Can Redclaw crayfish Drive Australia's Next Seafood Boom?

They grow fast and large, so can crayfish drive Australia's next seafood boom?

Australian Redclaw crayfish (Cherax quadricarinatus) are considered a high-end “white tablecloth” product and global demand for redclaw crayfish — native to northern Australia — is growing at a rapid rate.

Now a north Queensland company in the process of patenting technology to increase hatching rates for crayfish eggs could change the face of Australian aquaculture.

Key points:

  • Crayfish is an ideal species for aquaculture, growing fast and large
  • The potential for crayfish to transform the aquaculture industry depends on future investment
  • Technology to improve breeding is being patented by a Queensland company

Australian Crayfish Hatchery (ACH), based in Townsville, has developed an in vitro embryo incubation method for redclaw crayfish, producing thousands of juveniles each breeding.

Reclaw Crayfish—Australia's next seafood boom

Dr Lisa Elliot from ACH said the industry’s grow-out farmers had been hampered in the past by inefficient on-farm breeding processes that suffered large production losses.

“We’ve actually been able to take the eggs from the females, hatch them and produce craylings, baby crayfish, at a known age and number,” Dr Elliot said.

“The major problem in the past was that production of seedstock was an ad-hoc affair. Mum and dad were put in ponds and the hope was they produced offspring.”

Redclaw farmer Andy Gosbell, of Gympie, said the collaboration with hatcheries like ACH would be critical to the industry’s growth.

“For redclaw farms to boom, and this industry will boom with this new technology, they need to go to a grow-out phase and let someone else do the breeding,” he said.

“That way, you literally can do two crops a year instead of one every 12 months.”

Australian Crayfish Hatcheries co-owner Lisa Elliot with the innovation award her company won in the US for its Townsville facility.(ABC Rural: Tom Major)

Dean Jerry, Director of the ARC Research Hub for Advanced Prawn Breeding based at Townsville’s James Cook University, said the breakthrough was a big win for the industry. “One of the bottlenecks in the past has been the production of large numbers of high-quality seedstock for aquaculture production,” Professor Jerry said.

“The hatchery in Townsville will go a long way to providing a stable and high-quality supply off craylings to supply the domestic and potentially international industry.

“Like any aquaculture industry, success often depends on having access to juveniles.”

Redclaw Crayfish—Australia's Next Seafood Boom

In a climate-controlled breeding facility on the outskirts of Townsville, tens of thousands of eggs are hatched to about 10 millimetres in size.

From there, farms in southern Queensland buy the craylings in where they are grown out to a table-sized product of up to 600 grams in weight.

Dr Elliot, who previously worked in prawns and marine fish industries, said the crayfish — indigenous to northern Australia — was an ideal species for aquaculture and as such can become Australia’s next seafood boom.

“They don’t need a high fish-meal diet, the feed that they eat can be vegetable clippings, or detritus from the pond bottom,” she said.

Mr Gosbell said the ability to move from a breeding/farming operation to solely farming would boost his production.
Crayfish could be the next seafood boom industry.

“At the moment, realistically, probably only a third of my farm is producing crayfish for sale. “The rest is breeding ponds, egg-bearer ponds and juveniles. If I could go from two hectares of grow-out to five hectares, I could do three times the production.”

Investment needed for redclaw to become Australia's next seafood boom

Professor Jerry said the potential of the species to become Australia’s next seafood boom hinged on the level of investment over the coming years. “This will certainly help with marketing and consumer awareness of the product.

“Australian aquaculture is pretty advanced as an industry as a result of very active research and development programs.
“This has to be the way given the forces that impact on the industry including high costs of labour and operating, strict environmental compliance, international competition and high biosecurity.”

The Redclaw Opportunity

The ACH management team made it one of its key objective to promote redclaw crayfish as Australia’s next seafood boom. for this purpose it launched three investments opportunities and is appealing directly to the public to consider joining first movers and enjoy the multiple benefits accruing from redclaw growout farming. 

Environmental outcomes

Interest from the United States and China was increasing according to ACH, due to the crayfish’s large size and international protein demand. “They’re viewed as a high-end, white tablecloth product.”

While the technology to breed redclaw crayfish was utilised for commercial purposes, Dr Elliot said the process could be used for preserving endangered crustaceans too.”The technology we’re using is also able to store genetic material,” she said.

“For conservation, there’s quite a few endangered freshwater crayfish species across Australia, the hatchery technology can be used culture these species and conserve genetic lines.”

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