One of the companies that’s been celebrating Sustainable Seafood Week in Australia is Pacific Reef Fisheries. Based in the small town of Ayr, Queensland, Pacific Reef Fisheries is the first cobia and prawn farm in Australian to be ASC certified. We spoke to Kristian Mulholland, their Environmental Officer, about the benefits of certification, the future of aquaculture, and why chefs love cobia.
Kristian, 28, grew up in Rockhampton, Queensland, and working in the aquaculture industry is no accident. “Growing up in a town so close to the Great Barrier Reef really drove my passion for marine life. My first job was in a local aquarium shop my uncle owned. From then on I knew I wanted my career to involve my love for the oceans and animals that live within,” said Kristian.
So how did he go about turning that passion into a career? “After high school I moved to Townsville to study my undergraduate degree in Marine Biology and Aquaculture at James Cook University,” he explained. “Through my studies we did various field trips across North Queensland to many different aquaculture facilities. These fields trips were how I found out about Pacific Reef Fisheries. After graduation, I had my first Job as an Aquaculture Technician at Pacific Reef Fisheries and have been here ever since.”
Pacific Reef Fisheries is a 98-hectare aquaculture facility which has been operating since 1994. Every year they produce around 1000 tonnes of black tiger prawns and 100 tonnes of cobia. They became ASC certified in 2018 to demonstrate their credentials as a responsible aquaculture producer. “ASC’s global standards are considered to be of the highest quality. The advantage of ASC is that it allows our company to produce high quality products while having minimal impact on the environment and the local community,” said Kristian.
But it’s not just about the label. The process of ASC certification gave the company the opportunity to look at their practices and ensure they are doing what they can to reduce their impact. “ASC adds another tier of compliance to ensure Pacific Reef Fisheries is having minimal impact on the waters of Alva Beach,” said Kristian, adding that ASC requirements have given them more confidence that their animals will be free from disease, and they’re also working with their feed supplier to reduce impacts down the supply chain.
Then there’s the social component of ASC standards. This side of ASC certification has helped to further strengthen an already important area for the company, Kristian explained: “Pacific Reef Fisheries has always been community orientated. With ASC we have increased our engagement with the community to ensure relationships stay strong.”
ASC’s social component includes requirements ensuring the fair treatment of the workforce, but as Kristian noted, they also include so much more. “We employ 80 to 100 people every season with the majority of those people local,” he said. “Besides that, Pacific Reef Fisheries engages with the local community in a number of ways. During school visits, we inform the students about sustainability and aquaculture and how they can to care for our native aquatic animals. We have information stands at Local council events and involvement in Clean up Australia Days. We furthermore support local sporting and surf lifesaving clubs, and community functions such as Water Festivals.”
While black tiger prawns are a well known and loved seafood, some people might be less familiar with cobia – but Kristian’s passion for the fish is clear. “Pacific Reef is the only producer of the award winning North Queensland Cobia. Our fish are sold exclusively to some of the best restaurants and caterers in the country.” What’s the secret to the species’ popularity? Kristian has no doubts about the answer to that: “Chefs love cooking with Cobia due to its versatility. The flesh can be sliced for raw preparations or cooked in steam, roasted, pan fried, wok fried or grilled. One of its best qualities is that the flesh retains moisture when cooked, making it a succulent and rich.”
Unsurprisingly for someone so passionate about marine life and aquaculture, Kristian is optimistic about the future, both in terms of Pacific Reef Fisheries and the general industry. “We are in the process of finalizing approvals to build a 259 hectare prawn farm at Guthalungra. This will create hundreds of jobs for the local area and be capable of producing around 3000 tonnes of prawns annually,” he said.
And what about aquaculture more generally? Can it help meet the demands of the world’s growing population? “I believe the push for sustainability certification really encourages all aquaculture producers to strive for best practises at their farm. I believe that new emerging technology like our four stage bioremediation process used to filter water efficiently help to prove that aquaculture really can have minimal impact on our surrounding environment.”
It’s a positive note to end this year’s Sustainable Seafood Week on, and with passionate people like Kristian working in the industry, it’s hard to argue with.