Tasmanian oyster company instils new traceability system to track products

Tasmania Oyster Co. (formally Shellfish Culture), with the assistance of a co-funding grant from the Federal Government’s Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre (AMGC), will develop a new laser etching system to identify and trace its products across global markets.

The technology aims to differentiate Australia’s highly prized Pacific oysters, which are some of the few able to be consumed direct from the ocean due to pristine growing environments, from the highly farmed items that make up 80 per cent of the world oyster supply. To achieve this, Tasmania Oyster Co. has developed a new CO2 based laser etching process that allows the company to etch a brand mark (logo) on the oyster’s shell, providing customers with peace of mind concerning the quality and provenance of the product.

“Probably one of the biggest challenges is being able to distinguish our product from others, either here or in export markets. AMGC helped us expand our thinking to export markets,” Simon Rechner, project manager at Tasmanian Oyster Co.

“We think Australian oysters are some of the best in the world, but being able to market overseas is very difficult. An oyster sold in Singapore, Japan and Australia, without something on it to say where it comes from, could be from anywhere – our new technology changes that and gives us a great opportunity post-COVID to grow our brand.”

It is estimated the solution will increase the “product to price density” by $5 per dozen oysters sold, add $7 million to the Tasmanian oyster industry through the new authentication and marketing possibilities, and provide a $3.5 million increase in revenues to Tasmanian Oyster Co. through an estimated 25 per cent growth in exports.

Managing director of AMGC, Dr Jens Goennemann said opportunities for Australian manufacturers lie in competing on value not cost and brand Australia is in high demand right now.

“What Tasmanian Oyster Co. will do is add value to their product through the adoption of advanced technology, while also being able to highlight the country of origin for their products,” Goennemann said.

“In developing this new technology Tasmanian Oyster Co. will also streamline shellfish processing, open up the greater export potential for their products and, possibly, even exports of the new technology.”

Tasmanian Oyster Co.’s new technology will be rolled out to Tasmanian oyster growers, helping them present “a united front” in export markets. It will then be offered to growers in other states within the $112 million Australian oyster market and possibly other shellfish lines.

Successful completion of the project is expected to generate an additional twenty Australian jobs across the engineering, manufacturing, sales and service disciplines in the long-term.

South Australia’s oyster industry on the mend

The South Australian oyster industry is a step closer to recovery, no longer needing government supplied juvenile oysters (spat) now and able to rely on spat produced by four commercial Eyre Peninsula suppliers.

Three years ago the SA oyster industry was affected by a severe spat supply shortage due to an outbreak of Pacific Oyster Mortality Syndrome (POMS) in Tasmania. To reduce the risk of spreading to our oyster growing regions, there was a ban on South Australian growers importing Pacific Oyster spat from Tasmania, where more than 80 per cent of spat was previously sourced.

SA’s minister for primary industries and regional development Tim Whetstone praised the efforts of growers and Primary Industries and Regions SA (PIRSA) in working together to address the challenges associated with the spat supply shortage.

“This is a significant milestone for the oyster farming industry. I praise the efforts of growers and PIRSA in working together to address the challenges associated with the spat supply shortage,” said Whetstone.

“Over the past three years, PIRSA’s research division SARDI has produced 106.5 million spat for the state’s Pacific Oyster aquaculture industry – 30 million, 34 million and 42.5 million in 2016/17, 2017/18 and 2018/19, respectively.

Whetstone said the state government had continued to work to reduce the feral oyster population and associated POMS viral load in Port River through targeted cull of oysters.

“There is still work to do and we remain committed to supporting our oyster growers and the many associated regional jobs to recover and to unlock new opportunities,” he said.

The  industry-SARDI research partnership will be built on through a breeding program to produce POMS resistant oysters which Whetstone would help “future-proof” the industry.

“SARDI has already produced 126 Pacific Oyster families under the Australian Seafood Industries selective breeding program and an additional 31 families are currently under development which will become the founding population of a selective breeding program,” Whetsone said.

SA Oyster Growers Association executive officer Trudy McGowan praised PIRSA for their efforts to boost spat production in the wake of the spat shortage faced by the industry.

“This assistance has been vital in ensuring the long-term viability of the South Australian oyster farming industry,” said McGowan.

“We are pleased to be in a position where we are confident in the strong production results we are seeing from our local hatcheries and optimistic that we are now on track to a healthy recovery.”

Company involved in oyster market wins Australian Exporter of the Year

SEAPA, a company that specialises in designing plastic products specifically for oyster growers, has been awarded the Australian Exporter of the Year award for 2018.

SEAPA won the award along with Aspen Medical in Canberra on November 27.

Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Simon Birmingham, who announced the 2018 Australian Export Award winners at the ceremony, said Aspen Medical and SEAPA are two great Australian business success stories.

“This is an outstanding achievement by two Australian companies that started as small grassroots operations and are now global businesses exporting their high-quality products and services to the world.

READ: SafeFish gets $855,000 to help Australia’s seafood sector grow

“They exemplify the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation and I hope they can inspire thousands of other small businesses out there to take a punt and become exporters,” he said.

SEAPA is a South Australian business that is helping the oyster farming industry with its injection-moulded plastic baskets and farming systems.

SEAPA began exporting to North America in 2001, and its export markets have grown to include Europe and North Asia, where its technology is helping to grow better quality oysters at lower costs.

Birmingham said this year’s awards recognise the enormous contribution exporters make to Australia with the 88 finalists employing over 21,000 Australians generating more than $2 billion in export sales.

“This year’s finalists export a variety of high quality Australian goods and services from biometrics consulting to lace wedding gowns, aerospace components to essential oils, thermoplastic horse shoes and vaccines for HIV.

“Exports create more Australian jobs and strengthen our economy,” he said.

“Australian businesses that export hire 23 per cent more staff, pay 11 per cent higher wages and have labour productivity that is 13 per cent higher than non-exporting firms,” said Birmingham.

Aspen Medical, which also won the Health and Biotechnology Award, provides primary healthcare, emergency healthcare, training, consultancy, medical evacuations and clinics in 16 countries on three continents.

Over the past 12 months alone Aspen has doubled its number of employees.

NSW gov finds pearl in oyster industry

Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional NSW and Small Business John Barilaro, and Minister for Transport and Infrastructure and Member for Bega Andrew Constance today announced an equity investment of $3.3 million in Australia’s Oyster Coast (AOC) – a group of Australia’s leading oyster growers based on the NSW South Coast.

The NSW Government’s $3.3 million investment will combine with a $6.7 million co-investment from First State Super, as part of the government’s new GO NSW Equity Fund, established with partners First State Super and ROC Partners last year.

Barilaro said the deal – which will see the government take an ownership stake in AOC – is the second investment under the fund.

“NSW has the biggest and best oyster industry in Australia, and we’re backing AOC to build its brand and business operations at home and overseas,” Barilaro said.

“Importantly this investment will allow AOC to more than double its workforce to 75, creating 40 new full time equivalent jobs.

“What’s so pleasing for me, as the Minister for Regional NSW, is that our first two investments through this new fund have been in agricultural businesses, based in regional NSW.

“This isn’t a helping hand for these oyster growers, it’s a smart business decision – an investment that’s backed by industry experts.

“Any returns we reap for our investment will be re-invested by the fund in other high-potential companies across NSW.

“It shows that if you are in NSW, have a great product and receive a bit of smart backing from the NSW Government then the world really is your oyster,” he said.

First State Super Chief Investment Officer Damian Graham said the deal was another great outcome from the partnership with the NSW Government.

“The investment in Australia’s Oyster Coast reflects our approach to investing in the communities where our members live, work and retire. It will not only deliver returns to our members but will provide capital to help expand an important regional industry on the south coast,” Mr Graham said.

“AOC will use the capital to acquire new leases, invest in new technologies like floating mesh bags to improve productivity and the growth rate of oysters, improve infrastructure, secure a North Coast processing facility and invest in new marketing campaigns,” he said.

Managing Director of ROC Partners Michael Lukin said the firm, as part of its role to identify the best investment opportunities for the fund, was finding many attractive options in regional NSW.

“We are excited by the opportunities in regional NSW we are uncovering as part of our role in the GO NSW Equity Fund,” Lukin said.

Mark Allsopp, AOC CEO said Australia’s Oyster Coast is unique as it produces three varieties of premium oysters, including the Sydney Rock Oyster, the rare Angasi ‘flat oyster’ and the popular Pacific Oyster.

“These oysters are grown under rigorous environmental management systems in some of the world’s cleanest waters by passionate growers with generations of experience – we’re delighted that this investment will support more growth,” he said.

Member for Bega Andrew Constance said he was pleased the investment will deliver more jobs to Australia’s Oyster Coast.

“AOC has done a fantastic job for the region since it was formed in 2013 by eight local growers. They’ve built a recognised brand for their product and I look forward to seeing the results of this significant backing,” Constance said.

Oyster breakthrough opens doors to Asia

A new method to make oysters easier to open is being developed in South Australia.

The method, developed by Simmonds Seafood Marketing Agencies, involves shaving the lip of the oyster to create a small opening where a knife can later be inserted to greatly simplify the shucking process.

The opening is immediately sealed with wax to keep the juices in and the oyster alive.

Inventor and oyster marketer Bob Simmonds said the wax coating also provided branding opportunities because it allowed stickers to be applied that provide information about providence and packing dates.

He said the ability to keep oysters alive while making them easier to open gave them a much greater shelf life compared to the typical pre-shucked product.

“Most oysters are opened, half shelled and then sent to restaurants and hotels. You only get three or four days life out of the product whereas with the new process you probably get 10 to 12 days life out of the product, which is a huge benefit,” Simmonds said.

img - OysterBob_shallow

Trading in Adelaide as Oyster Bob, Simmonds sells 18 to 20 million oysters a year on behalf of South Australian oysters farmers, who produce about a third of Australia’s harvest.

Simmonds has entered a partnership with the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC), which now owns the worldwide patents for the procedure, and is working to develop machines to streamline the process.

He said the easy-open oysters would be ideal for the Asian market because of its appetite for live seafood products.

Australia exports more than $1 billion of seafood a year to Asia, driven by strong demand for rock lobster, tuna and abalone.

“All the oysters that are sent out of Australia have been whole live and they are opened overseas but it’s a very laborious task,” Simmonds said.

“If we can take that part of it out of the equation and have an oyster ready to eat, that’s going to appeal to a whole lot of areas – especially China and Asia where they like live product.

img - Oyster Bob_Tall

“It can be opened live at the table and people can see the branding and have a discretionary taste of it just like they do with a bottle of wine.”

Simmonds and the FRDC have secured grants to develop three machines to realise commercialisation.

Oysters processed using the new method could be on the shelves in about a year.

“The product itself performs. It’s now about getting the numbers up,” Simmonds said.

“We’re looking at robotics and laser technology.”

In 2013-14, Australia produced 11,402 tonnes of oysters with a value of about $90 million.

Simmonds said as well as having great potential for export, the new method also was ideal for the retail market.

He said cooking shows on television had created an appetite for freshness among home cooks and made people more adventurous when it came to news ways of serving food.

“Now at retail level we can put them in a dozen pack and people can take them home and open them themselves easily at a dinner party or whatever it may be,” Simmonds said.

“It’s also the novelty factor of doing something a bit different too. Having it live at the table and branded are the essential ingredient to me.

Simmonds said the machines could be potentially sold commercially to other oyster processors once the process was perfected.

“The FRDC and I both believe this is one of the best things to happen to the oyster industry as far as marketing is concerned for a long, long time,” he said

“I don’t say it’s ever going to replace the current method but it’s just another string to the bow.”

Top Image: Federal Senator Anne Ruston and Bob Simmonds (centre) discuss the new oyster innovation with Seafood CRC CEO Dr Len Stephens.

Sydney Fish Market launches free seafood quality app

Sydney Fish Market has launched the Australian Seafood Quality Index app, which provides seafood buyers and restaurateurs with a useful guide to seafood shelf-life at their fingertips.

The new app has been developed to help assess seafood from catch to consumer. Users complete a checklist on several attributes of the whole fish, including appearance, odour and texture. The scores for each category are combined to generate a Quality Index score, which provides an indication of the remaining shelf life for the product.

Setting a benchmark for quality control, the Quality Index assists in the management of seafood products for the food service and retail industry. It is applicable from point of harvest; through transport; auction; distribution and sale.

Sydney Fish Market General Manager, Bryan Skepper, says: “This app was designed to incorporate established industry practices and present them in a user friendly, modernised way. It incorporates best practice seafood shelf life assessment and record keeping in one simple place.”

Special features include the ability to archive files for further assessment, upload images directly to a Dropbox account and the capability to customise settings to meet individual operational requirements.

Jointly developed by Sydney Fish Market and The University of Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, the free app was funded by the Australian Seafood Co-operative Research Centre and the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation. 

It is available for download on iPhone, iPad, Android phones and tablets, via the iTunes and Android stores by searching ‘seafood quality index’.

Wealth and health issues contribute to more seafood in diets

 According to Anastasia Alieva, Head of Fresh Food Research at Euromonitor International, Fresh fish and seafood has seen growth over 2009-2014 across all global regions apart from Western Europe, where consumers were most affected by financial crisis. In 2014 and over forecast period leading to 2019, fish and seafood is projected to have strong performance on both, global and regional level.

“As wealth grows in developing regions, fish and seafood is becoming more affordable and is eaten on increased number of occasions, especially in Asia-Pacific and Latin American markets where seafood forms big part of local diets,” said Ms Alieva.

While seafood is perceived as a healthier source of protein than meat in many countries, especially where health of the nations is threatened by high obesity rates, at the same time, there is falling red meat consumption and growing consumption of fish and seafood in Europe and North America where consumers are concerned about health and wellness issues.

Australia was ranked 31st for volume consumption of fish and seafood in 2014, with 5,299,900 tonnes. This equates to 11.6kg of fish and seafood per capita in 2014.

The variety of cuts from individual portions to filleted and cleaned fish and convenient, hygienic packaging offered by retailers also contribute to increased number of purchases as those consumers, who appreciate convenience feel more confident buying and cooking seafood, noted Euromonitor.