Aquaculture now accounts for 40 per cent of Australian seafood production, and while Tasmania’s salmon industry is booming, there is a new kid on the block.
Murray cod farms are springing up along the Murray Darling system, especially on irrigation properties where an improved model for producing the premier freshwater species has been a game changer.
The fish are being grown in cages in dedicated ponds, using water that is eventually used on crops.
According to Matt Ryan, a former dry-land farmer whose Griffith based company Bidgee Fresh sells about 50 tonnes a year, the main benefits of the new growing systems are water efficiency and a small environmental footprint.
“The big thing is being able to use that water twice, two incomes off every meg (megalitre) of water,” Mr Ryan said.
“We’re being forced to be more efficient with our water [and] returns per meg in the fish probably outstrip any grain crop tenfold.”
Unlike most other fish farms, the waste was an asset, he said.
“We’re not putting anything back into the drainage system and it’s absolutely perfect for irrigation, it’s loaded with nutrients.”
‘We can give a stamp of quality control’
Mr Ryan is a partner in a planned share market float later this year where $10 million is being sought from investors to create a vertically integrated company, modelled on the chicken industry.
Accountant Ross Anderson said the plan was to own a hatchery, nursery and grow out farms to control production from egg to plate.
“We’ll be able to control the product from when it’s hatched until the time it hits the dinner plate,” Mr Anderson said.
“So we can say to the consumer we know exactly what water this fish has been in, we know exactly what it’s been fed, we know exactly what treatments it’s had.
“We can really give a stamp of quality control in terms of the cleanliness, the freshness and the environmental aspects of how this fish is produced.”
A smart investment
Even on a small scale, the farm ponds are returning healthy dividends to producers.
John Triaca invested $350,000 in a system three years ago, adding to a 40-hectare citrus enterprise on his Yenda property.
Selling his fish under contract has already paid back the investment, while his oranges are barely covering the cost of production.
GIF: Underwater view of the Murray cod.
“The water only cost me about $600 for one dam, whereas with the oranges it cost me about $4,000 for water … I got more out of the fish than 100 acres of oranges,” Mr Triaca said.
This weekend, about 100 people are expected to attend a freshwater aquaculture conference in Griffith.
Native Freshwater Fish Association secretary Lisa Ryan said the two-day event had attracted interest from all over Australia.
“We’ve got lecturers from university, we’ve got Department of Primary Industries (DPI) representatives, we’ve got trade exhibitors and we’re really hoping it will enable new and existing farmers access to new information,” Ms Ryan said.
“Information in aquaculture is changing continuously, but it enables people to develop relationships so we can support each other in the industry.”
Murray cod stocks back from the brink
Murray cod is the fastest growing sector of the aquaculture industry in New South Wales and its development comes at a time when wild stocks are at their healthiest levels in decades.
The DPI fisheries research centre at Narrandera is breeding about a million fingerlings a year for restocking programs in public dams and weirs.
The head of the DPI breeding program Matt McLellan said commercial hatcheries were also selling stock to fishing clubs and other private groups to restock rivers.
“It wasn’t that long ago we were worried the Murray cod was going to be gone, but there’s certainly places around NSW where they’re in numbers that they haven’t been for 40 or 50 years, so its a great story for anglers,” Mr McLellan said.
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