Farmed barramundi can be the equal of its wild-caught saltwater sibling. That is the message from an award-winning aquaculture operator.
Spring Creek Barramundi, near Townsville, took home two awards from the recent Sydney Royal Fine Food Show, winning Champion Fresh Fish for its plate-sized barramundi.
Farm manager Tim Bade said it was vindication of the strong investment the operation had put into improving the quality of its product.
“It’s great — recognition that should give the consumer a lot of confidence in the product, the fact that we’ve been able to replicate [the win] two years running shows there’s a lot of consistency there,” he said.
“For us it’s all about our water quality management.
Mr Bade said the seasonal conditions in Townsville could cause disruptions to supply and production.
One example was during the February floods, which introduced a large amount of floodwater to the Gumlow farm.
“It was a challenge but we’re very confident in the processes that we use to get that consistent quality. While it caused some disruption, we were back on our feet relatively quickly,” he said.
Water quality ‘key’
The farm has adopted innovative practices such as adding molasses to the water as a carbon source, which promotes favourable algal blooms to out-compete dangerous algae species.
Certain algae species are known to impart unfavourable flavours in fish flesh.
“By doing this we remove any ‘off’ flavours that may have been there previously, which gives you the assurance as a customer that you’re getting a high-quality product time and time again,” Mr Bade said.
Using bore water for the ponds rather than from a creek or river source also protected the fish from potential pathogens, reducing the expenditure on antibiotics and other veterinary requirements.
The Australian Barramundi Farmers’ Association (ABFA) has been working with industry to improve techniques in aquaculture to produce better quality fish.
Executive officer of the ABFA Jo-Anne Ruscoe said quality improvement was a major goal for the industry.
“The quality of the product is paramount for consumers,” she said.
“In the early days there were some issues there around muddy taste.
With consumer trust and provenance a key issue across all food producing industries, Ms Ruscoe said the industry was working to guarantee quality Australian fish was clearly labelled.
“Trust can break down between the product and consumer because of products from non-certified producers,” Ms Ruscoe said.
“We’re working on a project to guarantee via analysis of trace elements the provenance of a piece of fish.
“This tool will give us the ability to go in and say ‘that’s a fish that’s harvested from a Humpty Doo Barramundi or Coral Coast Barramundi and indeed from this particular pond on this particular day’.”
Ms Ruscoe said the ABFA would also use the testing tool to identify product substitution and mislabelling to ensure only certified Australian fish was sold as such.
Farmed versus wild-caught fish
Executive chef at The Ville Resort-Casino Nicholas Redsell said barramundi and other local seafood was a central part of the Townsville casino’s offering.
“We have award-winning barramundi, here it’s fantastic, so it’s a great product and we’re going to continue using it,” he said.
Farmed fish has traditionally been rated as a lower quality product to wild-caught, but Mr Redsell said that reputation was quickly changing among chefs.
“At first the farmed barramundi was quite muddy, while wild barramundi wasn’t,” he said.
Mr Redsell said the restaurant’s marketing to Asian tourists meant a focus on local seafood.
“They think it’s fresh, they think it’s well presented, because we have it as a whole fish,” he said.
Mr Bade said with overseas imports of farmed barramundi garnering a 60 per cent market share in Australia, it was important the domestic sector drew a distinction between the products.
“When you buy an Australian barramundi that’s farmed from an ABFA (Australian Barramundi Farmers’ Association) farm you can rest assured you’re getting a high-quality product produced to the highest standards.
“There is that stigma with freshwater fish from practices that weren’t done as well as what we do them now.”
Mr Redsell said local Australian produce was the way to go for his restaurants.
“People want to know it’s coming from their community, that it’s Australian,” he said.
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