Aquaculture program prepares students for entry into aquaculture industry

IT IS a Monday morning in Cowell, a small rural town on the east coast of South Australia's Eyre Peninsula, and Year 11 student Brad Armstrong jumps aboard the waiting oyster punt to start his day's classes.

While his fellow students are settling in with their books in the classroom, he heads out into Franklin Harbour with local oyster farmer Simon Turner.

And he would not have it any other way.

Brad Armstrong is one of about 120 students who have taken part in the oyster industry in the past 25 years, thanks to the Cowell Area School's aquaculture program. The 170-student school (Reception to Year 12) takes pride in running the only aquaculture program of its kind in Australia.

The program was initiated in 1991 when local oyster growers came to the school with the request for a course that could suitably equip students for entry into the aquaculture industry. The first course was offered in 1992. The linchpin is the school's own oyster farm – a 2.5-hectare lease in Franklin Harbour allocated to the Cowell Area School through the South Australia Department of Fisheries in 1991.

Cowell has also developed a trade-training centre to deliver vocational education and training (VET) for students across the Eyre Peninsula, offering a Certificate I and Certificate II in Aquaculture. In these courses students in Years 10 to 12 can learn to harvest and shuck oysters, set up an oyster farm and follow seaboard safety, as well as more transferable skills such as food-handling practices and work health and safety requirements.

As well as the oyster lease, students can turn their hand to 'aquaponics' with the school's recirculating tanks for finfish such as Barramundi.

However, aquaculture is not just for senior students at Cowell – it is woven through every year level. In Reception, literacy and numeracy is based on sea creatures. By Years 3 and 4, students are learning about fishing and sand-dune erosion. By Years 5 and 6, they are working with oysters. From Years 7 to 10, Cowell students study marine sustainability, fisheries regulations, water sampling and the microbiology of aquaculture. Aquaculture is even part of the school's hospitality and business subjects, with students learning to cook oysters and sell them at school fundraising events.

Cowell Area School aquaculture education manager Bob Combes says the program would not be possible without the support of local oyster farmers. "The program has always been to instill in students the skills required to advance the local industry and create an opportunity for those wanting to work in the region," he says. "Our local community has been invaluable, offering us its business expertise and ensuring that our lease is kept up to date with developing technologies."

The South Australia Department of Education and Child Development assists in funding the school's oyster lease manager, infrastructure and equipment for the program. But it has not all been smooth sailing. Early on, some local oyster farmers were concerned this government support would give the school an unfair advantage in the market, but today there is widespread support and recognition that the school's program is good for the industry's future.

Five local growers sit on the school's aquaculture advisory board to provide advice and guidance, and other growers contribute their knowledge and host work experience students. These work experience placements often lead to jobs.

For example, Brad Armstrong's work experience placement at Turners Oysters when he was in Year 10 eventually led to a casual position during busy periods. He began his Certificate II in Aquaculture this year and spends one day a week with Simon Turner learning about the business, which sells about 160,000 dozen oysters a year to restaurants across Australia.

The school sources oyster spat from Tasmanian companies Geordy River Aquaculture, Cameron of Tasmania Pty Ltd and Shellfish Culture Ltd, which have also provided work experience opportunities for Cowell Area School students.

Industry support

Retired oyster farmers Geoff and Janet Turner have backed the school program since it began. They made the transition from agriculture to aquaculture in 1987 and are among the pioneers of Cowell's oyster industry. Oyster leases now dot the southern end of Franklin Harbour, where tidal currents and food sources are optimal for oysters.

The Turners co-founded BST Oyster Supplies, and developed the adjustable longline system used by oyster farmers around the world. The adjustable height feature has been critical to weather the 'dodge tides' characteristic of the Spencer Gulf. In this tidal pattern, one tide a fortnight is missed. It is a scenario which, if it coincides with a scorching 40°C-plus day, can devastate the farms.

The Turners are only too happy to impart their knowledge of the oyster industry – from farm set-up to disease management to marketing – to Cowell students. An important lesson is the value of environmental sustainability.

"There are 5000 hectares of water in the Cowell harbour, but the oyster industry decided only 112.5 hectares should be used for aquaculture," Geoff Turner explains. "It's one of the local industry's environmental commitments."

Career opportunities

Geoff Turner believes positioning oyster farming as a rewarding, sustainable career choice will encourage the young people of Cowell to stay. Cowell is nearly 500 kilometres from the capital of South Australia, Adelaide, by road. Many young people head to the city for jobs and further study. With iron ore mines right on the doorstep, the lure of the mining industry is also strong.

"It is absolutely critical to have the next generation coming into the industry. Oyster farming offers stability and a lifestyle that the mines can't provide," Geoff Turner says. He takes pride in seeing Cowell students developing skills in managing the oyster farms, embracing new technology in the grading sheds, and gaining business sense and an appreciation for the industry's environmental commitment.

"I see it as absolutely important to keep this course going, and that the education system recognises the value it is providing for industry," he says. "It is developing skills for aquaculture that will drive the state into the future."

Although Cowell Area School boasts a 100 per cent success rate at placing students into local aquaculture jobs, the program has also underpinned careers in other aspects of the industry, such as science. It was the catalyst for former student Laura Inglis, 18, to study a Bachelor of Science, majoring in marine biology, at Flinders University in Adelaide.

"The school's aquaculture program is unique. I don't know of many school students who would get such an opportunity to learn about the oyster industry," Laura Inglis says.

She combined her interest in science and access to the school's oyster lease for her Year 12 research project, which studied diploid and triploid oysters, and work experience at Shellfish Culture Ltd in Tasmania, where Cowell sources oyster spat. Today, she is in her second year of her three-year degree, with her sights firmly set on a career involving the Great Barrier Reef or deep ocean. 

Bright future

Self-sufficiency is on the horizon for the Cowell Area School's oyster program, with plans to sell 'on grows' – oysters aged five months – to make a profit earlier than the current practice of growing oysters out to 15 months.

"In the next two years, we will move to selling 70 per cent of our oysters as on grow and the remainder as bistro or standard size," Bob Combes says. "We hope that this will provide us with a steady income to pay for the enterprise as it continues to develop, so we can contribute to the industry that forms the backbone of our community."

Cowell Area School's innovative aquaculture program and its oyster lease are garnering international interest. The school has hosted school leaders and business executives from Japan who are interested in setting up a similar curriculum and business. Principal Jan Potter took to the global stage to share Cowell's story at the 2014 World Aquaculture Conference in Adelaide, and Cowell Area School staff have also visited the US to see how schools there incorporate aquaculture into their curriculum.


Tassal to acquire De Costi Seafoods

Tassal has responded to speculation and confirmed an acquisition of De Costi Seafoods is in the works.

Although an acquisition has not been formally finalised or completed, Tassal said the due diligence process on De Costi Seafoods has been completed and the tassal Board has approved for the proposed acquisition to proceed to formal documentation. The acquisition is expected to be completed in July 2015.

A non-binding Terms Sheet has been signed by the parties, with a few key terms.

The business will be acquired via a share purchase, free from all debt and other encumbrances and the sale will not include the business trading at the Sydney Fish Markets or the two retail outlets owned by Georfe Costi at Bondi and Chatswood.

Following the acquisition, George Costi will remain at the helm of De Costi Seafoods’ operations for a minimum period of three years and will report to Mark Ryan, Tassal Group Limited Managing Director and CEO.

Ryan said the move to acquire De Costi Seafoods was strategic.

“De Costi Seafoods provides Tassal with an attractive vehicle to deliver the company’s salmon and seafood growth strategy, which is about maximising domestic market per capita consumption of seafood. The seafood market in Australia is assessed at $4.3 billion per annum

“This acquisition would allow us to build on Tassal’s successful domestic market focus with salmon, increase Tassal’s vertical integration into salmon, and further drive scale, and the efficiencies and benefits that will flow from the increased scale that the seafood offering will bring,” Ryan said.


Sanford likely to cut 230 workers from Christchurch seafood factory

Fishing group Sanford is likely to cut 230 workers from its Christchurch mussel processing plant because of a shortage of natural spat supply.

The New Zealand Herald reports that management met with employees at the plant yesterday to deliver the bad news and said a final decision will be made by April 20.

Sanford Chief Executive Volker Kuntzsch said there is a shortage of natural spat (young mussels) because of warm water and unfavourable weather conditions.

"Wild spat supply is the single biggest constraint on the mussel industry with current spat shortages limiting future crop supply. In the long term Sanford's recent investment with government, industry and research organisations in the selective breeding of mussels (will alleviate the industry's reliance on wild caught spat,” Kuntzsch said.

“However, at this stage it is not anticipated that these initiatives will boost crop supply to levels where Sanford's South Island plants are able to be efficiently utilised for the next two to three years." reports that Service and Food Workers Union (SFWU), which represents the workers, will meet Sanford next week to try to extend the timeline for talks and secure favourable exit packages.

SFWU representative Chas Muir said he did not expect many staff would take up the offer to relocate because of family reasons and because many have houses damaged by the Christchurch earthquake which not be of much value on the market.

"We have gone out to a whole lot of other industries and organisations to let them know about this, so they will be aware there is now a food grade processing facility available with spare capacity,” Muir said.

"I guess there's always a possibility that an opportunity comes out of the woodwork … to utilise this facility, whether they be mussels from another source or … some other kind of food product or seafood product."

Seafood processing industry faces turbulent conditions

Seafood processing revenue has been adversely affected by declining seafood production, stagnant prices and increasing import penetration.

According to IBISWorld’s report on the Seafood Processing industry in Australia, the industry has faced turbulent conditions over the past five years. Revenue has been adversely affected by declining seafood production, stagnant prices and increasing import penetration. The industry has also become increasingly dependent on export markets, as domestic prices fall due to mass imports, and high-value export markets open up new opportunities for exporters.

The volume of domestic industry demand has been buoyed by stable seafood consumption, supported by ongoing product innovation, positive media coverage about the benefits of seafood and increasing consumer health awareness. However, according to IBISWorld industry analyst Ryan Lin, “production levels in lower value domestic markets have been affected by overfishing, climatic conditions, disease, increased fuel costs, and reduced quotas and access due to sustainable management policies.”

In the five years through 2014-15, industry revenue is expected to decline at an annualised 1.2 percent to total $1.5 billion.

The future prospects of the industry remain uncertain, as declining production and rising imports continue to threaten domestic sales. Despite these trends, in 2014-15, industry revenue is expected to grow as high exports drive growth. Global demand for high-value Australian seafood (such as rock lobster and abalone) is expected to pick up over the next five years. North America and Europe are forecast to ramp up demand, while neighbouring Asian countries, particularly Vietnam, are expected to develop an appetite for high-value Australian seafood.

“The domestic production of seafood will depend on domestic catches and aquaculture growth, which will be affected by fishery policies, costs of production, climate, disease and technological developments,” Lin said.

The government is expected to continue implementing policies that increase the sustainability of Australian seafood stocks. The policies will reduce seafood catches in the short term, but improve the stock levels and profitability of the Fishing industry over the long term. Aquaculture production is forecast to grow strongly over the next five years. At the same time, export opportunities will continue to provide a strong boost to seafood processing revenue.

The Seafood Processing industry has a low level of market share concentration, and the major players are Tassal Group and Simplot Australia (Holdings) Pty Limited. These players are large vertically integrated organisations that have extensive farming and processing facilities. The rest of the industry largely consists of small-to-medium size processors that do not have the scope of scale to compete evenly with the major players. Over the past decade, major players have increased industry their market share through a series of acquisitions such as Huon Aquaculture and Springfield Fisheries. However, being the large diversified players that they are, they often house a number of other business segments that detract from seafood processing operations. IBISWorld anticipates that this level of concentration is unlikely to change.


Seafood labelling a failure: Greenpeace

Greenpeace has called for clear labelling of Australian seafood products with the species of fish and where it was caught.

The environmental organisation says accurate, informative seafood labelling is essential for public health protection, consumer welfare, comprehensive seafood chain-of-custody, promotion of sustainable fisheries, and food security.

Australians consume an estimated 370,000 tonnes of seafood a year. Per capita consumption has roughly doubled since 1975 but domestic production has failed to keep up. As a result, Australia is now a net importer of seafood with more than 70 per cent of seafood coming from overseas.

Despite this, the majority of Australians believe they are mostly purchasing Australian seafood: a perception, according to Greenpeace, which is perpetuated by inadequate labelling. Current labelling laws don’t require food brands, restaurants, or other seafood sellers to accurately identify the species of seafood sold or disclose where it was caught.

Seafood products are the most highly traded food commodity globally and the global production and trade of seafood often involves complex chains of custody meaning a single seafood product may be caught, processed, packaged and sold in different parts of the world. If there is a health scare, it can be difficult to trace the origin of the problem.

Greenpeace also scrutinised Australia’s country of origin labelling, saying in the release “unfortunately, Australian country of origin labels for seafood may not refer in any meaningful way to the origin of the seafood contained in the product. Instead it might refer to the country where the fish was landed or processed, or where most value was added through processing and packaging.”

“Seafood caught in the Indian Ocean, processed in China, then crumbed and packaged in Australia might still be labelled ‘made in Australia’.”

Greenpeace also want a change to a lack of a labelling requirement in Australia that ensure accurate, consistent use of fish names.

It is legal, for example, to label any fish except crustacea, as just ‘fish’ – and although this isn’t untrue, it doesn’t provide consumers with much useful information.

The Australian Fish Names Standard provides guidance on accurate species identification, but because it is a voluntary standard.


Handheld sensor can detect something fishy

Scientists at the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science have developed a handheld sensor that can detect seafood fraud.

It’s estimated that up to 30 percent of the seafood entering the U.S. is fraudulently mislabelled, bilking U.S. fishermen, the U.S. seafood industry, and American consumers for an estimated $20-25 billion annually. Passing off other fish as grouper is one of the rackets this sensor aims to stop.

The instrument assays seafood samples using real-time nucleic acid sequence-based amplification (RT-NASBA). The handheld instrument that purifies and identifies the sample’s RNA is a portable version of the lab-based bench top model previously developed.

The paper describing the new technology and its application appears in a newly published issue of Food Control.

“Using the hand-held device, a complete field assay, potentially carried out at the point of purchase, requires fewer than 45 minutes for completion and can be performed entirely outside of the lab,” said biological oceanographer John Paul, University Professor at the USF College of Marine Science.

“Some past assay procedures could take hours, even days to identify samples.”

According to the paper’s lead author and College of Marine Science graduate, Robert Ulrich, fraud involving grouper is prevalent locally because it is the third most economically valuable seafood product in Florida and there are commercial quotas on grouper catches. The task of identifying true grouper does get complicated because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration allow 64 species of fish to be labelled as “grouper.”

“The demand for grouper in the U.S. is so strong that it cannot be met by the harvesting of domestic species alone,” Ulrich said.

“In 2012, over 4,000 metric tons of foreign grouper, worth $33.5 million, were imported into the U.S. This mass quantity of imported grouper creates opportunities for fraud, which can lead consumers to pay more for lesser valued seafood species and may allow importers to avoid paying tariffs.”

The scientists believe that the portable QuadPyre version of RT-NASBA is accurate enough to detect grouper substitution on cooked fish at the point of restaurant service, even when the samples are masked by breading or sauces, an improvement over other techniques that have been unreliable in such cases.

The technology is being commercialized by a USF spinoff company called PureMolecular, LLC under the name GrouperChek (trademark pending). Assays for other commercially important seafood species are being developed.

The USF College of Marine scientists who developed the QuadPyre RT-NASBA hope that its use will help ensure those charged with seafood purchasing and seafood commerce regulation can begin to close the inspection gaps and better combat seafood mislabelling fraud.


Tassal talks acquisition with De Costi

Australia’s largest salmon producer, Tassal, has confirmed it is having discussions regarding the purchase of the De Costi business.

In a statement, Tassal said it is “focussed on and committed to growing domestic per capita consumption on salmon and ensuring that it optimises its supply chain.”

“Tassal has previously stated and continues to believe that strengthening and broadening its product offering from salmon to other seafood is ‘on strategy’ – as long as that other seafood supports its sustainability core values and delivers long term shareholder value.

“Any acquisition needs to be consistent with strategic plan objectives.”

Tassal said that although discussions have begun, there is no certainty that a transaction will eventuate, but it will keep the market informed of any material developments.

In November, Tassal was the first salmon company in the world to gain Aquaculture Stewardship Council certification across all its farming operations.

Tassal has been moving towards reaching full ASC certification since 2012, working in partnership with WWF-Australia.


Researchers develop functional ingredients out of lobster byproducts

Flinders University and the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) have teamed up to find innovative ways of using leftover shells and parts from the processing of lobsters.

The two institutes are working with Adelaide-based lobster exporter Ferguson Australia to help the company generate new products from lobster "offcuts", and to develop a cost-effective manufacturing process to improve Ferguson's annual turnover and environmental stewardship.

Prototypes developed so far at Flinders University's Centre for Marine Bioproducts Development include lobster essence oil, protein powder and chitin; derived 100 per cent from lobsters.

Flinders PhD candidate Trung Nguyen, who is working on the project, said the lobster oil and protein powder could be used as functional ingredients in a range of foodstuffs, from stock bases to crackers, while the chitin, chitosan and its derivatives could have a wide range of applications, from food and cosmetics to biomedicines, agriculture and the environment.

"We have extracted a variety of items, including protein hydrolysates, chitin, chitosan and oil, from food-grade lobster parts that would usually be thrown away," Nguyen said.

"The oil has quite a strong smell so it could be used as a lobster flavour in chips and crackers, and it is also rich in astaxanthin which is a powerful antioxidant," he said.

"While this particular collaboration focuses on producing lobster-flavoured products for food, my PhD study as a whole explores the development of other high-value products for the food or pharmaceutical industries.

Nguyen said the extraction of lobster compounds uses cutting-edge advanced manufacturing processes such as supercritical CO2 extraction and microwave-assisted extraction, which produces a product that is of high purity while also being cost effective and environmentally sustainable.

Flinders Centre for Marine Bioproducts Development manager Raymond Tham said the products, once refined, will be marketed to potential partners in the food industry.

"There's a real opportunity to make sure none of our high value seafood is ever wasted, and that they are used to produce products that currently do not exist on the global market," Tham said.

"Together with SARDI, our lab work has shown that we can create these products in very large quantities using sustainable technologies, ultimately increasing the competitiveness of South Australian foods in the national and international marketplace."

Ferguson Australia managing director Andrew Ferguson said the creation of new products from leftover lobsters would enable the company to reduce its waste management costs and improve environmental and resource sustainability.

"These products will reduce the amount of lobster waste sent to landfills, which has a high cost for both the business and environment, but will instead have a higher retail value and longer shelf life to reach wider export markets," Ferguson said.


New levy to help fight oyster mortality syndrome

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) will allow Australian Seafood Industries (ASI) to collect a levy, in conjunction with hatcheries, on the purchase of Pacific oyster spat for up to 10 years.

The levy will enable ASI to undertake research into developing spat with resistance to the Pacific Oyster Mortality Syndrome (POMS).

According to the NSW Department of Primary Industries, POMS was first found in NSW in November 2010 when oyster farmers in the Georges River reported mortality of wild and farmed Pacific Oysters.

Then in February 2013 the virus that causes POMS was found in wild Pacific Oysters from Brisbane Water.

The levy will be collected from oyster growers who purchase Pacific oyster spat from hatcheries. The levy will commence at $2.80 per 1000 spat, indexed annually by CPI.

"An industry-wide levy is an efficient way to fund important research that seeks to protect Australian Pacific oyster growers from the potentially devastating impact of POMS," ACCC Commissioner Dr Jill Walker said in a statement.

POMS has also been found in in Pacific oysters in France, the United Kingdom, Ireland, the Netherlands and New Zealand.

It causes no harm to humans.


Sealord to cut 70 jobs

Sealord has confirmed one of its three Nelson factories will cut 70 factory jobs and 30 contract workers will no longer be needed at the Wetfish factory.

The number of impacted people will depend on how many are able to be retrained and moved into other available roles either on land or at sea.

By redeploying employees and not filling existing vacancies, Sealord has reduced the number of office based people impacted to eleven.

Sealord General Manager Fishing, Doug Paulin, said that the decision to make changes due to the factory not being financially viable was sad but necessary for the long-term health of the business.

“This is a difficult time for our people and we are supporting them as much as we can.

“The factory will remain open and the focus will be on processing fresh fish for Australasia and frozen whole fish for the China market instead of frozen commodity products. This allows us to keep a number of our permanent Wetfish employees and also continue to offer seasonal work to more than 100 other people in the Nelson region,” said Paulin.

While Sealord has delivered a profit for the 2014 year ongoing challenges of rising costs, globally flat white fish pricing and a high exchange rate mean the focus on lower-value commodity products could not continue.

By running a smaller Wetfish operation focused on higher value products the company is focusing on the future and ensuring investment in Nelson continues and staffing levels are sustainable.

Work is beginning to finalise the redundancies and the last day of work for most factory staff is expected to be the 30th January 2015.

“Having an extended notice period was important to Sealord to ensure that employees weren’t made redundant just prior to Christmas and it also means employees have a longer period to secure other employment,” said Paulin.

The other factories and fishing crews are not affected by the change and additional frozen processing will take place on board Sealord’s vessel Rehua, which will no longer travel to Tasmania as part of its fishing plan.


Bonsoy settles for $25m and Oceanwatch introduces QR codes [VIDEO]


This week in food manufacturing news Bonsoy has agreed to a $25m compensation deal with nearly 500 victims after the company's soy milk was found to have unsafe levels of iodine.

Elsewhere, OceanWatch Australia has announced a first for the Australian fishing industry with the introduction of QR codes for fresh seafood designed to provide wholesale buyers with a complete picture of where, how, and by who the catch was caught.


OceanWatch Australia increases traceability with QR codes

Marking an Australian fishing industry first, OceanWatch Australia has introduced unique QR codes for fresh seafood, providing wholesale buyers with a complete picture of where, how, and by who the catch was caught.

The codes are part of the OceanWatch Master Fisherman Program and were launched on World Fisheries Day, Friday 21 November. By scanning the code, buyers are able to access information relating to the fisher behind the catch, how the seafood was caught, which part of Australia the seafood comes from, and information about the characteristics of the species, migration patterns and population statistics.  

“These QR codes offer real transparency around the provenance of seafood. It’s important the community knows where their seafood comes from, and is confident the fisher is dedicated to responsible fishing and best-practice techniques to protect our marine environments,” said Brad Warren, executive chair OceanWatch Australia.

“The QR codes provide wholesale buyers with the tools to make informed purchasing decisions and ensure consumers, in turn, are eating a responsibly caught catch.”

In order to gain OceanWatch accreditation and be allocated a QR code, fisher must complete the Master Fisherman Program which is jointly funded with the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC).

The program involves setting protocols and standards for everyday fishing practices; from assessing the equipment fishers use, to the steps they take in reducing bycatch. Fishers must also complete food safety training and hold a maritime competency qualification.

“OceanWatch has ensured its Master Fisherman Program aligns with the United Nation’s Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. To date, the accreditation and QR codes have already been allocated to over sixty NSW Estuary General fishers,” says Warren.

“The QR codes will be launched to the wholesale market on November 21, with a roll out to retailers to follow. In the meantime, the information from the QR code will be available to consumers on the OceanWatch Australia website and any store displaying the QR code.”  


World first sustainability achievement for Tassal

Tasmanian salmon producer, Tassal, has gained Aquaculture Stewardship Council certification across all its farming operations – a first for any salmon company in the world.

Aquaculture is the fastest growing animal food producing sector in the world, seeking to meet the growing demand for seafood, while reducing pressure on wild capture fisheries.

Tassal has been moving towards reaching full ASC certification since 2012, working in partnership with WWF-Australia.

WWF recognises ASC certification as the highest global standard available internationally for responsibly farmed seafood; providing third-party validation for practices which reduce impacts on the marine environment, protecting local surroundings and wildlife, and supporting local communities.

To meet the ASC’s responsible Salmon Standard, Tassal implemented upgrades including:

  • Reducing reliance of fish meal and fish oil in feed; resulting in reduced pressure on wild fish stocks and less pressure on the environment through improved feed formulations.
  • Removing the last copper treated nets from the water in June this year, replacing them with Kikko nets, made from semi-rigid polyester monofilament.
  • Creation of a full ASC dashboard which reports in real time any antibiotic use, wildlife interactions or unexplained fish loss across all of Tassal’s marine sites. All reports are available publically online and are fully audited.
  • Development of a new fish health department, including onsite lab, two vets, a fish health field officer and lab technician, as well as the development of a zero harm fish welfare program.

According to head of sustainability at Tassal, Linda Sams, the Australian aquaculture industry performs well in setting and implementing environmental regulations, but lacks transparency.

“Transparency was a key focus for us and is why we created our annual sustainability report, our ASC dashboard, and why we ensure our data is fully audited before being put into the public domain. This level of transparency is one which we feel genuinely sets us apart from others in the industry.”

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), more than half of fish consumed globally by 2021 will be farmed seafood.


Growing seafood appetite an opportunity for Australia: report

Australia is in a prime position to take advantage of the growing global demand for seafood, a new industry report has found.

Seafood is the most consumed animal protein in the world, and with an estimated 30 to 40 million tonnes of additional seafood required globally to meet consumer demand by 2030, Australia is in a ‘box seat’ to take capitalise on this opportunity, it says.

Titled Smooth Sailing for Australian Seafood, the report, by agribusiness banking specialist Rabobank, says that while Australian seafood accounts for only a small proportion of world seafood production and trade, it plays an important role globally, given the range of premium aquaculture and wild caught products produced here.

Australian animal proteins analyst Matt Costello said Australia’s reputation for producing high quality, sustainable seafood puts us in an enviable position.

“With one of the strongest reputations globally for producing high value, world class, sustainable and environmentally friendly seafood products, the Australian seafood industry is very well positioned to supply seafood hungry consumers internationally and domestically,” he said.

Growth in Asia
Asia in particular presents a strong opportunity for Australia’s industry, Costello said.

In 2014, Chinese per capita annual consumption of seafood is forecast to reach 37.7 kilograms per head, a rise of 57 percent since 2000. The global average is expected to reach just under 20 kilograms per head this year.

“Currently, most of the Chinese seafood consumption is still based on low-value domestically-raised product. But more significant is the expected growth in demand from Chinese consumers for higher-end seafood products, many of which will need to be imported.  This is a key opportunity for export-oriented aquaculture and fisheries, such as in Australia, which can supply premium items,” Costello said.

Globally, the major consumers of seafood include Korea, Norway and Japan with per capita per annum consumption in 2014 expected to reach 57.7 kilograms, 57.65 kilograms and 52.6 kilograms respectively.

Aquaculture versus wild-catch
The rise of aquaculture is also playing a significant role in driving global growth in seafood consumption, the report says, thanks to its ability to sustainably and efficiently convert feed to protein while also keeping prices affordable.

“The ability to produce more with less is going to be the challenge to the future of food production and the aquaculture sector is the most efficient converter of feed in comparison to all animal proteins,” he said.

Farmed salmon, for example, requires approximately 1.2 kilograms of feed to produce one kilogram of protein, while an estimated eight kilograms of feed are required to produce one kilogram of beef.

“With wild-catch seafood production growth remaining close to stagnant over the past 15 years, global seafood production is growing through increased aquaculture,” Costello said.

“Between 1990 and 2012, wild-catch seafood production increased just eight percent.  And with rising environmental and sustainability pressures coming from all participants along the supply chain – including consumers, companies and governments – it is likely there will be no growth in wild-catch production in the future.  Assuming that wild-catch remains at current levels, it is estimated that the extra 30 to 40 million tonnes of additional seafood will be required from aquaculture to meet global demand by 2030.”

Globally, aquaculture now accounts for more than 50 percent of seafood produced for human consumption, surpassing wild-catch in 2012, the report says. However here in Australia, seafood production is still dominated by wild-catch, accounting for 87 percent of production in 2012, with aquaculture making up a relatively small, yet increasing, share of production.


ACCC expands on oyster spat levy proposal

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has issued a draft determination proposing to allow Australian Seafood Industries (ASI) to collect a levy, in conjunction with hatcheries, on the purchase of Pacific oyster spat.

The levy will enable ASI to undertake research into developing spat with resistance to the Pacific Oyster Mortality Syndrome (POMS).

POMS has a 90-100 per cent mortality rate in infected Pacific oysters, and outbreaks have occurred in Pacific oysters in France, the United Kingdom, Ireland, the Netherlands and New Zealand. More recently, POMS outbreaks have occurred in the Georges and Hawkesbury rivers in New South Wales, and in wild Pacific oysters in Brisbane.

The levy will be collected from oyster growers who purchase Pacific oyster spat from hatcheries. The levy will commence at $2.80 per 1000 spat, indexed annually by CPI. ASI seeks authorisation to collect the levy for a period of up to ten years.

“An industry-wide levy is an efficient way to fund important research that seeks to protect Australian Pacific oyster growers from the potentially devastating impact of POMS,” ACCC Commissioner Jill Walker said.

On 14 August 2014, the ACCC granted interim authorisation to allow ASI to introduce the levy and commence its research and development activities, while the ACCC considers the request for authorisation.

Interim authorisation will remain in place until the date the ACCC’s final determination comes into effect or until the ACCC decides to revoke interim authorisation.

Authorisation provides statutory protection from court action for conduct that might otherwise raise concerns under the competition provisions of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010. Broadly, the ACCC may grant an authorisation when it is satisfied that the public benefit from the conduct outweighs any public detriment.


Imported prawns labelled as Australian: Prawn Association

The seafood industry is looking for technology which can decipher if imported products are being sold as Australian, a practice which the Australian Prawn Farmers Association describes as “rife.”

According to the ABC, Helen Jenkins from the Australian Prawn Farmers Association said some Australian retailers are mislabelling cheaper, imported prawns as Australian.

“It’s rife. It’s fraudulent,” she said. “Some of the retailers are selling imported prawns as Australian.

“It’s not fair for consumers.”

The industry is searching for technology which can identify fraudulent labelling, and Jenkins said there may be some solutions in testing technology used in other food industries.

The industry is calling for clearer labelling of seafood products, with Chris Calogeras from the Australian Barramundi Farmers Association claiming it would help to reduce confusion amongst consumers.

"Barramundi has an iconic Australian name and so when people buy Barramundi they assume their buying Australian fish, and their not,” he said.

The ABC reports that between 5,000 and 6,000 tonnes of barramundi are produced in Australian each year, valued at $50-60 million. Approximately 1,500 tonnes are wild-caught, and 13,000 tonnes are imported.

Helen Jenkins said prawn farming could be as much as 17 times bigger in Australia if red tape was removed for local producers and clearer labelling was introduced, with overseas investors keen to buy into production systems in Australia.

Each year, Australia produces about 4,000 tonnes of prawns in ponds, 22,000 tonnes are wild caught and 46,000 tonnes are imported.

Just last week a new campaign promoting accurate labelling was announced, with chef Matthew Evans partnering with Greenpeace and the Australian Marine Conservation Society to drive reforms.

Sealord attains BAP certification

Sealord has become the world’s first barramundi farm to be awarded the Best Aquaculture Practice (BAP) certification for its King Reef Barramundi.

Sealord’s King Reef Barramundi is farmed in Far North Queensland where the tropical climate creates is ideal for Barramundi.

To achieve the Best Aquaculture Practice accreditation, all aspects of Sealord’s operations were assessed including its environmental responsibility, community relations, employee safety, food safety, animal health and the care of wildlife, to ensure it is a world-class organisation.

“Being the first Barramundi farm world-wide to be certified with Best Aquaculture Practice, is a great achievement,” said Scott Hayward, Farm Manager Sealord King Reef Barramundi. “We pride ourselves on having a strong stance on sustainability through every aspect of our operation and this accreditation reflects all the hard work we put in on a daily basis.”

“We hope to set the standard world-wide for Barramundi farms and continue to be at the forefront of Best Aquaculture Practice,” Hayward said.


NZ hake and ling receives sustainable seafood tick from MSC

Global sustainable seafood certifier, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has officially certified New Zealand hake and New Zealand ling as sustainable seafood varieties.

The two species now join New Zealand hoki, albacore and southern blue whiting as sustainable varieties under the MSC’s strict criteria.

As only nine percent of the world’s fish harvest is certified as sustainable, MSC manger Australia and New Zealand, Patrick Caleo  says that the addition of hake and ling to the MSC certified list will provide greater choice for retailers and consumers.

“The MSC programme has credible standards for sustainable fishing and seafood which aims to increase the availability of certified sustainable seafood. It is great news for retailers and seafood lovers with both New Zealand ling and New Zealand hake being awarded the certification,” says Caleo.

Jason Plato, general manager consumer of global seafood enterprise, Sealord, says that the company along with its joint venture partner Westfleet will be able to supply over 330 tonnes of fresh certified sustainable fish annually.

“Australians love ling, it's an interesting pink-skinned fish with firm white flesh that is great for many different cooking methods. The MSC certification reinforces what most retailers and a growing number of consumers know – that New Zealand fish is sustainably caught and our fisheries are in good shape,” he said.


NZ fishing enterprise investigated for suspected fraud

New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries is investigating suspected fraudulent activity in the inshore commercial fishing sector.

Compliance officers have secured evidence that from a Hawkes Bay fishing enterprise and enquiries have indicated significant discrepancies between the company’s catch record and export documents, where more fish is being exported than is being reported as caught.

A Hawkes Bay family-based fishing entity involved in all facets of catching, processing and the sale of fish from nine vessels has been identified as potentially being involved.

“The investigation involves activity throughout the commercial supply chain – catching, landing, processing and exporting,” said Ministry for Primary Industries director of compliance, Dean Baigent.

Export documents show the company has exported substantial quantities of fresh chilled product over an 18 month period, while catch records show the company has landed considerably less.

The misreported figure is expected to grow with the inclusion of domestic sales that have occurred over the period in question.

“This looks like an example of a company side-stepping the regulations that ensure the sustainability of our fisheries in a very deliberate and calculated manner.  This type of behaviour undermines the Quota Management System, puts the fishery at risk and makes it more difficult for legitimate fishers to get their legitimate catch,” said Baigent.

He added that this is the largest “inshore fisheries” investigation of its type for many years.

“This morning (24 September) 88 MPI Compliance officers and investigators and New Zealand Police visited sites in the greater Hawkes Bay area, Wellington, Tauranga, Gisborne, Chatham Islands and Christchurch.”


Campaign calls for clearer seafood labelling

Chef Matthew Evans has partnered with Greenpeace and the Australian Marine Conservation Society, to develop a campaign to reform Australia’s seafood labelling laws.

The campaign is designed to push for new Australian laws requiring complete and accurate information on seafood labels, in particular: what fish it is, where it’s from and how it was caught.

A significant launch pad for the campaign is an SBS TV series called ‘What’s the Catch?’ which is fronted by Evans and will screen for three weeks from 30 October 2014.

In the show Evans examines the problem of poor seafood labelling and campaigns for reform.

Other key components of the campaign include:

  • A PR, advertising, digital and media strategy, with on and offline actions.
  • A campaign launch, including release of a dossier of labelling ‘scandals’ flowing from current labelling practices.
  • A campaign website, to which SBS will also direct its viewers, highlighting the problem and the solution, and a petition to key government MPs.
  • Promotion of public support for reform from significant sustainable operators in the Australian fishing industry, top chefs, influential MPs and celebrities.
  • Drafting instructions for new federal laws, prepared by the NSW Environmental Defenders Office.

A Senate inquiry into seafood labelling laws, due to report on 27 October, may recommend reforms. Submissions currently indicate support for better labelling, including from influential sectors of the Australian seafood industry and large retailers.