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CORAL TROUT / The Next Big Fish in Aquaculture?

A Cairns-based commercial hatchery is creating history by successfully breeding coral trout fingerlings. The Company One is the home of world-class production facilities, including a state of the art breeding facility and a grow-out pond farm. Today’s development is the culmination of 18 years of dedicated research under the guidance of Dr. Richard Knuckey.

JAYNE MILLER


A Cairns-based commercial hatchery is creating history by successfully breeding coral trout fingerlings.  The Company One is the home of world-class production facilities, including a state-of-the-art breeding facility and a grow-out pond farm. Today’s development is the culmination of 18 years of dedicated research under the guidance of Dr Richard Knuckey.

In 1999, Dr. Richard Knuckey joined an ambitious project to diversify aquaculture and protect our coral reefs. The Queensland Government awarded funding to the research team, who launched their tropical finfish project. Over the next 18 years the team pioneered innovative aquaculture techniques and created a world-class tropical finfish hatchery.

In 2016, The Company One purchased the intellectual property from Tropical Finfish and is now the only breeder of giant grouper in Australia, and one of only a handful in the world. With exclusive approval to collect wild broodstock, The Company One holds Australia’s first and only aquaculture permit, allowing commercial captive breeding and grow-out production of market-size giant grouper. In addition, The Company One raises three other species in the grouper family: Gold Spot, Tiger and now Coral Trout.


After years of intensive in-house research, they have mastered the methodology for spawning, larval rearing and producing trout fingerlings through to delivering an optimal market-sized product. 

The breeding process from broodstock to egg to fingerling, is conducted at a facility in Cairns.  A smaller grow-out area in Yorkeys Knob models how to grow the species to market size to other aquaculture companies.  The research team is already capable of producing more than a million fish a year. 

They are now the exclusive producer of plate-sized farmed coral trout in Australia, a market that holds unfathomable promise.

Parent company, Hong Kong-owned Aquaculture Technologies Asia (ATA), is currently trialling growing the coral trout species on a commercial scale.

Thousands of fingerlings have been distributed to fish farms throughout Queensland and Western Australia. Fingerlings are also being exported to Taiwan and Hong Kong, to farms where grouper is already well-established as bred in farm conditions, and sold to lucrative Asian markets.

The challenge

One of the challenges to breeding coral trout successfully in an aquaculture setting stems from their fascinating and unique biology. 

Coral trout are protogynous hermaphrodites, ‘gender-benders’ who start life as female, reach sexual maturity at around two years of age, and at a later stage, change to male sexuality, in response to internal or external triggers. 

The sex change involves coordinated transformations across multiple biological systems, including behavioural, anatomical, neuroendocrine, and molecular axes. (1)

Key Benefits

Aquaculture farmed coral trout has the distinct advantage of not being governed by a minimum size limit.  The minimum legal size for a wild caught coral trout in Queensland is 38 cm as any smaller sized fish in the wild are juvenile.  By comparison, farmed trout can be bred to an optimal plate size (in terms of many different attributes including efficiency, economy, aesthetics and taste).  They are closer to 20 cm in length and 300grams + in weight.


Wild caught plate-sized Coral Trout
Image Credit / On The Inlet Seafood Restaurant, Port Douglas

Premium Price for Pond to Plate Product

A shipment of farmed coral trout was recently sent to Sydney Fish Market.  It received a premium price on the auction floor, higher than it’s wild caught cousin.

DouglasNews.Network spoke with Alex Stollznow, a spokesman from the Sydney Fish Market.  Alex is excited for the future of aquaculture farmed coral trout. He says that “the proof is in the pudding”, that the appeal of seafood really is all about the sensory and the aesthetic experience- Feedback from interested parties and buyers, along with Cairns-based taste-testing is positive.

The farmed trout is applauded as bright red in flesh with appealing vibrant neon blue spots, delivering a sweet taste, a healthy vigour, moist texture, deliciously flavoured with a sweet aftertaste.

Impact on Wild Caught Market

Aquaculture farmers are adamant that the future of our commercial fishery lies in a balance between the wild caught and aquaculture industries.  Australia is a leader in well-managed and sustainable wild fishery, and aquaculture’s development of viable commercial options can complement existing fisheries by helping the wild caught industry sustainably meet demand. With the wild fishery being fully allocated, expansion to meet increased demand will need to be filled predominantly by aquaculture.

The Future

Ryan Rossi, one of the biologists at The Company One, is looking forward to seeing how the coral trout fingerlings perform on commercial grow-out farms on opposite sides of Australia. 

He is also excited to conduct more research and development on other new and emerging fish species in the future. Alex Stollznow from Sydney Fish Market also reiterates the exciting developments in aquaculture of many other native Australian species of seafood that is underway.

With an increasing consumer base and growing affluence throughout Asia, the market for seafood, including reef fish such as coral trout, is expected to continue to grow. The promise for coral trout specifically is more about the consumer demand for plate-size rather than sustainability.

The Company One’s aquaculture operation in Cairns, which regularly undergoes independent NATA accredited water quality testing of discharge water. The company is strongly committed to delivering the substantial growth of this industry in a responsible and sustainable manner.
Image Credit / The Company One
The Company One is the only company in Australia that cultures and grows all of its live feed. The technological advances achieved within the centre are resulting in significant increases to larval survival, vigour and growth rates.
Image Credit / The Company One

References

(1). Bending Genders: The Biology of Natural Sex Change in Fish, Todd E.V.a · Liu H.a · Muncaster S.b · Gemmell N.J.a, https://www.karger.com/Article/Fulltext/449297


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