Global campaign marks the return of the Australian kingfish

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Global campaign marks the return of the Australian kingfish
The world’s biggest full-cycle commercial kingfish producer is preparing to launch a global campaign to introduce the fish typically used in sashimi to a broader market.

Clean Seas Seafood in South Australia is the market leader for premium sashimi and table fish in Europe, producing more than 2,000 tonnes a year of yellowtail kingfish, or hiramasa​, from fingerling to 4.5kg in the Spencer Gulf. 

The publicly listed company is looking to regain its share of the global kingfish market, which is dominated by small Japanese producers. 

Clean Seas released its third-quarter cash flow report for the 2017 financial year to the market last week, which showed a strong improvement in cash flows to further demonstrate the company’s turnaround. 

The market update said the company was on track to reach sales of 2,250-2,400 tonnes by the end of June, and reconfirmed that it expected to return to full-year profitability in 2018. 

Managing director David Head said the North American and European markets had huge potential for Clean Seas. 

He said the company would launch a new campaign starting in North America in the coming northern-hemisphere summer with a narrative that “truly explains the product’s premium culinary excellence and its South Australian provenance​”.

We are going to go door to door to the top restaurants in North America with teams working to introduce our product​,” Head said. 

This is not something you can present to a wholesaler and expect them to do the work for you—we’ve got to go to the top-end chefs​.”

Clean Seas is working to further these markets and stabilise supply by introducing smaller products, rather than solely relying on the 4.5kg sashimi grade kingfish, which take 18-24 months to grow. 

In six months we can grow a 600g product; it’s not sashimi grade but it’s a high-quality, plate-size kingfish​,” Head said. 

The 1-1.5kg fish is a slightly larger product that we will market as well​.” 

Clean Seas Seafood grows its kingfish in Boston, Arno and Fitzgerald Bays in the Spencer Gulf, which also support global western king prawn and southern bluefin tuna industries. The gulf is fed by the Southern Ocean and has a direct line of sight to Antarctica, some 3,500km to the south. 

The company had a live biomass inventory of about 4,000 tonnes of kingfish a year in the late 2000s, before the fish started mysteriously dying. By 2012 the mortality rate had increased from around 15% to more than 80%, reducing its live fish inventory to under 500 tonnes.  

In mid-2012 Clean Seas discovered that a taurine deficiency in the feed was responsible for the soaring mortality rate, which is the subject of an ongoing court case. 

With its kingfish healthier than ever, sales for the 2016-17 financial year are forecast to reach up to 2,400 tonnes. 

The company expects to return to a full-year profit next year as it works to lure back former customers and find new markets. It has maintained a strong presence in Europe, particularly in Switzerland, Italy and Britain. 

It has also had success in increasing the export farm-gate price by more than A$2 (US$1.50) per kilogram in the first half of this financial year, and also increased the Australian domestic farm-gate price by about A$0.80 per kilogram—the first price increase in Australia since April 2013. 

I believe the true provenance of our product is critically important to chefs—it’s a coldwater fish, it lives and is grown in the ocean and that’s an important story​,” Head said. 

This is a superb product with unique properties, and when people try it they will like it​.” 

Clean Seas is also set to bring its processing in-house in coming months when it opens a plant in Adelaide. 

Head said the new processing facility would allow the company to control the supply chain of its air-freighted fresh products from start to finish, develop value-added products, allow it to respond to peaks in demand and enable growth. 

Clean Seas will appoint Terry O’Brien as its non-executive chairman at a board meeting next week. Current chairman Paul Steere will remain on the board as an independent non-executive director.

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