As one of only a few developed countries perfectly suited to aquaculture, Australia has the potential to create a “very successful export-orientated seafood industry”, according to a visiting global sector expert.
Rabobank’s Netherlands-based senior analyst Gorjan Nikolik – who was recently in the country to speak at the Australian Prawn Farmers Association Symposium – was upbeat about the future of the Australian seafood industry.
“Australia, with its enormous coastline, varying climatic conditions and proximity to Asia is very well placed to become a large seafood exporter,” he said.
“However, while the potential is definitely there, a lot of work remains to be done in regards to ramping up infrastructure and market access. Currently Australia is a very small player in the wild catch and aquaculture market, contributing less than five per cent of the world’s seafood exports.
“That said, a number of producers here have large expansion projects due to come on line in the next couple of years and that could definitely flip the switch for Australian seafood exports.”
The island advantage
Australia’s reputation for strong biosecurity has been a key selling point for the seafood that Australia currently exports, and Mr Nikolik said while the discovery of white spot in prawns in South East Queensland has been devastating, he did not believe it would harm Australia’s reputation in the longer term.
“White spot is a disease that has impacted prawns throughout many parts of the world, but it is manageable and it is a challenge that Australia will have to meet head on,” he said.
“The shrimp industry in Ecuador was virtually decimated by white spot in the 1990s, but thanks to a complete overhaul in how they feed, breed and produce their shrimp, they have now emerged as one of the largest exporters in the world and their reputation is excellent. Part of the reason Ecuador was so successful in overhauling its production processes was because the industry was already held by large, well-managed operations, much like it is in Australia.
“Prawn production in most Asian countries continues to be dominated by small holders, making it almost impossible to guarantee a high level of biosecurity.”
Technology supporting sustainable seafood
Mr Nikolik said while there are numerous advantages for producing seafood in a developed nation with a high level of biosecurity, there were also challenges, particularly surrounding the cost of production and compliance with stringent environment standards.
“Carnivorous fish, such as salmon, demand a premium, but they are also very expensive to raise and feed,” he said. “Their diet requires substantial supplementation from high quality proteins, with most of the premium brands using large quantities of fish meal and fish oil.
“However, due to the expense and growing scarcity of fish-based proteins, a number of alternatives have begun to attract interest.”
Mr Nikolik said there had been an increasing amount of investment in alternative feed projects, particularly in algal, bacterial and insect-based feeds.
“The number of facilities producing algae oil has increased substantially and, as the natural and sustainable method of producing high-quality EPA and DHA, is an excellent alternative to fish oil in aqua feed,” he said.
“We expect in the medium term that 20 to 30 per cent of the non-vegetable-sourced oil used in aquatic feeds will be from algae sources.”
When it comes to proteins to replace fish meal, Mr Nikolik said bacterial and insect larvae are beginning to emerge as novel alternatives.
“Bacterial protein meals use predominantly methane gas, CO2 and waste carbon to produce their bio protein, making it highly sustainable, with limited water and land use,” he said.
“The production of a protein-rich meal from the larvae of insects, such as the black soldier fly, is just as exciting and has the potential for turning waste into a feed a source.”
Mr Nikolik acknowledged that while additional investment was still required to ensure the scaling up of these technologies, he saw no reason Australia wouldn’t be able to adopt these feed sources.
“These meals will be highly transportable and easily adapted by feed companies already operating in the industry, once any legislative prohibitors have been resolved,” he said.
“Seafood is one of the most highly-traded commodities in the world due to its climatic growing constraints and global salmon prices have never been higher.
“If Australia continues to gain efficiencies in production and feed, and gains the capacity required to meet an increasing global demand, its geographic location alone should set it in good stead to ensure the continued growth of its seafood industries.”
Image: Gorjan Nikolik
Image supplied by Rabobank