What’s the latest on barramundi?
Such is the demand for barramundi in Australia that most of the fish described in Australia as ‘barramundi’ is imported. Questions could be asked whether the barramundi on your plate actually matches the menu description, but that is another issue. This report looks at the real barramundi industry in Australia.
Although well known to coastal tribes of Australian aboriginal people, who created rock carvings depicting the fish, barramundi did not reach the average non-indigenous Australian plate until about the late 1960s.
At that time, the only barramundi available in Australia was from wild harvest, the object of a commercial in-shore gillnet fishing industry which produced mainly plate fish for the restaurant trade. The Broome area in the Kimberley in the northeast of Australia is renowned for its Broome wild barramundi.
Barramundi is a premium fish marketing name, but unlike many foods with native origins, the Australian government and the fishing industry in Australia have been slow to take advantage of international treaties that might offer greater legal protection to recognise unique Australian origins of the wild species.
Other indigenous food names have been protected, but in the case of barramundi a great deal of the fish sold in Australia as barramundi is in fact fraudulently offered.
Commercial farming of barramundi
Barramundi farming as an acquaculture industry began in Australia in the mid-1980s and is now well established with approximately 100 licenced farmers producing approximately 5,000 tonnes of product annually.
Barramundi under culture will commonly grow from a hatchery juvenile, between 50 and 100 mm in length, to a table size of 400-600 g within 12 months and to 3.0 kg within 18–24 months.
Barramundi is farmed in all states of Australia except Tasmania. Most of production comes from outdoor fresh or saltwater pond operations or sea cages in North Queensland, Western Australia, and the Northern Territory.
Recirculation systems, using thermal spring water or fresh water, operate mainly in southeast Queensland and the southern states.
Australia’s largest barramundi farm is at Humpty Doo, established in 1993 on the Adelaide River between Darwin and Kakadu. It recently expanded with the construction of a new nursery. Humpty Doo Barramundi Farm sends 30 tonnes of fish to market of which 5 tonnes are classified as “plate-size”.
Victoria boasts a large barramundi farming operation, Mainstream Acquaculture, near Werribee.
Established in 2004, on the site of a pristine geothermal water source, in 2007 Mainstream developed a hatchery in Townsville, Queensland capable of producing more than 5 million Barramundi fingerlings per year.
In 2012, Mainstream began construction of a hatchery in Melbourne, designed to produce more than four times the output of the Townsville facility.
Recreational fishing of barramundi
Highly prized by anglers for their good fighting ability, barramundi is also reputed to be good at avoiding fixed nets and is best caught on lines and with fishing lures.
In Australia, barramundi is used to stock suitable freshwater reservoirs for recreational angling and sport fishing which are now valuable components of the tourist industry.
These “impoundment barramundi”, as they are known by anglers, have grown in popularity as a “catch and release” fish, although some of these fisheries allow anglers to take home one fish each per day. However, a constant hazard for the fishermen is the presence of crocodiles in these waters.
Popular stocked barramundi impoundments include:
- Lake Tinaroo near Cairns in the Atherton Tablelands;
- Peter Faust Dam near the Whitsundays;
- Teemburra Dam near Mackay;
- Lake Moondarranear Mount Isa;
- Lake Awoonganear Gladstone and;
- Lake Monduran south of Lake Awoonga.
Another impoundment, established in 2012 with funding from the West Australian government, is Lake Kununurra, 55 kilometres long, which cuts through the picturesque gorge country of the East Kimberley. The lake was created as part of the Ord River regional irrigation scheme in 1963.
However, a government-funded stocking program which began in 2012 ended a few years later. The locals, keen to establish Kununurra as a bigger tourist destination, are examining the rate of replenishment required in order to maintain fish stocks as mature fish make their way down the lower Ord River to mate in salt water.
Today, more than 2 billion people worldwide derive almost 20 per cent of their average per capita intake of animal protein from fish and a further 4 billion people with 15 per cent of such protein.
Given current population growth projections and per capita consumption of fish products, the global output of acquaculture will need to treble to 300 million tonnes by 2050.
At present, Australian producers, both fishers and farmers, face significantly greater costs than their southeast Asian counterparts due to the remoteness of many of the farming and fishing sites, as well as the stringent environmental and food safety standards placed on them by government.
The market will determine which varieties of fish are produced but the demand for barramundi in Australia will certainly continue to grow.