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Lobster hatchery to lead world

Edition 188_Heywood Smith

The world’s first commercial rock lobster hatchery will be built in Tasmania following a $10 million deal between Hobart-based aquaculture supplier PFG Group and the University of Tasmania.

The project, which has huge international potential, follows 17 years of ground-breaking research by UTAS scientists.

It was described by Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Brigid Heywood, as "almost too exciting.”

The Chairman of PFG, James Cretan, said: “We sometimes underestimate as Tasmanians what we’ve got on our own backyard and the quality and the importance of this sort of applied science on a world scale.”

Professor Heywood said: “The fact that we can now produce lobster in a closed-loop system on land without having to increasingly remove organisms from the wild in order to satisfy demand, that’s the moment in history.”

Mr Cretan observed: “Someone’s got to feed the world!”

Scientists at UTAS’s Institute of Marine and Antarctic Science have reared lobster through a complex series of larval stages from eggs to maturity.

While more work is needed to achieve the shift from laboratory scale to commercial quantities, both parties believe their agreement will be the dawn of a new industry.

The initial focus is on a tropical lobster variety that could be grown out in upgraded aquaculture facilities in Malaysia and Vietnam or new purpose-built plants in northern Australia.

PFG’s investment has secured Australian licence rights to UTAS’s intellectual property and the company’s Chief Executive, Michael Sylvester, said: “We’ll be building the world’s first commercial rock-lobster hatchery for juveniles within three years.

“I definitely think it could be a multimillion-dollar industry in Australia — land-based lobster production to the tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars.

“There is a huge export opportunity, multiple additional jobs in Australia, and high-value science.”

PFG has 40 years’ experience in design, manufacture and construction of aquaculture facilities and equipment in Australia and Asia.

As well as tropical rock lobsters, the deal covers Moreton Bay bugs, which IMAS researchers hatched successfully for the first time in September.

Professor Heywood said the partnership promised on-going financial returns to the university — with global licence deals likely to follow.

UTAS will retain a share in the hatchery enterprise.

If the project succeeds, the world’s lucrative lobster industry is likely to be reshaped.

Mr Sylvester said research would now focus on rearing commercial quantities of lobsters and bugs and how best to transport juveniles from the hatchery to grow-out plants in the tropics.

Several sites had been scoped for the hatchery, with construction likely to start in 18 months.

Scientists at the Taroona laboratories will spend the next two years finalising hatchery processes while the company builds a commercial-scale facility.

PFG said it hoped the first commercial production of farmed rock lobsters would start in 2021.

UTAS research contributed 30 years ago to the birth of Atlantic salmon farming in Tasmania, now the nation’s highest-value fishery.

Photo: Associate Professor Greg Smith, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research) Brigid Heywood, PFG Chief Executive Michael Sylvester and UTAS Business Development Director Dr Darren Cundy.

Image courtesy of IMAS

3 October 2017, Edition 188

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