An Interview With Australis About Aquaculture
Burak Pelit: Could you please briefly introduce your company to us?
Jonathan Daen: Australis is the world leader in the production of barramundi (“Asian Sea Bass”, lates calcarifer). We were founded in 2004 and currently operate two farms – a land-based recirculating (RAS) farm in the US and a larger ocean farm in Vietnam. Since our founding, we have developed strong customer relationships with retailers and foodservice accounts in the US, Canada, Singapore and Australia. As awareness of barramundi has increased, we have scaled production to meet demand.
Burak Pelit: As Australis Aquaculture LLC; you are dealing with aquaculture too. Can you share some information about your products and production process?
Jonathan Daen: We produce barramundi, a fish that until Australis started was generally unknown in North America. Given this, we put a lot of effort into telling the “barramundi story” to chefs, consumers and other influencers. After more than ten years, the awareness and demand have grown considerably.
In addition to being a great-tasting fish, we have strived to make our barramundi as sustainable as possible. We adopted many strategies in our production processes – proprietary feed formulas that reduce the use of fish meal and fish oil, low density stocking, extensive use of on-shore nurseries that pre-grow juveniles before they are transfered to the open ocean pens, to name a few. Both of our farms have received the highest (‘green’ or ‘Best Choice”) ratings from Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program. We also carry BAP and GlobalGap certifications.
Our production processes utilize on-shore land-based recirculating aquaculture systems (100% in the US and for our juveniles in Vietnam) and large ocean net pens for growout. This approach gives us extensive control over fish health, growth, and overall quality.
Burak Pelit: What sort of points would you like to refer about the seafood market in USA?
Jonathan Daen: In the US, the seafood market is very large but also very traditional. Many American consumers are uncomfortable cooking fish at home so much of the consumption is in foodservice. Many Americans prefer skinless fillets as opposed to skin-on or whole fish. We also don’t eat a lot of seafood when compared to other countries. Consumption of shrimp makes up nearly 25% of total volume, with a few other species (Salmon, Tuna, Tilapia, Alaska pollock, Pangasius, Cod and catfish making up the bulk of the rest. Here in the Northeast, where we are located, the market is dominated by cod, haddock, and salmon. That said, there is increasing interest from millenials and other “foodies” in cooking at home, in ethnic preparations, in sustainability, and in the “story” of lesser-known species. This leaves modest – but still meaningful –market opportunities for species like barramundi and bronzini in both retail and the foodservice/restaurant channels.
Burak Pelit: You have been in cooperation with Camli / Pınar for 2 years. How did this cooperation have started and developed until today?
Jonathan Daen: We started offering a select group of species other than barramundi to our customers some time ago. It has grown into an important part of our business. Our customers trust us to give them high quality products that are unique and not widely available, so it works for everyone.
We have worked with a number of Turkish and Greek producers and have watched the production volumes grow for bronzini/dorade over the years. We like working directly with the producers and have been very happy with the quality, consistency and customer service from Camli/Pinar. We have access to many of the key producers and believe that Camli is committed to understanding and growing the US market for its products.
Burak Pelit: Would you like to share your opinions about the general situation of the aquaculture sector? What are the possible trends that can be faced in the future?
Jonathan Daen: There is growing acceptance of farmed species in the marketplace. However, there are still many concerns that consumers have about farmed fish, and chefs are often reluctant to promote farmed products. A lot more education needs to occur before this acceptance will be complete. Consistently high quality products and education are the industry’s best tools to winning these battles.
Certifications also help buyers and consumers make their purchasing decisions – and we see these becoming more, rather than less important. Monterey Bay Seafood Watch, BAP, GlobalGAP, ASC and others all have standards. Efforts to harmonize these standards will be helpful to the industry, due to the audit burden, and to the buyers and consumers as they seek to understand which standards reflect the practices that are important them.
We are also seeing increasing commoditization of some of the lesser species, including bronzini. Due to the rapid growth in total production, what used to be available in relatively small quantities at high prices, is now becoming a lower-margin offering within a highly competitive environment. This is good for the consumers but puts more pressure on producers and distributors.
There is no question that aquaculture products are essential to feeding the world, and that we will see growing demand worldwide for farmed fish. We are excited to be part of this exciting industry.