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Tough environment produces world’s best Barramundi

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					                                   July | August 2012
Tough environment produces world’s best
              Barramundi




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 or by any means without prior permission of the copyright owner. Printed by Perendale Publishers Ltd. ISSN: 1464-0058




The International magazine for the aquaculture feed industry
         FEATURE




          Tough environment
        produces world’s best                                                Barramundi
                                                      by Robert Taylor, Marine Produce Australia, www.marineproduceaustralia.com.au




W
                  hen,	 in	 January	 this	 year,	     (population	 2	 million).	 The	 Kimberley	 as	          area	ever	to	be	considered	for	fish	farming	in	
                  Western	         Australian	        the	 northern	 part	 of	 Western	 Australia	            the	first	place.
                  Environment	 Minister	 Bill	        is	 known,	 occupies	 some	 421,000	 square	                Broome,	 Derby,	 and	 the	 Buccaneer	
                  Marmion	 signed	 off	 on	 an	       kilometres	 with	 a	 total	 population	 of	 just	       Archipelago	 have	 been	 the	 centre	 of	 the	
application	 by	 Marine	 Produce	 Australia	          25,000	people.                                          Australian	 pearling	 industry	 for	 more	 than	
(MPA)	to	harvest	2,000	tonnes	of	top	quality	                                                                 100	 years.	 MPA’s	 lease	 over	 700	 hectares	
barramundi	at	the	Cone	Bay	operation	in	the	          Top-notch barra                                         of	 Cone	 Bay	 was	 initially	 granted	 by	 the	
state’s	vast	far	north,	he	did	more	than	just	            But	 this	 speck	 on	 the	 Australian	 coastline	   WA	 Fisheries	 Department	 as	 a	 pearl	 farm-
double	 the	 company’s	 existing	 production	         is	rapidly	making	a	name	for	itself	among	the	          ing	 licence	 to	 the	 Hutton	 family’s	 pearling	
license.                                              nation’s	 best	 chefs	 as	 the	 hot	 spot	 for	 farm	   company.	
                                                      grown	finfish.	It’s	all	in	the	tides.                       “The	 original	 licence	 was	 to	 do	 some	
    After	 eight	 years	and	 around	 AU$50	mil-           As	top	Australian	food	critic	Rob	Broadfield	       research	 on	 the	 black	 lipped	 pearl,	 we	
lion	in	research	and	development	by	MPA	on	           wrote	 in	 The West Australian	 newspaper	              trialed	 and	 seeded	 that	 species	 of	 shell	
one	of	the	world’s	most	remote	aquaculture	           recently,	 “Cone	 Bay	 Barra	 swim	 and	 swim	          but	that	fell	by	the	wayside	as	the	Tahitian	
ventures,	Marmion	sent	a	signal	to	the	world	         and	swim	against	the	massive	tides	from	inside	         and	 Polynesian	 black-lipped	 production	
that	finally	the	waters	off	the	Australia’s	north-    their	 sea	 pens.	 They	 are	 perhaps	 the	 fittest	    increased,”	says	John	Hutton,	a	former	AFL	
west	 coast	 with	 their	 huge	 tides	 were	 open	    fish	on	earth	which	is	why	their	fat	–	and	fat	         footballer	now	heading	the	family’s	aquacul-
for	business.                                         is	 what	 barramundi	 flavour	 is	 all	 about	 –	 is	   ture	operations.
    Cone	Bay	in	the	Buccaneer	Archipelago	            spread	 evenly	 throughout	 the	 body	 (their	              The	licence	in	Cone	Bay	was	renewable	
is	 100km	 from	 the	 nearest	 town,	 Derby	          laid	 back	 estuarine	 cousins	 have	 potbellies	 in	   every	12	months	and	the	pearling	company	
(population	3380),	which	in	turn	is	2400km	           comparison).                                            continued	 to	 keep	 it	 going	 as	 staff	 tested	
north	 of	 the	 West	 Australian	 capital	 Perth	         “Then	there’s	the	clean,	briny	flavour	and	         other	species.
                                                                            a	 clear	 opaque	 flesh:	 a	          Meanwhile,	 Mr	 Hutton	 and	 his	 fel-
                                                                            consequence	of	a	life	lived	      low	 investors	 in	 MPA	 were	 looking	 for	
                                                                            in	 the	 warm	 waters	 of	        an	 alternative	 viable	 aquaculture	 species.	
                                                                            the	Indian	Ocean	north	of	        The	 Fisheries	 Department	 pointed	 the	
                                                                            Derby,”	says	Mr	Broadfield.       Huttons	 in	 the	 direction	 of	 the	 black	
                                                                                Cone	Bay,	with	tides	of	      tiger	prawn	and	the	company	spent	three	
                                                                            up	 to	 11	 metres	 twice	 a	     years	 experimenting	 with	 the	 species,	
                                                                            day,	 is	 fantastic	 for	 grow-   re-booting	 a	 rundown	 prawn	 farm	 in	 the	
                                                                            ing	fish	but	the	Kimberley,	      Northern	Territory.
                                                                            with	 temperatures	 push-             When	 a	 group	 of	 investors	 dropped	 into	
                                                                            ing	above	50°c	degrees	in	        Cone	Bay	on	the	back	of	a	trip	to	check	out	
                                                                            the	 wet	 season,	 crocodile	     the	 prawn	 operations	 in	 Darwin,	 a	 light	 bulb	
                                                                            infested	 waters	 and	 huge	      went	on.
                                                                            distances	 between	 tiny	             “On	 that	 trip	 one	 investor	 wandered	
                                                                            settlements	 is	 tough	 on	       off,	 grabbed	 a	 small	 handful	 of	 feed	 and	
                                                                            humans.                           threw	 it	 into	 what	 effectively	 was	 a	 big	
                                                                                                              wine	 barrel	 containing	 barramundi	 finger-
                                                                           A happy accident                   lings.	 They	 started	 attacking	 the	 top	 of	 the	
                                                                               It	took	something	of	an	       water	where	the	feed	was	and	the	investor	
                                                                           historical	 accident	 for	 the	

                                                     10 | InternAtIonAl AquAFeed | July-August 2012
                                                                                                                                        FEATURE

declared	 that	 we	 must	 have	 barramundi	 in	              Fingerlings	 from	 the	
MPA,”	said	Mr	Hutton.                                    Darwin	 Aquaculture	 hatch-
                                                         ery	 where	 flown	 in	 eskies	
Biting the bullet                                        to	Broome,	driven	to	Derby	
     In	 2004,	 the	 company	 announced	 to	 the	        and	then	flown	to	Cone	Bay	
world	 it	 was	 entering	 into	 the	 fish	 farming	      by	 helicopter	 at	 a	 cost	 of	
business	 and	 kicked	 off	 with	 two	 small	 sea	       AU$20,000	a	trip.
cages	of	40	metre	circumference	growing	the	                 But	 those	 tides	 which	
local	 Lates	 calcarifer,	 or	 Barramundi,	 found	       meant	 no	 water	 pumping,	
across	the	north	of	Australia.                           and	 the	 30°c	 water	 which	
     A	 fact	 finding	 mission	 to	 Tassal’s	 salmon	    meant	 no	 artificial	 heating,	
operation	in	Tasmania	followed	and	the	com-              gave	the	company	an	insight	
pany	 was	 soon	 confronted	 with	 a	 choice	            into	 the	 area’s	 potential	 for	
between	continuing	with	the	black	tiger	prawns	          farming	the	local	barramundi,	
and	ramping	up	the	barramundi	operation.                 a	hardy,	marketable	fish	that	
     The	 prawn	 market	 was	 competitive	 with	         had	already	proved	its	farm-
Chinese	 imports	 continually	 undercutting	 the	        ing	 durability	 in	 operations	
local	 producers	 and	 consumers	 barely	 dis-           on	Australia’s	east	coast.
criminating	 on	 quality,	 but	 the	 barramundi	             The	company	bit	the	bul-
option	was	a	leap	into	the	unknown.                      let,	 sold	 the	 prawn	 business	
     “Cone	Bay	Barramundi	was	purely	research	           and	 poured	 its	 resources	
and	 development,	 no	 one	 had	 ever	 done	             into	 growing	 barramundi	 at	
finfish	farming	in	the	Kimberley	and	we	were	            Cone	Bay.
making	 educated	 assumptions	 as	 we	 went	
along.	How	to	do	sea	cages,	these	big	plastic	           Reaching
pipes	sitting	on	the	water,”	says	Mr	Hutton.             critical mass
     “We	 knew	 our	 anchoring	 systems	 with	               In	 the	 eight	 years	 since	 the	 previously	   been	 subject	 to	 regular	 rounds	 of	 fund	
regard	to	long	lines	from	our	pearling	opera-            Australian	Stock	Exchange	listed	vehicle	Tiger	      raising	 as	 the	 capital	 intensive	 business	
tions	but	we	had	to	take	that	knowledge	and	             International	 has	 morphed	 into	 the	 unlisted	    took	 two	 steps	 forward	 and	 one-step	
adopt	it	to	circular	sea	cages	with	ten	metre	           entity	Marine	Produce	Australia.                     back	 battling	 to	 overcome	 conditions	
tides	twice	a	day.”                                          The	 company’s	 800	 investors	 have	            as	 diverse	 as	 sky-high	 wages	 caused	 by	




                                                        July-August 2012 | InternAtIonAl AquAFeed | 11
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Innovations for a better world.
          FEATURE

                                                                                                                required	 to	 keep	 tonnages	 around	 the	 350	
                                                                                                                mark.	 But	 in	 a	 way	 the	 disciplines	 imposed	
                                                                                                                during	 this	 time	 has	 been	 the	 making	 of	 the	
                                                                                                                company.
                                                                                                                    “It	 was	 tough	 financially	 but	 we	 started	
                                                                                                                to	 see	 major	 results	 from	 our	 research	 and	
                                                                                                                development.	Moving	40	metre	cage	sizes	to	
                                                                                                                60	metre	cage	sizes	–	yes	they	work.	Different	
                                                                                                                anchoring	 systems,	 tying	 off	 systems,	 feeding	
                                                                                                                systems,	 establishing	 markets,	 operation	 sys-
                                                                                                                tems	and	capabilities,”	said	Mr	Hutton.
                                                                                                                    Backed	up	by	the	very	favourable	results	of	
                                                                                                                the	company’s	environmental	monitoring	and	
                                                                                                                with	the	help	of	outside	consultants	the	com-
                                                                                                                pany	 knuckled	 down	 and	 just	 eight	 months	
                                                                                                                after	 receiving	 its	 1,000	 tonne	 approval	 in	
                                                                                                                May	 2011,	 was	 granted	 the	 2000tpa	 license	
                                                                                                                by	 Minister	 Marmion	 as	 an	 interim	 step	
                                                                                                                towards	 the	 ultimate	 goal	 of	 5000tpa	 which	
                                                                                                                the	company	expects	to	receive	in	the	second	
WA’s	mining	boom,	a	confidence	sapping	                      “The	 EPA	 become	 involved	 when	 they	           half	of	2012.	
global	 financial	 crisis,	 and	 bureaucratic	           decided	 the	 tonnages	 are	 such	 that	 they	 will	
red	tape.                                                start	 having	 in	 their	 view	 an	 impact	 on	 the	   Aquaculture zone
    “To	 get	 to	 what	 we	 saw	 as	 being	 criti-       environment,”	said	Mr	Hutton.                              Meanwhile	 on	 December	 16,	 2011,	
cal	 mass,	 the	 2,000	 tonne,	 has	 taken	 a	 very	         “We	 were	 always	 of	 the	 view	 that	 there	     WA	 Fisheries	 Minister	 Norman	 Moore	
long	time.	Four	to	five	years	of	lobbying	and	           needn’t	be	a	figure	and	that	approvals	should	         announced	 State	 Government	 funding	 to	
answering	 questions	 and	 doing	 studies	 and	          be	 based	 on	 an	 output,	 performance-based	         establish	 two	 aquaculture	 zones	 for	 finfish	
research	 into	 whether	 barramundi	 has	 the	           monitoring	 regime	 but	 the	 EPA	 has	 insisted	      farming	on	the	WA	coastline,	the	first	being	
                                                                                                                Cone	Bay	in	the	Buccaneer	Archipelago.
                                                                                                                    The	 government	 is	 currently	 doing	
                                                                                                                detailed	 environmental	 studies	 to	 create	
                                                                                                                the	 aquaculture	 zone	 thus	 streamlining	
                                                                                                                MPA’s	 application	 for	 approval	 for	 5,000	
                                                                                                                tpa	and	easing	the	burden	on	the	company.	
                                                                                                                    MPA	is	convinced	that	the	government	
                                                                                                                study	 will	 prove	 that	 Cone	 Bay,	 which	 is	
                                                                                                                21km	long	and	6.2	km	wide	at	its	western	
                                                                                                                opening,	 has	 a	 carrying	 capacity	 far	 in	
                                                                                                                excess	 of	 the	 5,000	 tonnes	 and	 as	 the	
                                                                                                                sole	 operator	 in	 the	 remote	 location	 and	
                                                                                                                with	a	massive	head	start	over	prospective	
                                                                                                                competitors	 Cone	 Bay	 Barramundi	 will	 be	
                                                                                                                in	the	box	seat	to	capitalise.
                                                                                                                    Presently	 harvesting	 over	 1,100	 tonnes	
                                                                                                                per	 annum,	 at	 2000tpa	 the	 company	 will	
                                                                                                                turn	 over	 around	 AU$20	 million	 a	 year	 in	
                                                                                                                revenue.	 At	 5000tps	 it	 will	 burst	 through	
                                                                                                                the	 AU$50million	 level	 with	 seriously	
                                                                                                                decreased	cost	through	upscaling.	
                                                                                                                    “We	 are	 identifying	 and	 managing	 our	
                                                                                                                risk	 to	 a	 much	 greater	 degree.	 The	 risks	
                                                                                                                are	similar	in	fish	farming	around	the	world	
ability	 to	 be	 an	 aquaculture	 species	 that	 can	    on	 input	 restrictions	 and	 output	 restrictions	    and	 we	 are	 employing	 worldwide	 best	
expand	 and	 gain	 approval	 from	 the	 WA	              and	limited	production	to	1,000	tonnes.”               practice”.
Government,”	said	Mr	Hutton.	                               That	 equated	 to	 stocking	 rate	 of	 just	            One	 way	 MPA	 has	 managed	 to	 de-risk	
    Initially	 the	 company	 sought	 and	 received	      1.5	 tonnes	 a	 hectare	 compared	 to	 stocking	       is	 by	 seeking	 out	 the	 best	 people	 in	 their	
licenses	 from	 the	 Department	 of	 Fisheries	          rates	 in	 other	 jurisdictions,	 world	 heritage	     field	like	evolutionary	geneticist	Dr	Desiree	
for	small	production	levels	up	to	150	tonnes	            Tasmania	 for	 instance,	 of	 28	 tonnes	 per	         Allen	 recently	 appointed	 as	 research	 and	
per	year.                                                hectare	 in	 waters	 with	 little	 tidal	 movement.	   development	 manager	 and	 Daryn	 Payne	
    But	before	long	the	EPA,	which	had	been	             Nevertheless,	 the	 EPA,	 with	 no	 formal	 WA	        who	 prior	 to	 joining	 MPA	 as	 farm	 opera-
carved	 out	 of	 the	 break-up	 of	 the	 Western	        guidelines	to	work	from	slapped	the	company	           tions	 manager	 was	 Tassel’s	 regional	 man-
Australian	 Department	 of	 Environment	 by	             with	the	state’s	highest	level	of	scrutiny	–	a	full	   ager	for	five	years.
the	 Carpenter	 Labor	 Government	 decided	              public	environmental	review.                               Mark	 Asman	 for	 five	 years	 the	 Chief	
that	 MPA’s	 venture	 required	 more	 than	 an	             It	took	two	financially	tough	years	to	com-         Operating	Officer	for	Tassal	with	a	lifetime	
aquaculture	license.                                     plete	the	PER	during	which	the	company	was	            of	experience	has	come	on	board	as	aqua-

                                                        12 | InternAtIonAl AquAFeed | July-August 2012
                                                                                                                                      FEATURE

                                                                                       Bay	      farm,	
                                                                                       an	 arrange-
                                                                                       ment	       that	
                                                                                       sees	 250,000	
                                                                                       healthy	 fin-
                                                                                       gerlings	 peri-
                                                                                       odically	 trans-
                                                                                       ferred	 to	 the	
                                                                                       farm	 without	
                                                                                       loss.
                                                                                          MPA	 now	
                                                                                       operates	 80	
                                                                                       metre-circum-
culture	 consultant	 through	 his	 company	           ference	 sea	 cages,	 delivers	 feed	 direct	 into	
SmartAqua.                                            Cone	 Bay	 and	 takes	 fish	 out	 at	 around	 the	
    “After	 viewing	 the	 MPA	 operation,	 I	         3-4kg	mark	on	a	purpose-fitted	harvest	boat.	
was	thoroughly	impressed	with	the	quality	                The	 fish	 are	 stun-killed	 as	 they	 come	
of	 the	 product,	 the	 vast	 and	 spectacular	       from	the	cages	onto	the	boat	and	chilled	in	
farming	area,	and	the	potential	for	another	          80kg	bins	on	deck	before	being	shipped	to	
successful	aquaculture	project	in	Australia,”	        Derby	for	transferral	to	refrigerated	trucks	
says	Mr	Asman.                                        where	 they	 are	 dispatched	 to	 high-end	
    MPA	 has	 screwed	 down	 on	 costs	               restaurants	 and	 wholesalers	 around	 the	
through	 more	 automated	 and	 targeted	              country	without	ever	being	frozen.
feeding	regimes	and	slick	transfer	to	market.             With	 Government	 licenses	 in	 place	
                                                      MPA’s	 next	 step	 is	 to	 re-list	 on	 the	
The MPA process                                       Australian	Securities	Exchange.                          “We’ve	 learnt	 lot.	 We	 now	 believe	
   Three	years	ago	MPA	struck	a	deal	with	                And	the	WA	Government	has	also	final-             we’ve	 got	 the	 right	 processes,	 the	 right	
Fremantle	 based	 Challenger	 Institute	 of	          ly	brought	out	a	Fisheries	Policy	Statement,	         location	 and	 the	 right	 product,	 Cone	
Technology’s	 Australian	 Centre	 of	 Applied	        which	will	be	followed	by	legislation	which	          Bay	 Ocean	 Barramundi,	 to	 make	 a	 major	
Aquaculture	Research	(ACAAR)	in	Perth	to	             will	underpin	the	processes	to	secure	long-           impact	 on	 both	 the	 domestic	 and	 world	
supply	 all	 required	 fingerlings	 to	 the	 Cone	    term	sustainability	in	aquaculture.	                  markets,”	says	John	Hutton.	                ■




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                                                     July-August 2012 | InternAtIonAl AquAFeed | 13
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DOCUMENT INFO
Description: When, in January this year, Western Australian Environment Minister Bill Marmion signed off on an application by Marine Produce Australia (MPA) to harvest 2000 tonnes of top quality barramundi at the Cone Bay operation in the state’s vast far north, he did more than just double the company’s existing production license.