activities, developments and changes across the wide farming spectrum, particularly with the 24 Austasia Aquaculture | Spring 2011

industry’s infrastructure requirements. The majority relate to better environmental outcomes for oyster farmers. A notable development in NSW has been the adoption by growers of hatchery-reared stock, allowing uptake of disease resistant stock in areas that were traditionally wild catch. Crucial too has been the rapid and overdue change from tar and concrete coated timber trays, rails and posts to polymer alternatives. Apart from being environmentally-friendly, these also have the added benefits of easier onfarm handling and higher load application. (When designing our trays and cages – Aquatray® and Aquapurse® – a paramount consideration was the need to have them nest and stack. This has provided both a marketing advantage and a visual environmental benefit). Related to the advent of polymer has been the entry into this industry over the past few years of plastic post manufacturers (e.g. Woodshield for whom we make post end caps). As suppliers of posts for vineyards, they realized there was a real need too for these on oyster farms. Such posts and rails, moulded from plastic or composed of timber firmly encased in a plastic sheath, have greatly improved the farm environment. More use of plastic baskets and trays, together with the plastic-sheathed infrastructure, is also proving considerably more cost-effective in the long term; unlike rotting timber it is a ‘redeemable’ asset on a lease.

And these sorts of innovation have stimulated further invention and adaption within industry that had been very traditional and old-fashioned. In this regard, the time consuming and costly clean-up of the Hawkesbury (Broken Bay) in 2008 was most interesting to witness, with almost 8000 tonnes of old tar coated post and rails dredged and disposed of in Local Authority rubbish tips. This arduous task was carried out over many months by several of the Broken Bay growers collective, under the leadership of Rob Moxham, using specially adapted forklifts, cranes and barges. A most notable achievement indeed. The removal of tar and CCA treated timber infrastructure in many areas requires considerable co-operation between growers and Councils as treated timber is increasingly becoming harder to dispose of in approved disposal sites. Broken Bay is a prime example of such co-operation now becoming more prevalent between industry stakeholders and Government Authorities. This is particularly relevant to water quality control through improved and more regular water testing wherever oyster farming occurs. By developing an Enviromental Management System the Broken Bay collective is managing the issues affecting business viability in their estuary. In fact many believe the working relationships between the Broken Bay growers, the Hornsby Council and New South Wales Fisheries to be a model for


F E AT U R E

No surprise then that the Broken Bay collective awarded the most prestigious “Excellence In Environmental Practice” Award at the 2011 Sydney Fish Market Seafood Excellence Awards held recently in Sydney. Such innovation and leadership builds strong businesses and benefits the industry and the community. Oysters are at the forefront of environmental and water quality. Whilst on environmental matters, a small but important change currently occurring is the switch from two stroke motor powered oyster barges and craft to four stroke motors. This stops the leaking of oil and the contamination of oyster food sources. Other major changes I’ve seen relate to the considerable increases in mechanisation with all aspects of farming – growing, harvesting, grading and packaging. In many case this begins with changes

in farm ownership. Many smaller farms are bought out by larger farms and demands for increased farming efficiency can only be met by modern equipment. Perhaps not so noticeable or extensive, but also contributing environmentally, is the increased use of polymers in algae containers. All these changes and developments are welcome. But at the heart of this progress has been the increasing willingness of all stakeholders to work together, particularly when little ‘hiccups’ occur, as they inevitably do. This is win-win situation. I will eagerly watch what occurs over the next decade or two. I have no doubt that the improvements will be as equally momentous. By Reg Breakwell For further information contact Reg Breakwell on +61 0408 740 883; Email : rbreakwell@ttpplastics.com.au; A/Hours email: bbreakwell@bigpond.com

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others in how to work together and share information and ideas. This trio has been proactive, providing a build up of credibility between all stakeholders.

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Spring 2011 | Austasia Aquaculture 25


F E AT U R E

Aquaculture, the next ten years... S

eafood is in Australia’s top five most valuable primary industries. Product that is harvested in Australia is regarded as the healthiest food you can put in your mouth and is worth more than $4 billion annually. Aquaculture is the fastest growing primary industry in the world.

Food-obsessed Melbourne is therefore the perfect destination to host the Australasian Aquaculture International Conference and Trade Show from 1-4 May 2012, the largest primary industry conference in Australia. This is the fifth biennial event held in Australia as a joint venture between the National Aquaculture Council and the World Aquaculture Society – Asian Pacific Chapter and follows on from the excellent event held in Hobart. Without a definitive Food Security Plan, which incorporates seafood as an integral component, Australia is struggling to keep up with the progress in the Asia Pacific region, the world’s leader in aquaculture production. World aquaculture experts and industry leaders will converge on Melbourne, the ideal backdrop for the Conference and Trade Show (which includes outstanding Workshops and Tours). This is the opportunity to use this as a catalyst for Australasia to get on the front foot and plan for the future – government, industry and the services that work within the structures of aquaculture are all important sectors to make this happen. The

Australian industry has dedicated itself to producing exemplary produce and will have the chance to discuss, debate and contemplate ‘The Next Ten Years’, the theme chosen for the Conference. Conference Chair, Pheroze Jungalwalla said: “Sustainable aquaculture will play a vital role in offering a viable way to increase world seafood production and assist food security issues. “A focus on developments in research continues to lead to improvements in innovative aquaculture production. “As we celebrate our successes as an industry, it is also imperative that we look ahead to the challenges that we as an industry may face over the upcoming decade. We warmly welcome one of the global leaders relating to fish feeds, Skretting Australia, as Conference naming sponsor and look forward to working with them and all our other important sponsors for this event”, he said. The Conference, with fully integrated Trade Show will take place at the ‘6 Star Green Star’ environmental rated Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre – clearly nowhere better to display the industry’s efforts in environmental stewardship.

26 Austasia Aquaculture | Spring 2011

“The Australasian Aquaculture International Conference will deal with contemporary issues around the aquaculture industry’s development and sustainability. Seafood is Australia’s fourth most valuable food-based primary industry, with Victorian commercial fisheries’ production worth around $87 million per year. “This makes Melbourne a perfect destination for aquaculture leaders in industry and science, research and development to meet.”

New initiatives for 2012 include the ‘Corporate Responsibility Project’, the inaugural ‘Blue Thumb’ AAA Awards to be held at the ‘Articulture’ networking event at the National Gallery of Victoria and the new and improved ‘Trade Soapbox’.

Healthy Stock = Healthy Profits

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Victoria’s Department of Primary Industries (DPI) Biosciences Research Executive Director, Professor German Spangenberg, said: “The world faced major challenges in feeding a growing population, expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050, including the major humanitarian challenge to alleviate hunger, malnutrition and poverty, which is afflicting more than 1 billion people world-wide.

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All photos courtesy of Marty Phillips

FA R M P R O F I L E

After harvested barramundi are graded, the market size fish slide into an ice slurry where they are killed.

Qld Barra farmer targets quality to compete with imports Marty Phillips, who has been farming barramundi for more than nine years, was awarded in 2010 a Nutfield Scholarship to allow him to travel overseas and closely examine fish quality issues. In his third year as president of the Australian Barramundi Farmers Association, Marty is now working with other growers to further improve the reputation of Aussie farmed Barramundi.

L

ike many successful farmers, Marty Phillips is generally happy for his actions to speak loudest. But with his report “The Australian Barramundi Industry - Addressing Cheap Imports” his writings are making the noise. After delving into the successes and challenges of a variety of the world’s signature aquaculture sectors on a recent overseas trip he’s setting a demanding agenda for the local industry. In brief he finds: • Barramundi is an iconic Australian fish.

• Cheap imports are eroding the viability of the production of Barramundi in Australia. • Over 10 aquaculture sectors visited globally are suffering from cheap imports; at this point in time only Scottish farmed salmon isn’t. • Every effort must be made to protect the image of Australian Barramundi. • Excellent product quality is the key to addressing the threat from cheap imports. • Barramundi would be an excellent candidate for protected geographical indication status.

• Country of origin labelling in the food service sector would be a huge benefit. And he’s dead keen to put into practice what he has learned. “Winning a Nuffield Scholarship (sponsored by the Sylvia and Charles Viertel Charitable Foundation) has enabled me to improve my production,” he explains. “I was able to visit a number of countries and examine how their aquaculture industries were responding to cheap imports and other issues such as off-flavours.” Spring 2011 | Austasia Aquaculture 27


MARKETING

Management Metrics Key Management Decisions for Pejo Enterprises include: • Certification: Environment and Quality draft codes of practice, HACCP. • Use of bore water to purge his market ready Barramundi. • Examining different strategies to improve flesh quality as well as how to compete with cheaper imported products. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) include: • Culture or Holding System utilised: earthen ponds • Growth rate (from stocking to market): <24 months (day old to 3kg) • Survival rate: 25% from first stocking (day old larvae) to sale size • Av. stocking density: 2 kg/m3 (range is 0.1kg to 4kg/m3) • Annual harvest: 250 tonnes of 3kg fish • Production rate: 20,000kg per ha per year • Water use: approx 3,000L per tonne of fish (3L/kg) • Power use: 4.5 kW per kg • FCR: 1.5:1 (number of kg of food to produce 1kg stock) • Productivity: approx 60 tonnes per Effective Fulltime Unit (240 days, 48wk x 40hr)

Marty sought the scholarship because his profits were being eroded due to the pressure of imports lowering the prices he was offered for his fish. “Barramundi farming in Australia is coming under increased pressure from cheaper imported products. Due to fewer regulations and far lower costs of production (especially labour, feeds and fuels) the barramundi from overseas, especially Asia, is already costed low. Combined with the very strong Aussie dollar and you have our expanding seafood market becoming very attractive for imports.” Faced with this negative climate, he believes survival of the local barramundi farmers depends on implementing systems to differentiate and promote their product. “Underlying any promotion program there must be a high level of product quality.” And that includes off-flavour. “Some aquaculture production systems here can suffer flesh quality issues which must be overcome to ensure consumer confidence in this iconic Australian fish.” Innisfail farm At his family’s farm near Mourilyan, approx 15 km south of Innisfail in North Queensland, Marty has overseen the change out of sugarcane; diversification first into bananas and papayas and then into barramundi in 2002.

Some of Marty’s big fish.

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28 Austasia Aquaculture | Spring 2011

Some nine years later Marty now has 33 ponds covering 12.6ha. His annual harvest of around 300 tonnes is sent to southern markets. The ponds are of the usual design; Marty uses brackish water from the Moresby River. Day old larvae are bought in from local hatcheries and raised onsite, fed both Ridley and Skretting rations as they grow to a target weight of 3kg over a production cycle of two years. Between crops the ponds are drained, dried and limed for health management. Overseas industries examined A particular focus of Marty’s overseas sojourn was Scottish salmon which has survived its battles a few years back with cheaper imports from Chile and Norway.


MARKETING

Cheaper imports are also a problem in the other industries he visited including trout in the UK and Denmark, several recirculation sectors (including sturgeon, eel, African catfish and pike perch) in the Netherlands and US enterprises in catfish and a few lesser developed species.

A bag net is use to harvest large barramundi and transfer them directly into ice slurry.

Marty found the Scottish salmon industry to be in much better health after introduction of several initiatives promoting the high quality of their product compared that of imported fish. And the heart of these efforts is the Scottish Quality Salmon (SQS) program. This underpins their highly attractive Tartan Quality Assured Scottish Salmon mark and won their salmon the Label Rouge certification. And it has been the basis for helping Scot farmers address increasing pressure from Government regulators. “That’s a major issue to the barramundi Industry in Australia,” Marty says. Off-flavour As with the Aussie barra industry, ‘off flavour’ is experienced by many of the aquaculture enterprises Marty visited; he was able to discuss the problems with a number of experts. “Barramundi has the enviable position of already being well recognized in the market place,” he contends. “However, to maintain this positive image the issue of ‘off flavour’ in fish flesh must be resolved in one of two ways. The algal and bacterial species that produce the compounds geosmin and methylisoborneol (MIB) must be removed from the production system (a difficult proposition for some Aussie systems). Alternatively, purge the fish in clean water for a few days – or for as long as necessary – prior to harvest. “Whichever approach is used, it is vital that ALL Aussie Barramundi farmers provide the product quality required by Australian consumers.” Marty’s report describes the different approaches taken by the various industries overseas; he’s instigated a number of changes on his farm as a result.

Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) According to Wikipedia, the Protected Geographical Indication is the name of an area, a specific place or, in exceptional cases, the name of a country, used as a description of an agricultural product or a foodstuff: • which comes from such an area, place or country, • which has a specific quality, goodwill or other characteristic property, attributable to its geographical origin, • whose production, processing or preparation takes place within the determined geographical area. In other words, to receive the PGI status, the entire product must be traditionally and at least partially manufactured (prepared, processed OR produced) within the specific region and thus acquire unique properties. Source: http://www.saumonecossais.com/uk/index.php?option=com_content&view =article&id=47&Itemid=34

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Spring 2011 | Austasia Aquaculture 29


MARKETING

Scottish Quality Salmon “The words ‘Scottish farmed salmon’ on a label are your reassurance that the fish you are buying ... has been produced to the highest standards of welfare and environmental care.” SSPO January 2006. Established in January 2000, the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO) advocates that its SQS Standards are at the forefront of good practice. Over a period of four decades, the Scottish industry has developed from small scale, almost experimental, beginnings to become a large and important Scottish industry, as large in economic scale as the country’s fishing industry and the second most important sector of Scottish food exports, after whiskey. Allied to this development has been the increasing recognition of the importance of maintaining high industry standards. These go well beyond those of the basic regulatory requirements and ensure not only that the industry continues in its shared development of good practice, but also that Scottish aquaculture products are well positioned (in the market-place) and widely perceived as meeting the high quality production standards consistent with current and future sustainable development As well as subscribing to the Code of Good Practice, most salmon farmers in Scotland are certified under various quality and production schemes, including Label Rouge – an official endorsement by the French Government of the superior quality of a food or farmed product. To obtain Label Rouge recognition, a very stringent set of standards prepared by a group of producers must be approved. These standards establish the criteria which the product must meet, in particular with regard to farming techniques, feed, equipment and sites, hygiene and staff training. Approval is officially announced through a joint decree from the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries and the Minister for Consumer Affairs, on the recommendations of the National Institute for Origin and Quality (INAO). INAO is the French public body responsible for quality and origin marks relating to food products. Scottish Quality Salmon is the holder of Label Rouge No. LA 33/90. Compliance with the standards is controlled by an independent certifying body, Food Certification International Ltd. (Source: www.scottishsalmon.co.uk/corporate/standards.aspx)

“I am monitoring certain algae species (blue-greens) present in the ponds and trying to manage them accordingly,” he says. “I have also been trialling purging fish from the pond in clean water (he uses bore water which is geosmin and pathogen free). This is being done on a small scale and initial trials are positive.” Feeding to satiation is another way of reducing over-feeding. “I feed twice a day for small fish - morning and afternoon, whilst the larger fish I only feed in the mornings so they are eating when there is more oxygen in the water and onwards during the day.” Marty has also been closely watching his power consumption. “I am saving energy by turning off the aerators during the day time. The savings are good.” Combating cheap imports Over the years several people have suggested that the name ‘Barramundi’ needs protection as being uniquely Australian. They argue it could be an excellent candidate for Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status. The name (an Aboriginal word for ‘fish with big scales’) has been used in Australia for approximately 40,000 years; the fish itself is regarded as an iconic and premium both here and overseas. Marty notes that PGI status would be difficult to achieve in the Australian political consensus of free trade. “However, I feel it is worth pursuing with regulators and Governments at all levels, as industry time and resources permit. If this could be achieved it would have huge ramifications for both barramundi farmers and fishermen.” Certainly the industry needs to focus on certification to differentiate local product from imports. “Like the SQS we could possibly establish the ‘Australian Quality Barramundi Program’ with a standard encompassing independent (third party) certification for environmental sustainability, a high level of residue testing, no off-flavours, firm flesh and animal welfare considerations,” Marty suggests. He’s also a firm believer in the essential

30 Austasia Aquaculture | Spring 2011


MARKETING

role of Country of Origin Labelling (COL) in differentiating product. “The COL is currently law in the retail sector, where it has worked well. However, apart from the Northern Territory, it is not compulsory in the food service or restaurant sector where much of our higher value product ends up; such an achievement would be very beneficial.

Marty has been examining the culture of eels using flow through tanks.

“We could also expand the usage of the ‘Australian Grown’ scheme (www.australianmade.com.au) to our products. The green triangle is a widely recognized brand and can be tailored to suit a particular species.” Yet in the marketplace there’s already a plethora of brands and accreditation schemes. “Any new initiatives by industry must be kept as simple as possible,” he cautions.

Paddlewheel aerators are used to maintain oxygen levels during the early mornings and evenings when fish feeding is undertaken.

As for food safety, Marty notes the necessity for Government regulators to address issues with the imported fish. “The Australian consumer has a right to know that the food they consume is safe. This is a sensitive topic and could be potentially damaging. The main concern is that if not handled correctly an ‘unsafe product’ listing could have negative consequences across the entire sector – local and imported product.”

“Regulation could initially focus on the chemical residue front, as it is relatively easy to monitor. However, once again this could be difficult to adopt in the current political environment.” Marty’s conclusion holds no punches. “The Australian barramundi industry is not alone in having to deal with the threat of cheaper imports. But failure to

By Dos O’Sullivan. For more information contact Marty Phillips, Pejo Enterprises, PO Box 2103, Innisfail Qld 4860. Mobile: 0408 835-447; Phone: 07 40632-344; Fax: 07 40632348; Email: marlinka@bigpond.com The link for Marty’s report is http://www.nuffieldinternational.org/ rep_pdf/1295000212Marty_Phillips_ Report_FINAL_2010_.pdf

s ice

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Qu rd a ab li le ty

Marty with one of his healthy and fast growing Barra

SIDE CHANNEL BLOWERS

Af fo

Another idea that could be adopted is the issue of ‘fair trade’, as opposed to ‘free trade’. “Australian producers are required to operate in an environment that limits the use of chemicals and antibiotics. This is not always the case in other countries. Making the imported product meet the same strict regulations we are required to meet, would help ‘even the ledger’ and have us on similar competitive terms.

address the quality issues and progress our marketing efforts will see our position further eroded to a point where the growing of barramundi in Australia will no longer be viable.”

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Spring 2011 | Austasia Aquaculture 31


FA R M P R O F I L E

This Shellquip grader which is used for domestic harvesting and grading of the Tas Prime Oysters. The staff in the background are Scott & Greg.

All photos courtesy of Tas Prime Oysters

Tassie oyster marketing super group Producing quality seafood is the first critical part of the equation – selling it at a profit is even more important. Aussie oyster culture is recognised as being efficient, sustainable and continually improving. Now in Tasmania a group of experienced growers have joined forces to take their product to the world market.

T

as Prime Oysters Pty Ltd, established in September 2008, sold almost half a million dozen Pacific Oysters (Crassostrea gigas) in the first year of operation for its four shareholders – Bolduans Bay Oysters Pty Ltd (located at Smithton), Greenfields Oysters (Cambridge), Marian Bay Oysters Pty Ltd (Dunalley) and Tasmanian Oyster Company (Cambridge). Tas Prime’s four directors – Jon Poke, Max Cunningham (Chairman), Tony Byrne and James Calvert (Managing Director) – total a combined 100 years of combined growing experience between them. Annual production from shareholder’s farms for 2011/12 is expected to be approx 1 million dozen (or 1,000 tonnes) and a further 200,000 Dozen (200 tonnes) of high quality product will be purchased from 10 other farms in Tasmania as well as Sydney Rock Oysters (Saccostrea

32 Austasia Aquaculture | Spring 2011

commercialis) from a grower in Pambula (NSW) especially for export. A key to Tas Prime’s marketing strategy is to ensure quality product is available all year round. Thus product is sourced from seven different growing regions, six in Tasmania – Duck Bay (Smithton), Coles Bay, Blackmans Bay, Pitt Water (Cambridge), Island Inlet and Bruny Island – plus one at Pambula, on NSW’s south coast. Product is sold evenly across all Australian states with approx 10% being exported to several Asian countries. Export packing of Pacific Oyster will soon commence in the company’s new $2 million processing and packing facility at Cambridge (near Hobart) located just meters away from the water’s edge to ensure the freshness and extended shelf life of product. Air freight is only five

minutes away at Hobart’s main airport and local road freight companies are readily available to pick up the domestic loads. Demise of TASEA In the 1990s and early 2000s the marketing company TASEA Enterprises Pty Ltd dominated the Australian shellfish markets, selling product from more than 60 farms from around Australia (oysters, mussels, clams and scallops). This company raised the bar with respect to quality grading, best practice for farms, efficient handling operations and an aggressive and well resourced promotions program. Unfortunately TASEA’s demise in 2008 left a major void left in the market which was quickly taken advantage of by independent brokers/agents operate on the basis of a selling commission.


MARKETING

However, in some respects this has held back the industry. Tas Prime’s MD James Calvert explains: “While these agents have a right to operate and progress their businesses,” he says, “this principle has been the downfall of many other primary industries. Growers lose control of their markets and get squeezed by companies who, by definition, are interested in the profit margin of their commission; farm gate price increases are a secondary priority. “We believe this is not a healthy proposition for long term industry sustainability and this was the main purpose in forming a new marketing company owned and operated by industry members.” Return on Investment The growers at Tas Prime have their eyes firmly set on their margins. The reason is simple – their margin is low and needs protection. “Oyster farming benchmark projects have shown the average industry ROI (return on investment) is approx 7 - 8%,” says James. “Unless we maintain regular incremental price increases, this yield could quickly slip down below 5% as operational costs rise... less than what you can achieve with the banks! Tas Prime is very focused on avoiding this trap. “There is a fine balance between just existing and being a profitable business; unfortunately I am starting to hear more and more stories of oyster growers

Sean, Richard & Shannon packing oysters for export.

around Australia ‘just hanging in there’! This situation does nothing to attract investment into the industry, devalues grower’s capital and makes for harder dealings with lending institutions.” Their edge So why won’t history repeat itself? So many marketing companies or co-ops have solid business plans, and work well for a couple of years before it all seems to fall apart. James and his partners have seen and learned from the past. “It is the mix of people who normally determine the success or failure of such ventures,” he explains.

Tas Prime Oysters’ sales Manager Jane Kenane with the permanent phone attached to her head The new export approved processing facility near Hobart (Cambridge)

“To have like-minded shareholders is the absolute foundation of our business; the four Directors of Tas Prime Oysters have

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incredibly similar business principals when it comes to finance, quality produce, strategic planning and business edict. “Our core operating values are quality of product, quality of service and to pay our bills on time, every time. These are something we all believe in and are proud to have delivered over the past 2.5 years. “Tas Prime adhere to the product quality matrix developed by TASEA (now held by the CRC oyster consortium) with the results and product volume availability being passed through to our sales manager Jane Kenane for allocation across 30+ customers,” James explains. “Harvest instructions are sent out to the farms on a weekly basis and the farms send back signed receipts, freight con notes or Delivery Advices to the head office for processing and invoicing.”

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By adopting a high quality philosophy, compliance has proven excellent with complaints being a rare experience. And that keeps managements focus instead on servicing clients, financial management and market opportunities. Export markets With the business in a strong financial position, focus is now switching on developing more export opportunities. “Australia has a very strong domestic demand for oysters and Tas Prime will never turn its back on our supportive current crop of clients,” James says. “However, as production continues to increase, we hope to sell 30% of our production offshore at higher prices to capitalise on a global shortage of high quality ‘safe’ product.” The facts show that Tas Prime’s strategy is an intelligent one. Asia produces approx 80% of the world oyster supply but nearly all of it comes from highly polluted waters, making the product unsafe to consume fresh. As the Asian middle class grows rapidly, the demand for “Western style food experiences” is rising at an astonishing rate and clean, safe, quality produce is in increasing demand. James has seen this first hand. “I’ve spent

34 Austasia Aquaculture | Spring 2011


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a number of months in China over the past three years. It’s clear that with the population’s dispoable income rising 10% a year, Asia should become a large market for Australian product in 2-3 years. “The long queues outside our display stands at the several Asian trade shows we’ve attended show that they just love our product. We are starting to encounter some pricing difficulties, not because of the high Australian Dollar but due to some Australian exporters lowering the quality – and in-turn the price – leading to severe discounting by local distributors. “We have been amazed by how much Australian product ends up in Asian markets without the knowledge of the farmer who has produced it!” He gives an example recently from a Hong Kong based company: Potential client: “I want your product in my shops but the quality and shelf life is just not up to standard, I am already receiving your product but if I can go direct to you and save some money I would be happy to talk.” Tas Prime: “How do you know about our product if we are not selling to you?” Potential client: “Oh, I buy it out of Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide from your customers.” “The client had no idea that the product had been on a truck for 4 days, washed and rumbled, then packed in a factory and shipped to Hong Kong. It was already 6-7 days old before he received it.” As for the price ... after taking away freight and packaging at cost, the Australian exporter/agent/broker was achieving approx $0.30/dozen profit, a mark up into a lucrative export market of less than 4%. “I still cannot understand why people would even bother to become an exporter when you make such little returns and you investment is at a relative high risk,” James laments. “The value in export is premium price. It’s not just another market to dump product into! “This is a little frustrating to deal with.

Management Metrics Key Management Decisions for Tas Prime Oysters include: • Certification: Food Safety/HACCP (on all farms), AQIS (Export), ASQAP and all growing areas in Tasmania operate under the Tasmanian Shellfish Quality Assurance Program (TSQAP) • Limiting their risk and exposure by implementing regular price increases, maintaining strict customer credit programs and by ensuring their bank balance stays well in the black! – all of which has made the supplying and shareholder farms more secure and profitable. • People power - a strong, energetic and committed team who sees a very positive future for the Australian oyster industry. • Focus on taking back some of the control over how farm gate prices are achieved. • All Tas Prime farms cooperate to ensure best farm management practises and adopt new technology’s which improve animal husbandry or handling efficiencies. • The farms carry a large percentage of spawnless (Triploid) stock to ensure all year round sales. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) across the six Pacific Oyster farms vary. However, on average they include: • Culture or Holding System utilised: All Tas Prime farms use a combination of traditional rack & rail and adjustable long line systems. The two different growing techniques are used to enable farms to return the maximum benefit from specific areas within the leases, i.e. high wind exposed areas they use adjustable long line, in calm lease areas the fixed rack & rail is preferred. • Growth rate (from stocking to market): Low density farming is the “norm” for Tas Prime farms to ensure the highest quality. Grow out from seed normally takes between 20 – 30 months. • Survival rate: Due to the experience of Tas Prime’s directors, mortality is less than 15% • Annual harvest: 1 million dozen and rising (Tas Prime’s own farms).

Still, it is up to us to show people the difference between high price, high quality fresh product and low price, low quality and not very fresh product. “And we’re making headway with that message.” It may even, once its own targets are met, approach interstate growers with complementary quality focus to assist in further export growth. Reflecting on progress so far, James offers encouragement to other growers with a marketing predicament. “If you think you are either too small and/ or perhaps not well suited to marketing, look around and see if there are like-minded farmers around you. The rewards in controlling your own destiny and securing your financial position are very achievable.

“Co-ops are nothing new and many have tried and failed but there are similar groups to ours in the Hawkesbury and Port Stephens in NSW who are also reaping the benefits of higher farm gate prices and more secure finances.” By Dos O’Sullivan For more information contact James Calvert, Tas Prime Oysters Pty Ltd Tel: (03) 6248-4792, Fax: (03) 6248-4793, Email: info@tasprimeoysters.com, Web: www.tasprimeoysters.com Spring 2011 | Austasia Aquaculture 35


Photos supplied by Fishy Business

FA R M P R O F I L E

Aussie seafood – delicious and sustainable

Aussie seafood sustainability guide seriously flawed Over the past few year a number of organisations (all non-government) have released buyers’ guides to seafood that detail which species (in their opinion) are sustainability fished or farmed. The level of scientific investigation in this assessment process varies considerably between programs. An Australian group released a sustainability guide last year which is being blasted by seafood industry members for its lack of science and objectivity.

L

ate last year the Australian Marine Conservation Society’s (AMCS) released Australia’s Sustainable Seafood Guide. Consisting of a mini-guide booklet and on line guide to the relative sustainability of more than one hundred species it classifies species as Better Choice, Think Twice, or Say No, an approach used by other groups commonly known as the ‘traffic light’ guide (i.e. Go, Take Care, Stop). The Guide’s release ‘coincided’ with an article in The Australian by author Tim Winton, AMCS’s patron, warning that the “nation’s fisheries face catastrophic collapse unless we change attitudes to 36 Austasia Aquaculture | Spring 2011


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our favourite meals”. Mr Winton wrote: “It’s often startling to learn a fish’s story: what’s wild, what’s caged, what’s pointlessly wasted and which species are in trouble. It’s an even bigger surprise to know how little independent information is readily available.”

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Hatchery Farm Ausyfish Pty Ltd has been in operation since 1988 and has grown to be the largest hatchery/ farm of its type in Australia. The Queensland farm is situated halfway between Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. Extensive renovation and upgrade over the past 3 years has improved the efficiency and production potential of the hatchery and ponded area.

The Guide was compiled by Dr Colin Hunt and four AMCS staff members who claim they consulted “numerous research reports, journal papers and other publications” and later subjected the assessments to a “peer review”. So this is, apparently, an authoritative assessment. Well known fisheries scientist Nick Ruello has his doubts. And after more than 45 years working here and overseas on fisheries management and seafood processing, marketing and quality assurance, his opinions carries some weight. “I believe the Guide paints the AMCS as an ‘eco warrior’ in its ongoing battle with Greenpeace, WWF and the like for the public dollar (its major source of funding). It uses its so-called independence as a weapon in its fight for market share in the conservation/green ‘market’. “Contrast that approach with the considered efforts of the Australian Conservation Foundation together with government fisheries managers, the University of Technology Sydney and the seafood industry to guide consumers to more sustainable seafood choices (www.acfonline.org.au/seafood),” Nick continues. “In the USA, the WWF and the Monterey Bay Aquarium have also taken a constructive collaborative approach to producing guidance on sustainable seafood.” Last December, Nick attended a presentation by Dr Hunt in Cairns on the Guide on behalf of SEA (Seafood Experience Australia). “During his presentation and later discussions I was surprised at how little knowledge Dr Hunt had of Australian fisheries and aquaculture,” Nick recalls. “During question time I had to correct him that his description of salmon farming in Tasmania as pond culture was incorrect (it is sea cage culture); he acknowledged he had never seen it himself.

FEATURES • 79.71 hectares (About 200 acres.) • High set 3 bedroom Queenslander home • 3 phase power • 4 water storage dams • 127 earth ponds • New underground power to ponds • New underground air to ponds • New underground water mains to ponds • New automatic aerators • New lab • New climate control room • New quarantine room • New fish holding building • Aquaculture approval in perpetuity • Over 200 approved species • Hatchery approved under AAQ code of practice • Hatchery operates under Qld Govt Fish Health Certification Program Main species produced include: • Jade perch • Silver perch • Golden perch • Sleepy cod • Murray cod • Native and exotic ornamentals

A well established customer base secures the future market for increasing production from the whole facility. Markets for Australian native, table species, are growing worldwide as well as domestically. Ausyfish regularly exports native species and is now in a position to develop this market to its full potential. Over 19 million ornamental fish were imported into Australia in 2008. Ausyfish is well positioned to increase its market share of this sector. Site visit welcome. For a close look at the operation, see www.ausyfish.com The property is now offered for sale as a going concern. Written expressions of interest are invited by 30th November 2011. PO Box 324 Childers Qld 4660 Email: admin@ausyfish.com Enquiries: 0407 797 149

Spring 2011 | Austasia Aquaculture 37


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species’ assessment (eg. Say No) was made after a desk top literature review by persons hardly qualified to undertake such a complex task.” Nick continues: “These people are without expertise in fisheries stock assessment, fisheries management or aquaculture; certainly, one would think, the most relevant specialist disciplines for this type of assessment.”

“After subsequent phone conversations with Dr Hunt and two of the AMCS staff contributors, phone discussions with two marine scientists who participated in the AMCS peer review process and a comprehensive look at the AMCS sustainability criteria, reference list and assessments, I have come to the conclusion that the Guide is seriously flawed and misleading. “It doesn’t consumers find sustainable seafood at all!” These views are supported by Roy Palmer, Immediate Past President of Asian Pacific Chapter of the World Aquaculture Society and a director of SEA, IAFI, Aquaculture Without Frontiers, GILLS and a host of other national and international seafood groups (see contacts list). Roy is approaching 40 years experience in the seafood industry; first as an exporter and general trader followed by 13 years in retail (running three fresh fish/eat-in or takeaway seafood businesses) and then more years as a seafood trainer and promoter. From top: Preparing Atlantic Salmon fillets for smoking. Big Commercial Scallops harvested from Bass Strait. Cockles collected by hand. Mud Crabs from the NT on their way to the southern markets.

38 Austasia Aquaculture | Spring 2011

In recent times Roy has spent as much time overseas in his search for international collaboration to assist industry enhancement here and globally. “Like Nick, I think the AMCS criteria are too general,” Roy explains. “They are not objective or quantifiable and focussed on species rather than an individual fishery or aquaculture operation. The

“Dr Hunt, the project leader, can best be described as a resource economist who has done some work in fisheries economics – his ‘practical knowledge’ of Australian fisheries came from South Australia way back in 1985 and 1986. The biographical information on the AMCS staff who contributed to the Guide – and provided on their website (www.amcs.org.au) – shows even less fisheries or aquaculture expertise.” Little use of Commonwealth Assessments Nick says not only are various assessments poorly founded, many of the ‘Think Twice’ recommendations are so general they are of little use. “For example, all trawl-caught prawns are relegated to the ‘Think Twice’ category in spite of Australia’s recognised world leadership in sustainable harvesting, by-catch reduction and minimising environmental impacts. The major prawn fisheries all pass the Commonwealth’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC) assessment. “Similarly, the ‘Think Twice’ classification on all wild-caught Barramundi is unwarranted. All shark species and hence all shark fillets are relegated to the ‘Say No’ category although Australia does have shark species that are not endangered by commercial fishing.” A 2009 independent review of 17 fish sustainability information schemes conducted by consulting firm MRAG Ltd (Review of Fish Sustainability Information Schemes, MRAG Ltd, October 2009, www.mrag.co.uk/Documents/FSIG_ Final_report.pdf), noted that Australia is


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the only country to subject its wild-capture fisheries to a statutory (and independent) environmental assessment and accreditation process before allowing seafood to be exported. This was not included in the AMSC’s review. Those assessments are conducted in an open and transparent process managed by the Australian Government Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA). A current list of Australian fisheries that have been independently assessed as being managed in an ecologically sustainable manner (i.e. meeting the requirements of the EPBC Act) is available at www.environment. gov.au/coasts/fisheries/index.html “In enforcing the EPBC Act the Australian Government has created an accountable environmental standard upon which the performance of fisheries management is assessed and continuously improved,” Roy says. “This standard provides international buyers with the assurance that accredited Australian seafood is sourced from well managed and environmentally sustainable wild-capture fisheries.” He continues: “Health Certificates issued by the Australian Government are recognised and accepted worldwide as they are undertaken to established and transparent processes and they are subject, like all world’s best practice to assessment, review and improvement. The Health Certificate is a vital document and continues to serve its purposes internationally; no-one says we should scrap it because it has elements of continuous improvement included in it. “Certification for seafoods exports is undertaken in a similar way against specific regulations aimed at protecting the marine environment and the fish stocks. “Why can’t the Australian Government then provide Environmental Sustainability Certificates for these seafoods? ” Selective information According to Nick, the AMCS not only shuns such Government assessments but completely ignores too the detailed, transparent and independent assessments

ACF’s Sustainable Australian Seafood Assessment Program In a first for Australia, the Australian Conservation Foundation has developed a new and exciting sustainable seafood assessment program with a team of leading marine scientists and the University of Technology, Sydney. The Sustainable Australian Seafood Assessment Criteria (SASASC) are adapted from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch approach to assessing seafood and establishing recommendations about specific seafood products. The adaptation ensures that local – Australian and New Zealand – conditions and requirements can be best reflected in decisions on a fishery’s compliance with SASASC. A panel of independent experts (The Science Reference Panel – SRP) assess each submitted seafood. Panel members are appointed on the basis of both their expertise and their capacity for high quality judgements. The following wild catch and farmed seafood products have been assessed as sustainable by the SASAC in 2010/11: • Red Emperor from the Pilbara, Western Australia • Farmed Barramundi from Marine Produce Australia, Cone Bay, Western Australia • Yelloweye Mullet from the Coorong, South Australia • Western King Prawn from the Spencer Gulf, South Australia • Squid from the Hawkesbury River, New South Wales • Southern Calamari from Corner Inlet, Victoria • Southern Calamari from Port Phillip Bay, Victoria • King George Whiting from Port Phillip Bay, Victoria • King George Whiting from Corner Inlet, Victoria • Blue Mussel from Sea Bounty Pty Ltd, Corio Bay, Victoria • Rainbow Trout from Goulburn River Trout Pty Ltd, Alexandra, Victoria For more information contact Chris Smyth on phone 03 9397-8707 or email: C.Smyth@acfonline.org.au

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So whilst Dr Hunt et al made great use of the Commonwealth’s 2009 Fisheries Status Report, they did so in a very selective manner – readily accepting all overfished type verdicts but ignoring improvements reported in other stocks. Indisputable progress recorded in the successive annual Commonwealth and State reports is not reflected in AMCS Guide or website. Further betraying the bias, the Guide makes frequent reference to Myers & Worm’s 2003 paper with its gloomy outlook on global fisheries (Professor Boris Worm stated “there will be no fish left by 2048”).”

made by reputable organisations such as the MSC (Marine Stewardship Council). And as for its own extensive reference list, it bulks this up by repeatedly citing the same papers. “The Commonwealth’s Fishery Status Report 2009 is cited 59 times; one NSW government report accounts for another 26 and many other items are cited on multiple occasions. “So the ‘extensive’ information source list actually includes just 100 or so different items (in what I counted as approximately 370 citations). Of these about 60 are serious technical publications while the rest are web site articles/links. That’s a paltry scientific basis on which to judge more than 100 species.” Roy concurs: “The reference list on the AMCS web site lacks balance. It ignores any positive or good news reports, favouring instead outdated bad news stories.

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Ph/Fax: 02 4982 6086 40 Austasia Aquaculture | Spring 2011

Yet it totally ignores is Prof. Bloom’s recanting of his earlier pessimism. A 2009 paper in the prestigious Science journal by Worm, the highly credentialed Prof. Ray Hilborn and others (see www.seafood.net.au/page/?pid=1384 &nid=1381) has found that world fish stocks are actually improving. No robust peer review The AMCS’s so-called peer review was similarly self-serving. “It is nothing more than a casual, non-transparent, mechanism whereby a handful of well meaning volunteers individually offered comment on what was essentially a fait accompli,” Nick offers. “Both reviewers (marine scientists) I spoke to said that serious concerns they raised about particular assessments were largely ignored.” He adds that Darren Kindleyside (the AMCS’s CEO) has not responded to an emailed request to confirm in writing a phone comment that the peer reviewers included an aquaculture specialist. “I don’t believe any Australian aquaculture specialist would endorse the overall negative tone about aquaculture. “The many weaknesses in the AMCS process accounts for its blanket negativity on cage aquaculture and its ‘Say No’ conclusion on Tasmanian farmed salmon. And this for a farming industry regarded as world’s best practice by scientists and governments globally.” Roy is furious about the Guide. “It’s false

and misleading and a great disservice to the industry and the Government. “ I don’t understand why action can’t be taken on such biased reporting.” Nick bemoans the missed opportunity. “The Guide is a beautiful looking little booklet. On face value it seems easy to use but I suspect few actually use it when shopping and fewer still have looked closely at the criteria or reference list on the web site. “In the absence of a simple government guide (the Status Reports are now 240+ pages) the Guide continues to get endorsement or recommendations from well-meaning people unaware of the true situation.” Roy’s looking to the bigger picture. “Seafood is the most environmentally sustainable and most nutritious protein food on the planet! “What need an Australian Food Policy incorporating a Food Security Plan that includes designated Professional (and recreational) Fishing Zones and Aquaculture Zones. “We should recognise that through good management and innovation the Australian seafood industries are adequately dealing with the conservation issues and we need place them in the AgriFood portfolio. “We must be able to feed ourselves and should have sufficient to feed others too.” By Dos O’Sullivan. For further information: Nick Ruello - nick@ruello.com or Mobile 0418 210-031. Roy Palmer - palmerroy@hotmail.com or Mobile: 0419 528-733. Chief Executive Officer SEA www.australianseafood.com.au Past President WAS-APC - www.was.org Membership & Events Director IAFI - The International Association of Seafood Professionals - www.iafi.net Director Aquaculture without Frontiers www.aquaculturewithoutfrontiers.org/


RESEARCH

Protecting Australian oysters with integrated predictive tools mercial oyster supply chains. A predictive model, named the Oyster Refrigeration Index, was produced in the FSC and translated into a userfriendly mathematical model for use in Microsoft Excel® and on the Internet. The model has been field-tested with Pacific oysters and shown to make failsafe predictions.

The Food Safety Centre team under Dr Mark Tamplin have developed and validated a robust model for the presence of Vibrio parahaemolyticus. It is approved by Australian and international regulatory bodies to manage the live oyster cold chain, control the risk of Vibrio diseases and provide greater access to national and international markets. Vibrio parahaemolyticus is a natural bacterium found in seawater. Some strains of this species, if present at high enough levels, can cause gastrointestinal disease in humans. In the marine environment, oysters obtain food (algae) by pumping seawater through their gills. During this filtering process, bacteria such as V. parahaemolyticus can be concentrated in oyster tissues.

Researchers at the Tasmanian Institute of Agricultural Research (TIAR) have produced a predictive model to assist oyster farmers to control the safety and quality of their product.

Temperature is a key factor for controlling V.parahaemolyticus levels in oysters. However, there is insufficient information about how fast V. parahaemolyticus grows in Australian oyster species (Pacific and Sydney rock oysters) at different storage temperatures. If this information was known, mathematical models could be produced to predict the growth of V. parahaemolyticus in com-

The Oyster Refrigeration Index will be used by oyster companies to design and monitor supply chains to maximise both oyster safety and quality. It can be especially useful to Australian companies that export to countries with V. parahaemolyticus import limits. Oyster companies have found that the model is a useful tool to validate their food safety programs or cold chain transport. Specific applications include: • learning about the effects of temperature on product shelf-life and V. parahaemolyticus levels caused by temperature abuse. • understanding better ways to stack oysters for maximum cooling rate. • using the models as tools in employee food safety training programs. Regulatory organisations also recognise the value of the model because it is based on validated scientific studies. Data from the project have been part of Australia’s input into the international Codex standard on Vibrio spp. in seafood, raising Australia’s standing and assisting the Australian oyster industry in obtaining access to future export markets. An unexpected finding from the research was that V. parahaemolyticus does not grow in Sydney rock oysters between four to 25ºC. This has led to discussions between the New South Wales Food Authority and the Sydney rock oyster industry about more flexible temperature requirements to safely handle Sydney rock oysters and markedly reduce refrigeration costs. Article reproduced courtesy of ‘Tas Regions’ Spring 2011 | Austasia Aquaculture 41


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Aquaponics at Challenger Institute of Technology aquaponics is that the farmer is getting an income from the plants on a weekly basis. This helps tremendously with cash flow problems. Instead of having to wait at least six months for a return on the fish a farmer is receiving a regular weekly return on the plants. If the sale of the fish can at least cover the costs of running the system then the farmer will win out on the sale of the plants.” Like any good research operation, the system is a work in progress as more knowledge is gathered about the nutrient requirements of the plants and the filtration capacities of the system.

The hot house at the Murdoch Campus

Whilst the potential of aquaponics is still not accepted by some, this is sure to change. A number of large to commercial systems being built in Australia 2011 and 2012 which will provide a greater understanding of their capacity to earn or at the very least offset rising operating costs. A 20t Murray cod system is under construction in SE QLD in collaboration with Rod Missen of RAD Aqua and Paul Van der Werf of Earthan Group (www.earthangroup.com.au) and another at the University of NSW’s Camden Campus. (See also NSW’s Tailor Made Fish Farm – AA 24-4).

The complete system is housed in one end of the hot house

T

he concept of aquaponics – taking advantage of a symbiosis between aquaculture and hydroponics – has been with us for some time. Re-circulating Aquaculture Systems (RAS), based on sewerage plants, have two components – a fish farm and a biochemical water cleaning system. The former grows the fish in the normal way. The latter removes impurities and returns the cleaned water to the fish farm. The basis of aquaponics is to use the dissolved waste nutrients from the fish to feed plant growth, thus cleaning the water and adding value at the same time. Tony Bart, an Aquaculture Lecturer with Challenger Institute of Technology, together with Bruce Ginbey, Production Manager at the Australian Centre for 42 Austasia Aquaculture | Spring 2011

Applied Aquaculture Research and horticultural lecturer Peter Graham, have built and operated a successful commercial trial aquaponics system since April 2011 at the Institute’s Murdoch Campus in Western Australia. The system integrates two 5,000L tanks for aquaculture and a 1,600 hole nutrient-film-technique (NFT) hydroponic system which consistently produces 400 head of lettuce every four weeks from seedlings. In this way, aquaponics is combating a drawback of the early RAS systems where the emphasis on capital costs came at the detriment of operating costs. The hydroponic system directly addresses the latter; a second harvest from the system cuts operating costs. As Tony puts it: “The strength of

Certainly, Tony is confident that aquaponics will form an integral part of the future of global seafood production and reckons the wider commercial aquaculture community should look closer what his team’s findings mean in terms of a low energy future. “The Aquaculture principles applied to the Murdoch System pioneered by Challenger will help shape the future of this type of Integrated Aquaculture in Australia with the support and collaboration of the leading educational institutes around the country including the Fremantle Campus and industry support bodies,” he says. “The system has been put together with low capital cost in mind and all of the filtration systems and functions have been custom built by the Institute.”


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Water circulation Water is circulated throughout the system via the two submersible pumps in the sump. These pump water from the sump to both aquaculture tanks, the bio-filter and the far end of the nutrient-film hydroponic channels. Dissolved oxygen levels are maintained at 80% of saturation throughout the system. Water for the hydroponics is pumped through a buried 40mm pressure PVC pipe to each set of eight lengths of NFT with a valve to control the flow on each one. The PVC is converted to 25mm black irrigation poly pipe and each channel supplied with a 4mm poly tube. Water runs by gravity through the bottom of the channels to a 50mm PVC manifold which discharges into the aquaculture tank. Supplies to the aquaculture tank come direct from the submersible pump in the sump via a 40mm PVC pipe with a valve for flow control into the culture tank. Effluent water exits the culture tanks via three outlets. The two primary ones have a plastic screen covering the 50mm PVC outlets. Both skim water from the surface of the culture tanks to deposit it via uniseals into the custom polygeyser-type biofilter. The secondary, smaller outlet is the primary solid waste outlet made from 40mm PVC which extends up at 45° from the bottom center of the aquaculture tank and exits the aquaculture tank at the top. From there it gravity feeds through a swirl filter and thence into a 50mm pipe for passage to the custom biofilter. Biofilter effluent gravity feeds, again via uniseals, into a 50mm pipe through two outlets, which convert to 90mm pipe at a tee; both lines gravity feed down to the in ground sump. Filtration Primary solids filtration is provided by a custom swirl filter made up of 300mm diameter PVC. The 40mm outlet from the culture tank enters the side of the 300mm pipe at a tangent approximately

half way down the length of the filter. This creates the vortex to spin the heavier solids out of suspension. The water is then skimmed from the top of the filter via a screened 50mm outlet to the polygeyser biofilter. The conical bottom of the swirl filters collects settled solids with this waste dumped to the solid waste sump outside the hot house once a day using a valve located at the base of the filter.

Lettuce is grown in sets of 8 standard hydroponic NFT channel with holes at 240mm intervals.

The custom polygeyser-type biofilter, which uses 50kg of polyethylene chips as a medium, is backwashed with air four times a day using 300mm diameter cylinders in the bottom of the sump. Pressurised by the small diaphragm pump until the desired pressure is reached, a relief valve releases the air into the biofilter to agitate the plastic biomedia and dislodge any buildup of solids. Wastewater gravity feeds to the solid waste sump outside the hot house.

submersible pump in the main sump. This circulates water through 80m of 13mm black poly irrigation pipe coiled on the tanks’ insulated lids before entering the tank. The solar system operates only during daylight hours.

Heating Due to fish species selection – barramundi – and winter site temperatures the culture tanks require heating to above 20°C. Conversely, heat loss is minimized by fitting the culture tanks with 50mm open cell polystyrene lids and shutting off water supply to the hydroponic system at night.

Hydroponic subsystem

Primary heating achieved via the hot house’s thermal capacity is boosted by use of a small solar/battery-operated

Back up heating is supplied by the 2kWt submersion heater in the sump, thermostatically-controlled to maintain temperature at a minimum of 20°C during the colder months.

The hydroponics component of the system uses 32 x 6m lengths of standard hydroponic NFT channel, consisting of 25 holes spaced at roughly 240mm intervals. After pumping from the main sump to a manifold on each set of eight channels, nutrient-rich water gravity-feeds through the bottom of the channels and exits – stripped of nitrogen, phosphate and other nutrients by the plants – directly into the fish culture tanks.

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RESEARCH

maintained. In this case the water temps are kept above 20°C to prevent stress to the animals. At the time of writing, the barramundi have not yet been grown to market size as the system has only been running since April – ie five months of cooler climate conditions – reducing feed uptake and fish growth. One tank contains 280 x 200g fish (56kg) and the other tank contains 80 x 500g fish (40kg) for a current total of 96kg of barramundi grown from fingerlings supplied by the Marine Institute Barramundi Hatchery facilities at Fremantle. Feeding

From top: The backup spray bar on a culture tank Each culture tank has an insulated link with a solar heating coil on top to help maintain water temperatures. Note the (blue) Polygeyser-type biofilter in front of the tank. Weekly harvest

On average, depending on water temperatures, each tank is fed 300g of Skretting “Nova ME” sinking pellets, (45% protein, 20% lipid) – a rate of 1.4% for the smaller fish and 0.78% for the larger fish. The low feed rate is reflective of the water temperatures of 22°C at this time of year. This provides approximately 16g of Total Ammonia Nitrogen (TAN) per day for the volume of water in the system, which has a total capacity, including pipes, of approximately 11m3. Such nitrogen dilution is in line with University of Virgin Islands aquaponics trial results. Water Quality

Plant Production Lettuces are propagated in rock wool cubes in the Institute’s Horticulture Department glass houses on the campus. It takes two weeks to be ready to transplant to the hydroponic system. Several varieties are being trialed; all have proven amenable to aquaponics. Planting is staggered. Each week 400 heads are harvested and new two-week old seedlings are planted out in their place. This allows for constant nutrient level in the system and removes the risk of nitrogen spikes. Fish production As barramundi are outside their natural range, a temperature more suited to their optimum growth must be 44 Austasia Aquaculture | Spring 2011

Water quality test results carried out on the water in the main sump after it’s been through the biofilter but prior to the hydroponics system are: • pH – 7.24 • Temperature – 22.6°C • Alkalinity (carbonate hardness) – 67.122mg/L • Ammonia by test kit – 0.0mg/L NH4+ • Nitrate by test kit – 65mg/L NO3 • Nitrite by test kit – 0.70 mg/L NO2Calcium hydroxide is used regularly to maintain pH between 6.8 and 7.2. If a flowering plant (eg tomato) was the nutrient stripping medium, Tony says he would use potassium hydroxide as a buffer instead to supply the plants with potassium that is otherwise in insufficient supply in the water.

Labor and time Tony has calculated that on days where no harvesting or planting occurs, 15 minutes is needed to feed and observe the fish and flush the filters. One day a week is allowed for planting, harvesting and packing. Most weeks it only takes one person 4-5 hours a week to manage the farm, plus the harvest and re-sowing day. Stocking densities Tony reckons there’s scope to increase system productivity further as the fish tanks are not yet running to their maximum capacity – at 9.6kg/m3 a relatively low biomass for the tank volume. As the smaller 280 x 200gram fish come into market size at 500grams, the system will be operating at a density of 18kg/m3, still below a commercially desirable capacity. Naturally, the increase in standing stock biomass will increase the capacity for the hydroponic system to be expanded. If the standing stock biomass was increased to 180kg, water temperatures were increased to 27°C and feed rate boosted to 1%bw/day (1.8kg per day), TAN production is estimated at 53g per day, which is 3-4 times higher concentration than is required by the hydroponics subsystem for strong plant growth. That would allow the hydroponic subsystem to be tripled to 4,800 holes and the weekly harvest to grow to 1,200 heads per week, bringing the system to commercial capacity. As it is, an expansion of the hydroponic subsystem by an additional 800 holes is being considered given the current setup still has excess nitrate (65mg/L). The system is being used by Challenger to run aquaponics courses and the two day week end course has proven to be very popular, attracting participants from interstate and well as locally. By John Mosog For further information details about the system or the courses being offered by Challenger Institute can be obtained from Tony Bart by phone on (08) 92398015, or email tony.bart@challnger.wa.edu.au


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Spring 2011  

Austasia Aquaculture Spring 2011

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