Murray Cod: Australia’s ‘magnificent icon’

After years of sustainable practice and endorsement by celebrity chefs, Aquna Sustainable Murray Cod is still committed to its principles of sustainability while raising consumer awareness. writes Pippa Haupt.

It’s a big claim to say that your aquaculture operations are the most sustainable in the world, but that’s the claim Ross Anderson, chairman of ASX-listed Murray Cod Australia.

Murray Cod Australia is the trading company of Aquna Sustainable Murray Cod, an aquaculture operation based in the Riverina region of New South Wales. Aquna was launched as a rebranding exercise in 2018 and has since caught the eye of high-profile chefs like Heston Blumenthal.

With a focus on sustainability, research projects and product quality, Anderson says the biggest challenge is getting consumers on board. It does this through a four-pronged campaign.

1. Cod quality

“Everything we do is focused on how we continue to improve the quality of the fish – how do we manage that? How do we cultivate it? What do we feed it? How do we take care of the water? And with that comes a big focus on innovation,” says Anderson.

The Aquna team is constantly looking for better ways to improve fish quality through water treatment, the use of nets and what goes on in the farm’s ponds. Feedback from these processes is used to continuously improve the quality of the fish, the way it is raised, the health of the fish, as well as the nutritional benefits for end consumers.

Anderson says Aquna Murray Cod is one of the only freshwater fish in the world used to make sashimi.

“The reason is that we don’t have microbes in our water system. We have a nice, clean water system free of microbes that can cause problems with other freshwater fish,” he explains.

The company’s Australian manufacturing system is custom designed to mimic the natural environment of cod and provide the fish with the right growing conditions.

“Our Murray Cod is farmed in open ponds, in their native water, using industry leading and sustainable practices. Our specially designed systems allow us to grow tastier fish, without the earthy taste often associated with wild freshwater fish,” says Anderson.

2. Sustainability

Anderson says Aquna’s farm is probably the most sustainable fish farm in the world.

“We have a fairly low fishmeal content; our fishmeal content can be as low as 15% of a kilo of feed, and we have conversion rates as low as 1.2 kg of feed to produce a kilo of fish meat,” he says.

“Right now, some fish farms around the world are criticizing the fish droppings that end up on the ocean floor, the seals affected, the dolphins caught in the nets and the amount of fishmeal going into the feed.

“It’s not terribly sustainable to take a kilo of fishmeal from the wild ocean and only farm less than a kilo of farmed fish. The only reason for farming fish is to save our oceans,” he says.

Aquna’s Murray Cod is farmed in open ponds that mimic its natural environment. Image: Aquana

Aquna has also achieved zero organic waste at its Griffith processing plant, with tons of organic waste diverted from landfill through partnerships with local recyclers and farmers.

Similarly, the nutrient-rich water from the ponds is used to irrigate crops and pastures near its operations.

It has also cut its water usage in half through closer monitoring and water management practices.

“Pisces naturally tend to want to go to school together, which means they’re happy not to have a lot of space. So what’s happening is because we’re not using a lot of space and our feed efficiency is high, the amount of water we’re using is very, very low,” Anderson explains.

Adding solar panel systems to the infrastructure has helped achieve greater efficiency, with 50% of the electricity for its Bilbul nursery operations now powered by solar energy. Anderson says it makes sense for the company, both by lowering the company’s energy costs and reducing greenhouse gases.

Processing plant upgrades are also underway, initially hampered by Covid and a wet summer, and a new Mildura rearing facility is planned, with indoor, light and temperature controlled facilities increasing off-farm rearing. season and reducing dependence on natural spring spawning.

3. Innovation

The company has several projects underway, including a selective breeding program with the national science organization CSIRO, which is now in its second year.

“He looks for improved fish health, fat content and omega six and three; basically the overall quality of the flesh,” says Anderson.

Aquna tests different fish foods to see their impact on the health, growth and especially the flavor of the fish.

Anderson recalls Chief Heston Blumenthal’s visit to Aquna’s Bilbul Farm.

“He picked up a piece of fish food and actually ate it. He wanted to taste it to see if it would have a positive or negative impact on the, on the flesh.

“He said, ‘Oh, that’ll make it taste pretty good,'” he said.

Experiments on maintaining water quality are in progress, guaranteeing the correct balance of algae bacteria, protozoa and plankton in the waters of the basin.

“The balance of the water favors the cleanliness of the fish and the oxygenation; if the right balance of algae is there, it will produce oxygen for the fish during photosynthesis,” says Anderson.

4. Integrity

Anderson says that by eating Aquna cod, you’re eating one of the rarest gourmet fish in the world — right now.

“Not only does it not grow anywhere else in the world, it does not grow anywhere else in Australia.

“From a product integrity perspective, we want you to be able to know who his mother and father are, how he was treated in the water, and what went into that water.

“We are one of the only fish farms in the world that does not use antibiotics in our grow-out systems.

The Aquna team is constantly looking for better ways to improve fish quality.  Image: Aquana
The Aquna team is constantly looking for better ways to improve fish quality. Image: Aquana

“We want consumers to know what the fish was fed, how it was harvested, how it was treated humanely from the day it was born to the day it arrives on your plate.

“The reality is that he’s a magnificent icon of Australia,” says Anderson.

The company experienced the issues that many businesses have faced in recent years – Covid disruptions and associated impacts on the supply chain and export markets, a shortage of skilled labor and difficulties in supplying capital goods.

Aquna’s processing capacity has been hampered due to the delay of equipment from overseas due to supply chain issues. The company said it is now installed and once fully operational it will see a “huge increase” in processing capacity and the ability to supply the grocery channel.

Cod is now stocked at select Woolworths, Coles and Harris Farm stores.

This summer, Aquna will test its first outdoor grow-out ponds, which will involve raising fish in ponds without cages. The results of this will determine production systems down the road.

The expansion of its Whitton site is underway and the addition of 16 pools should be completed this summer.

This story first appeared in the August issue of Food & Drink Business magazine.

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