Queensland could soon be known as the aquaculture capital of the world thanks to a booming demand for seafood.
By Geordi Offord, Rural Weekly
The industry is surpassing beef to become one of the fastest growing sectors globally, with some farmers diversifying into it.
Cane farmer Michael Deguara added barramundi to his operation in 2006 after he took out two fields to install a ring tank. Whitsunday Coast Barramundi now supplies between 800 kilograms to a tonne of barramundi a week to wholesalers and fish markets, and are keen to break into the global market.
MR Deguara has been farming sugarcane since he was five-years-old.
He runs the family farm with his wife Hayley and his sons Adam, Kane and Zack, who live close by. When he started out on his own he never imagined he’d be farming something other than the crop. Mr Deguara added barramundi to his operation by taking out six hectares to build a ring tank.
He uses the water from the tank to both irrigate his crop and grow his fish.
“It took 22 weeks, two dozers and graters to build it; a lot of soil was shifted,” he said.
“We’re in an area where we get salt intrusion in our bores and we were getting salty bore water onto our crops so we thought ‘what do we do now?’.
“We had a site on the farm to build a ring tank and we did, we built it to the maximum and thought we’ll eventually grow fish in it.
“Then we had to trial the barramundi to make sure they could survive and we had to learn what to do with them.”
He said adding barramundi to his farm was good for business.
“The cane and the fish work well together,” he said.
“There’s not a lot to do for the fish in winter so we harvest the cane and get right back into it in September and October when it warms up.
“As you go on you get more and more efficient with everything.”
The barramundi start out as day-old larvae.
“We source them from places like Proserpine and Gladstone,” he said.
“We then we feed them and let them grow before we put them out in the ring tank.
“We’re lucky we don’t have many pests, the fish have nets over them and we also have a gas gun to scare off the birds.”
He said the feed is a crumble and/or pellet mix, which was high in protein.
“They do really well on it,” he said.
“The babies start off on a crumble and then we select the bigger-sized feed to accommodate with their size.
“They’ve got a good immune system and they’re nice and slimy on the outside which helps protect them from parasites,” he said. When the fish are harvested, they are put through a finishing process.
“We put them in saltwater so we can bring out the nice flavour in them,” he said.
He said barramundi were the best option for the climate.
“We did consider perch but it’s too hot up here for them,” he said.
“They can live in water that goes down to about 10 or 12 degrees and they’re fine but if the water goes below 14 degrees with the barra they start to stress and can take on parasites.
“Because our body of water is so large, the water only gets down to about 19 degrees and the temperature changes slowly, which is good because they don’t like when it does quickly.”
Mr Deguara said the tropical fish perform really well in the summer months and like to feed when the sun begins to set.
“They perform really well when the water is at that 28-degree mark,” he said.
“If it’s too bright, they could see you as a potential danger so they aren’t as active.
“When you feed them late in the afternoon they’re almost jumping out of the water.”
The Deguaras are also trialling red claw.
“The sky is the limit and it just keeps going on you just need to keep thinking outside the square and going out of your comfort zone.” Mr Deguara said they don’t want to over-populate the farm.
“As you increase production there’s always the risk of your water quality,” he said.
Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries Mark Furner is throwing his support behind the industry and has recently visited farms and the aquaculture research lab in Townsville.
“Queensland stands at the foot of a mountain of potential growth in the aquaculture industry,” he said.
“We have never been better placed to capitalise on the decades of world-class research by the Department of Fisheries and institutions like JCU.
“And with markets in Asia hungry for high-quality Australian seafood products, now is the time to strike.”
In 2013, for the first time, global aquaculture production exceeded that of beef and this trend in global growth is continuing. Mr Furner said the untapped potential for seafood enterprises to energise regional communities had stood out.
“I have travelled extensively around the state, covering more than 40,000km, and met with farmers of all types,” he said.
“What really stuck with me was the ability for a range of investors, from family operations to multinational companies, to get involved in the aquaculture space.
“I will be engaging with private companies and encouraging them to invest in Queensland aquaculture projects.” Mr Furner said the Government had established the Aquaculture Industry Development Network to facilitate private sector interactions with government about aquaculture development. The forecast gross value of production of Queensland aquaculture for 2017-18 was $125million, an increase of 4.4 per cent from 2016-17 production.