Pacific Reef Fisheries Best of the Best RAS President's Medal
Winner of the prestigious NSW Royal agricultural society president's medal, pacific reef fisheries are revolutionising aquaculture one luscious Cobia at a time.
The rich alluvial plains that straddle Queensland's Burdekin River on the Whitsunday Coast are some of Australia's best agricultural land. Tomatoes, melons, capsicums and more find their way to markets all over the nation from here.
But as the river nears the coast, salt-tinged air from the Coral Sea takes hold, making vegetable production less viable. Yet at Alva Beach an extraordinary story in Australian farming is unfolding.
Nestled on the edge of the ocean, a vast series of deep 100m2 pools are laid out, each one teeming with life; swirling masses move below the surface, seen only by the way the water wrinkles in the sunlight. This unique farm is home to some of Australia's best seafood, for in these ponds, Pacific Reef Fisheries breed delicious tiger prawns, and one of the world's most impressive fish - the cobia.
Australians usually refer to cobia as 'black kingfish', but this is misleading for the fish is actually a relative of remora, those sucker-fish seen attached to sharks in documentaries. Native to the world's tropical waters, it has an oil-rich pearl-white flesh, prized by chefs because that lush oil does not leach out when cooked - distinguishing cobia from other species.
Cobia is also well-adapted to aquaculture, and the Alva Beach joint venture between Pacific Reef Fisheries and the Queensland Department of Primary Industries produces fish of unrivalled quality, plus the commercial, social and environmental standards under which it operates are world leading.
For these reasons, Pacific Reef Fisheries was the recipient of the 2015 President's Medal from the NSW Royal Agricultural Society, Australia's top award for excellence in food.
Two big challenges for aquaculture are inputs and outputs - feed and wastewater.
Traditionally fishmeal has been made from vast quantities of trawled target species like pilchards and anchovies. While these fish are not currently under threat, that system is unsustainable as a growing aquaculture market will eventually pressure stock numbers. To this end, Pacific Reef are working with the CSIRO and other Australian businesses to replace wild fish with farmed sources. The effect is to create a positive net fish benefit - more fish come out than go in.
As the fish are farmed in on-land ponds, as opposed to traditional sea cages, the quantity of feed input is more easily controlled, resulting in less waste and the elimination of localised pollution.
Output water from the ponds can also be a problem, as it becomes nutrient-rich in a way that should not be simply returned to the ocean. To ensure it is as near to pure seawater as possible when it reaches the Coral Sea, the waste is filtered, then discharged through a purpose-planted mangrove system, enabling a second stage of filtration. It's an investment not only in the environment, but also in the business's commercial longevity.
THE PRESIDENT'S MEDAL
The RAS of NSW President's Medal recognises excellence in Australian produce. The 'best of the best' food and beverages from the Sydney Royal shows are nominated for the President's Medal. Finalists undergo a triple bottom line audit to assess social, economic and environmental impacts - making the President's Medal the most prestigious in the country. Find out more about the President's medal in this recent article
ED HALMAGYI'S PAN-ROASTED COBIA WITH GARDEN PEAS AND OLIVES RECIPE