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Seafood industry catches technology

Posted on : 19 January 2017

PHOTO: Fishtales
WORDS: Sue White 
Article first appeared RAS Times November 2016

Technological advances have caused an trend in the seafood industry resulting in animal husbandry improvements with oysters being a key example.

“Oyster growing was historically fairly rudimentary: tar covered sticks in the mud. There are now methods and equipment that maximise the opportunity for the oyster to be at minimal stress during its growing, and have maximum access to food,” says John Susman, Managing Director of seafood marketing company Fishtales.

The shift, says Susman, is very much a function of research and development. He thinks the results pay off in terms of taste.

“I think the standard of oysters now is much higher than it was fifteen years ago.”

He believes there’s another link between taste and traceability. Susman says that consumers’ desire to know a product’s provenance has changed the game for farmers in unexpected ways.

“One of the real transformations has been that growers and catchers of seafood have taken a much greater interest in how their seafood tastes. It sounds like a simple principle, but for a long time a lot of catchers and growers were disconnected from where their product ended up,” he says.

Susman also thinks that the closing of the gap between ‘catcher and cook’ and ‘water and plate’ has had a significant impact on the way seafood producers are looking at their businesses.

“In aquaculture in particular there’s a much greater potential to have an impact or input into the outcome of the product than there is in wild harvest,” he says.

It’s a principle with which Dr Belinda Yaxley, Sustainability and Accreditation Officer at Tasmania’s Petuna Group, would likely agree.

“In salmon, we’re really getting towards world-class practice. You have automated feed systems, which allow you to feed the fish more efficiently, with little or no feed waste. You have a person sitting in a barge with computer screens; they just press a few buttons and the feed is delivered to the pen,” she says.

Those pens now feature ‘in pen’ monitoring, not only to help producers better understand fish behaviour, but to keep a handle on the many environmental variables at play, such as temperature, dissolved oxygen levels or salinity.

“That helps us improve our animal husbandry,” says Yaxley.

While Petuna’s approach has been proactive, Yaxley says that in salmon, positive attitudes towards innovation are industry-wide. One change, now taken up by all three salmon growers in Australia, has had a multitude of payoffs.

“We were the first company to adapt a trivalent vaccine. We’re now vaccinating fish so they don’t get sick, so we don’t actually need to treat them,” she says.

Read more about the Australian aquaculture industry and its sustainability.

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