The growing demand for seafood
Australia’s population is predicted to reach 46 million by 20751. Among the many challenges this will bring is the need for Australia to continue to secure its own food supply, contribute to the food supply of the region and be competitive in global food markets.
Australia’s animal-based food industries have a major role to play in meeting this challenge. The well established terrestrial livestock sectors (beef, dairy and others) currently export between 60 per cent and 70 per cent of their production, with an annual export value of around $7.5 billion. Thus the livestock sector is well placed to continue to play a major role in Australia’s food supplies and export markets.
In contrast to this, 70 per cent of the seafood that Australians consume is imported, with annual imports of around $1.5 billion. Around 50 per cent of our prawns are imported. This represents a significant opportunity for environmentally and economically sustainable growth of marine aquaculture in Australia.
Globally, aquaculture has been the fastest growing food production sector since the 1950s, approximately doubling production each decade. The global growth of aquaculture (7 per cent per year) far exceeds that of human population growth (0.5 per cent per year) and that of food production on land (2 per cent per year).
Of particular significance to Australia is that marine aquaculture is a drought-proof industry and there is huge potential for economically and environmentally sustainable expansion of pond-based marine aquaculture around our northern coast line.
Sustainable prawn farming
Our scientists undertook a ten year program of selective breeding in order to develop the prawn now being used by prawn farmers in Australia.
Domesticated founder stocks have been established at three farms. Broodstock rearing knowledge and technology has been transferred from CSIRO to each farm. Novel genetic and viral health screening and mating allocation systems developed by CSIRO, are being implemented on-farm.
The use of genetic markers means that natural mating is now a cost-effective alternative to rearing each breeding family in separate tanks. The viral screening technology is assisting the industry to develop breeds that are highly tolerant to endemic diseases.
The prawn that ticks all the boxes
The Australian Black Tiger prawn, developed through a collaboration between CSIRO and industry partners, has many positive features:
- Developed and bred in Australia – the new breed is providing a real boost for the prawn farming industry in Australia, resulting in job growth, more profitable and productive businesses, and fresher home-grown product.
- Tastier – the new Black Tiger breed has won five gold medals at the Sydney Royal Easter Show for Gold Coast Marine Aquaculture in the last two years, including the highest award possible: ‘Champion of Show’.
- Sustainable and renewable – the new breed is grown and farmed in drought-proof salt water ponds, which eases pressure on ocean/estuary stocks. Having a home grown supply of breeding stock also allows for continuity and consistency of production.
- More productive – the new breeds have improved growth and survival rates, boosting pond yields by more than 50 per cent. The average industry productivity for farmed prawns is five tonnes per hectare. The new prawns produced an average of 12.8 tonnes per hectare in 2009. After eight generations of selective breeding at one Australian prawn farm, the average yield of the new breed the following year (2010) was 17.5 tonnes per hectare. One pond produced 24.2 tonnes per hectare - a world record yield result for Black Tiger prawns.
- Securing food supply – the sustainable and high yielding new prawn breed could play an important role in helping secure food supplies around the world through the production of a more sustainable, continuous, consistent and higher yielding source of healthy protein.
Potential for huge industry growth
Independent economic analysis indicates that if the entire Australian Black Tiger prawn industry adopted this new breeding technology, it would increase the industry’s production from 5000 tonnes to 12,500 tonnes and add $120 million to the value of the industry by 2020 (assuming no further expansion of production area).
The significance of the research project is in dramatically improving the production efficiency and profitability of locally produced seafood.
The critical enabling technology, developed by CSIRO, now means Australian prawn producers can out-compete international producers, despite the lower labour costs in most of the competing countries.