Breakthrough means tastier, healthier and more sustainable prawns

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Breakthrough means tastier, healthier and more sustainable prawns
Australian researchers have pioneered a means to grow large quantities of tiny marine microbes that will help preserve wild fish stocks and make prawn farming more profitable and environmentally sustainable.

After 10 years of research, scientists at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation have released the Novacq prawn feed additive, through which it claims farmed prawns can grow on average 30% faster while also being healthier and produced without any fish products in their diet - something the researchers claim is a world-first achievement in sustainability.

Game changer

A natural food source based on marine microbes that are the foundation of the marine food pyramid, Novacq potentially frees the prawn aquaculture industry from reliance on wild fishery resources, according to CSIRO’s Nigel Preston, a marine biologist who has been working with the A$75m Australian prawn farming industry for over 25 years. He says this is a game changer for the industry.

"We fed Novacq to black tiger prawns, and it made them even better for consumers, the environment and prawn farmers," he said.

"This is a major achievement for the sustainability of Australia’s aquaculture industry as prawns fed this diet are not only a top-quality product and reach market size faster, they also no longer need to be fed with any products from wild fishery resources.”

Preston added that aquaculture will now be seen as a sustainable source of protein that will play a vital role in the world’s food security.

No more pellets

Australian prawn farmers have traditionally needed to feed their prawns with a pellet that includes some sustainably sourced fish meal or fish oil to ensure that they grew quickly and healthily.

Australian-based Ridley AgriProducts has bought the licence to produce and distribute Novacq in Australia and several South-East Asian countries, and a general manager for the company, Bob Harvey, said the territories would soon be able to boost their domestic prawn farm productivity.

"We’ve conducted multiple laboratory-based trials, and in conjunction with CSIRO and a great customer of ours, Australian Prawn Farms, we have proven the effects of Novacq when commercially grown, added into a commercial prawn feed and fed to black tiger prawns in multiple full-scale commercial sized ponds," he said.

"Adding Novacq into even the best performing prawn diets on the market, we proved a significant incremental growth rate and food conversion rate improvement."

Incremental growth

Matt West, of Australian Prawn Farms in Ilbilbie, Northern Queensland, has seen the results of Novacq over four months of testing the feed additive on black tiger prawns.

"What I saw on my farm was a clear incremental growth compared to the high-quality diets that were used as a control for the large-scale trials we recently conducted at our farm," he said.

Until now, about one third of the 90m tonnes of seafood caught from the world's oceans each year is estimated to have been used to feed farmed fish and prawns.

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