Michael Bleby Reporter

Michael writes on emerging markets, architecture and engineering. He has served as a correspondent in Tokyo, London and Johannesburg and has written for Reuters, the Financial Times, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

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Aquaculture: is this the world’s fastest-growing prawn? CSIRO says yes

Published 31 July 2013 10:52, Updated 26 November 2013 18:35

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Aquaculture: is this the world’s fastest-growing prawn? CSIRO says yes

The Novacq additive has the potential to turn Australia’s prawn production, a minnow that only produces for domestic consumption, into an export industry.

In a game-changer for the growing business of aquaculture, CSIRO scientists have developed a food supplement that has the potential to grow farmed prawns 30 per cent faster and do so without the use of fish products that are currently a vital ingredient.

The CSIRO has licensed Melbourne-based Ridley AgriProducts to sell the Novacq feed additive – developed over the past five years at an estimated cost of $10 million – to prawn farmers in Australia and in south-east Asia.

The supplement, based on marine micro-organisms that form the basis of the food chain, has the potential to make aquaculture more sustainable by doing away with the need to include fish products in the chain – one-third of the 90 million tonnes of fish harvested worldwide currently make their way back into the farmed fish industry – and has the potential to turn Australia’s prawn production, a minnow that only produces for domestic consumption, into an export industry.

“This is the most important discovery we’ve made in terms of aquaculture sustainability, one of those discoveries that will lead to a step change in value and productivity,” said CSIRO aquascientist Nigel Preston on Wednesday.

This is the most important discovery we’ve made in terms of aquaculture sustainability.

“Th[ese micro-organisms are] the marine equivalent of grass to cows. They’re an incredibly important group. The challenge for the last 10 years has been to work out how we can farm them.”

Small fish, large pond

The industry should start benefitting soon from the innovation.

“Over the next 12 months we will be up-scaling production, performing additional tests and further farm-scale trials, and then move into full-scale commercial production,” Ridley AgriProducts’ general manager for aquafeed, Bob Harvey, said in a statement.

Australia is a small player in the global business of saltwater prawn production, accounting for just 4000 of the 3 million tonnes produced annually. The country is a net importer of seafood. But along with a rising global population and greater demand than ever for protein that can be produced sustainably, seafood is growing in importance and Australian industry is gearing up to meet part of that demand.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations predicts that aquaculture production will grow by 60 per cent or around 30 million tonnes a year between 2010 and 2020, says Project Sea Dragon, a large-scale shrimp production project in northern Australia set up by ASX-listed CO2 Group to tap that market.

The innovation means a lot for the industry, Preston said.

“Instead of growing prawns for six months you can grow them for 4½ months or you can take the size you wouldn’t have attained by the time you harvest them,” he said.

“We need to work harder in conserving and managing our wild fish stocks. If we can find alternatives to not having to depend on that ingredient, we have increased production sustainably and cost effectively, and we will absolutely remove the criticism that farmed seafood is relying on wild seafood.”

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