Prawn health check developed by CSIRO

Australians will be enjoying more Aussie-grown prawns this Christmas thanks to a new prawn health check developed by Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO.

The new test uses CSIRO’s ‘Shrimp MultiPath’ technology, commercialised by Brisbane start-up company Genics, which spun-out of CSIRO to tackle the global challenge of food security and quality.

It comes as the domestic prawn farming industry recovers from losses from pathogens over the last three years.

The technology can detect 13 commercially significant prawn diseases, including white spot syndrome, which wiped out many prawn populations in 2016, and Infectious Hypodermal and Haematopoietic Necrosis Virus (IHHNV).

Improved management of IHHNV using Shrimp MultiPath technology increased production by 3.7 tonnes per hectare, or $67,000 farm gate value. Consequently, a 50-hectare Australian prawn farm could see their revenues increase by more than $3 million per season.

READ MORE: Aquaculture project to put more prawns on plate

Prawn farms are located across northern NSW and in QLD, with around 750 hectares of prawn ponds. An increase of 3.7 tonnes per hectare could boost the yield of farmed prawns by around 50 per cent.

CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall congratulated Genics on translating breakthrough research into marketplace benefit.

“It’s great to see CSIRO science being accelerated out of the lab and into a start-up that could tackle our global food security challenge, a very clear public benefit – while also giving Aussies more prawns to enjoy with family and friends,” Dr Marshall said.

“Australian seafood is globally prized, so innovation that protects our biosecurity and boosts our domestic economy is a great example of science creating new opportunities.”

Genics CEO and former CSIRO scientist Dr Melony Sellars said the technology comes at an opportune time for the domestic prawn farming industry after losses from pathogens over the last three years.

“Australia already has some of the best prawns you can buy. However, the good news for Australian consumers ahead of Christmas is that we’re helping to grow more prawns, and make them even better,” Dr Sellars said.

“Our tests quickly help prawn farmers make informed management decisions, and for consumers this means more, high quality, locally grown Australian prawns.”

Australia consumes all of its domestically produced prawns, and foreign imports are required to meet the shortfall in consumer demand.

Dr Sellars said the tests will allow farmers to better manage their prawn stocks as they grow, helping them to minimise stock losses and significantly boost their production levels, which could reduce Australia’s reliance on imported prawns.

Three years ago the southeast Queensland prawn industry – responsible for around 40 per cent of Australia’s farmed prawns – was shut down by the foreign incursion of white spot syndrome virus, a pathogen that is harmless to humans but lethal to prawns.

“Shrimp MultiPath tests against white spot, as well as other international pathogens that we don’t currently have in Australia,” Dr Sellars said.

“This technology can also be used as a detection system by biosecurity agencies to prevent the spread of any potential future incursions that could harm our industry.”

CSIRO aquaculture program Research Director Dr Mat Cook said Genics will benefit prawn farmers and consumers alike.

“CSIRO works with industries to secure their long-term sustainability, and commercialising this technology is a significant step towards protecting Australia’s farmed prawn industry and putting even more Australian farmed prawns on family plates,” Dr Cook said.

“The launch of Genics is a terrific example of delivering on CSIRO’s strategy to create positive outcomes for Australia across the spectrum of consumers, industry, biosecurity and environment.”

Genics is now delivering Shrimp MultiPath to prawn farmers in Australia and overseas, together with other prawn health diagnostic services.

The Genics team developed the Shrimp MultiPath technology drawing on CSIRO’s aquaculture expertise, and are alumni of the national sci-tech accelerator, ON Accelerate, powered by CSIRO.

Aquaculture project to put more prawns on plates

A $100 million aquaculture project that will generate 2700 tonnes of North Queensland black tiger prawns annually is a step closer to service after being granted prescribed project status by the Queensland Government.

The Guthalungra aquaculture project – located 40 kilometres north of Bowen and adjacent to Elliot River – will be the second North Queensland aquaculture project for Pacific Reef Fisheries, who are already operating a facility in Ayr.

Minister for State Development, Manufacturing, Infrastructure and Planning, Cameron Dick, said the project is expected to support 130 jobs during construction and 220 jobs once operational.

“Prescribed project status will help ensure this aquaculture facility can become a reality sooner,” Dick said. “It’s innovative and ecologically sustainable farming, and it’s going to provide a real boost for one of our most popular food exports.”

Prawns will be grown using a world-first bioremediation technology created in conjunction with James Cook University.

The project will also set a new global benchmark for aquaculture water remediation, with algae to be used to remove nitrogen and phosphorous from waste water so the facility operates at zero net discharge.

Member for Mackay and Assistant Minister for State Development, Julianne Gilbert, said economic diversification was key to creating more jobs for the region.

“If we want to give our communities more employment opportunities, we’ve got to get behind projects like this,” Gilbert said.

“That’s what our government is doing. We’re making it easier for more jobs to reach our region.”

Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries, Mark Furner, said the large-scale project would feed Australia’s love of prawns and deliver a huge boost to Queensland’s market share.

“Aquaculture is the fastest growing food industry globally, so it’s important we’re doing everything we can as a government to tap into that potential,” Mr Furner said.

“We are supporting Queensland jobs when we eat great-tasting Queensland produce, and this project will result in more people eating quality Queensland seafood.”

Pacific Reef Fisheries proposes to construct 259 one-hectare aquaculture ponds, 1.5 metres deep on a total site area of approximately 768 hectares.

The project will also include:

  • 11.3 ha seawater storage pond (370 mL storage capacity)
  • 47 ha discharge remediation area
  • Intake and treated discharge water pipelines (approx. 5.5 km long)
  • Freshwater storage pond and water reticulation system
  • Seafood processing facilities
  • Farm support infrastructure (storage, workshops, accommodation)

Earthworks on the site are due to commence midyear.

Prescribed project status enables Queensland’s independent Coordinator-General to assist the proponent in progressing the project.

The Office of the Coordinator-General is working with the proponent to help them secure operational works approvals, with the aim of starting construction in June 2019.

Ridley to explore options to grow Novacq

The Ridley Corporation has appointed Investec to explore options to accelerate the growth of Novacq, an ingredient which they have reported to have shown significant uplift in prawn biomass when added to prawn feed at an inclusion rate of five per cent. The increase in biomass is derived from a combo of higher survival rates, accelerated prawn growth and improved conversion of feed consumed into flesh, and general well-being of the prawn.

Significant progress has been made on the Novacq applied R&D project at ridley’s current production sites, namely Yamba in NSW and Chanthaburi, Thailand. According to Ridley, a number of their customers have used the product in their prawn’s diets on a profit share arrangement for the recently concluded Australian growing season.

In Thailand, Ridley expects to include the locally produced NOvacq in the Chanthaburi feedmill diets for commercial-scale farm use in the second half of 2018. The company is committed to scaling up production vlumes in its Thailand facility both in the feedmill joint venture and in the production of Novacq at the 14 ponds it has under long term lease and in which it is currently growing the product for inclusion in local feed production.

Australia sets new trade conditions following prawn ban

Australia is planning temporary trade conditions for uncooked prawns as the end of an enforced six-month suspension is anticipated.

The department of agriculture and water resources is pencilling interim import conditions to allow the “safe resumption of trade in uncooked prawn and prawn meat”.

The ban was declared on January 6 by the director of biosecurity and will lapse on July 6.

Some prawn products, including dried prawns, uncooked Australian prawns, and uncooked prawns and prawn meat marinated for human consumption, have been exempted from the suspension.

To manage the biosecurity risks of the exempt prawn products, interim import conditions were developed which include strict pre-export and on-arrival testing for prawn diseases, including white spot syndrome virus and yellow head virus.

It is intended that requirements for pre-export and on-arrival testing will be maintained for those categories of prawns currently exempt from the import suspension.

It is also expected that the interim import conditions developed for the remaining categories of prawns will include similar stringent measures.

“In preparation for the end of the suspension, the department is informing prawn importers about expected changes to import conditions for all prawn products, including the uncooked prawn products which are still subject to the suspension,” a department spokesperson said.

“These interim import conditions are likely to apply until the formal review of import conditions for prawns and prawn products for human consumption is finalised.

“This thorough review is considering the biosecurity risks of imports from all countries and will recommend appropriate import conditions to manage them. This process is expected to take up to two years.”

Prawn importers will be informed of any decisions concerning interim import conditions before the July 6.

Government approves NT prawn aquaculture facility

The Federal Government has approved a prawn aquaculture facility in the Northern Territory that will have significant benefits for the local and regional economies.

The development, known as Project Sea Dragon, is the initiative of Australian agri-food company Seafarms Group.

Stage 1 of Project Sea Dragon will result in a nearly threefold increase in Australia’s farmed prawn production, and a 55 per cent increase in Australia’s total production.

Once fully implemented, it is anticipated Project Sea Dragon will produce over 100,000 tonnes of prawns each year and generate an export revenue of $1.6 billion each year.

The first phase of the project, near the border of the Northern Territory and Western Australia, will include a facility at Legune Station where the prawns will grow to size, a breeding centre at Bynoe Harbour and export facilities at Wyndham and/or Darwin.

At full scale the project will create up to 1500 direct jobs in Northern Australia. Construction of the first phase alone will engage over 400 construction workers.

The environmental approval requires Seafarms to follow strict conditions to protect matters of national environmental significance including migratory birds, sawfish and the flatback turtle.

The company will carefully manage matters such as wastewater and impacts from light and noise. An independent scientific advisory group will be established to help monitor protection measures and make sure they are working.

Dodgy prawn packaging costs Kailis almost $11,000

According to the West Australian newspaper, seafood company Kailis Bros has been hit with a $10,800 fine after the Australian Competition and Consumer (ACCC) found shoppers could be mislead by the labeling on its “Just Caught Prawn Meat” product.

The ACCC said the packaging showed a prominent image of the Australian flag on its front and back.

A map in the bottom right hand corner included the words “Australian caught raw prawns” printed in a circle around the map, and the packaging also contained the words “Australian Caught-Raw-Deveined-Tail Off-Prawn Meat” noted the West Australian story.

ACCC chairman Rod Sims said the company had been issued an infringement notice because the ACCC had “reasonable grounds” to believe the company had engaged in conduct likely to mislead the public.

“The ACCC believed that the images and statements on this product gave the misleading impression that it was packed and processed in Australia,” he said.

"Businesses cannot rely on fine print disclaimers to correct or qualify a prominent country of origin representation that is false or misleading,” Sims said.

Kailis chief executive Nicholas Kailis said the prawns were caught by Australian fishermen on Australian boats in Australian fishing zones and were sent to Thailand for peeling and processing for cost reasons.

There was no intent to deceive the public, noted Kailis.

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.