Ingham Daily Press

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Off the scale: Pioneering aquaculture at Abergowrie

Aquaculture teacher Belinda Strong with students Jim Baira (back left), Seriba Tabuai (right) and Colonie Kepa (front).

A TEACHER is pioneering an aquaculture programme at a Hinchinbrook school.

Belinda Strong has set up a fish farm at St Teresa’s College – and with her year 11 students is rearing barramundis with the aim of tagging and releasing them into the Herbert River.

Forty fish are being kept in a recirculating aquaculture system that has a pair of 2,000 litre ponds.

Students are responsible for hand-feeding the fish three times a day.

The project is part of a Certificate II in Aquaculture that can be used as a stepping stone to working in the developing industry.

Belinda said: ‘Aquaculture is a sustainable means of producing fish. The world’s fisheries are under threat due to overfishing, so aquaculture is becoming a big industry.

‘This certificate is a pathway into aquaculture or a number of other industries.’

It is thought the school is the first in the Shire to offer the programme, that is also taught in Innisfail, Tully and Townsville.

A group from the school visited a local prawn farm earlier this year, but plans for students to complete work experience have been shelved due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Belinda did take a group on a sailing boat this week to Orpheus Island to survey seagrass and reef habitats to look at the impacts of human behaviour on these ecosystems.

The former scuba diver instructor said: ‘We are adopting environmentally sustainable practices used in local aquaculture industries such as using natural alternatives to chemicals and utilising fish waste as fertiliser in the vegie gardens.

‘Our recirculating aquaculture system cycles water through an array of pumps, venturis and filters.

‘The students are learning how to think critically. If there’s a malfunction with the system or the water quality is poor, it puts the fish at risk, so students need to problem solve and act quickly using whatever resources we have.’

St Teresa’s College maths and science teacher Belinda Strong

‘Because we’ve purchased the fish from Jungle Creek Aquaculture, near Innisfail, they have the correct genetics and we can release them in this area.

‘We’d like to release them towards the end of term 4 into one of the rivers.  

‘We’ll continue to monitor the fishes’ health and behaviour and have someone oversee and assist with the release.’

As populations in Australia and around the world grow, so too does the demand for sustainable sources of seafood.

According to agriculture.gov.au, seafood demand in has increased considerably over the last three decades.

Currently, Australia’s consumer demand exceeds the supply from domestic production and continues to grow.

Aquaculture production occurs throughout Australia, from the tropical north to the temperate south.

The aquaculture industry is largely based in regional Australia and makes a significant and positive contribution to regional development.

Since 2002–03 the real gross value of aquaculture production has increased by 12 per cent ($108 million) to over $1 billion.

The largest increase over this decade came from the value of production of salmonids (salmon and trout) and edible oysters.

In 2012–13 farmed salmonids, almost entirely from Tasmania, were Australia’s most valuable fisheries product, worth $497 million.

The value of Australian aquaculture production increased by around 25 per cent between 2004–05 and 2011–12, reaching a peak of $1.1 billion.

In 2012–13 the value (and volume) of production declined to just over $1 billion. This was largely due to a decrease in the volume of finfish and crustaceans produced, as well as a decrease in the value of finfish, molluscs and crustaceans.

In 2012–13 aquaculture products comprised 43 per cent of Australian seafood production by value and 35 per cent by weight.

Australia has an international reputation as a producer of safe, sustainable and high quality seafood products.

Most of the value of Australian aquaculture production comes from high value species such as pearls, salmonids, tuna and oysters but there are over forty species commercially produced in Australia.

The top five aquaculture species groups, in order of production value, are: salmonids, tuna, edible oysters, pearl oysters and prawns.

Other species groups grown in Australia include: abalone, freshwater finfish (such as barramundi, Murray cod, silver perch), brackish water or marine finfish (such as barramundi, snapper, yellowtail kingfish, mulloway, groupers), mussels, ornamental fish, marine sponges, mud crab and sea cucumber.

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