Growing ambitions for abalone

The Fish Site
by The Fish Site
19 March 2007, at 12:00am

AUSTRALIA - Wild harvesting can no longer satisfy the growing global demand for abalone so CSIRO scientist Dr Nick Elliott is working to accelerate the domestication process in partnership with Australia's growing aquaculture industry.

Australia supplies half of the international abalone market exporting live, canned and frozen abalone to South-East Asia. In 2004-5, the export trade was worth $260 million and about 4000 of the 5600 tonnes produced were exported. Careful management has ensured that wild stocks have not been over-exploited but further expansion of wild harvesting is not sustainable. Farming offers a way of satisfying the growing demand for abalone and for developing new export markets.

"Australia's wild fishery is probably the best managed in the world," says Elliott, a project leader in CSIRO's Food Futures Flagship. "The purpose for us is to assist the aquaculture industry as it matures through designing selective breeding programs and undertaking associated research."

So far, the abalone aquaculture industry consists of fewer than 20 farms which contribute less than 4 per cent of Australia's total production. Two species and their naturally occurring hybrid are farmed in various parts of southern Australia. Most farms are in the southern states although one on the NSW North Coast began operation last year.

The farmers use the eggs and sperm from farmed or wild-caught adults to populate shallow tanks filled with seawater. After three to five days, the free-swimming larvae settle and begin to consume micro-algae from the hard surfaces in the tanks.

Three or four years of growth are required before abalone reach a marketable size. They may mature sexually from their second year onwards so there are periods where they lose condition as they put energy into the development of reproductive tissue rather than muscle.

Farmers are collaborating with CSIRO to build the Australian knowledge base needed to maximise productivity with purpose-bred abalone. Based in Hobart, Elliott and his team have pioneered research into breeding fast-growing abalone with the aim of reducing typical harvest times to less than three years.

Source: The Canberra Times