Barramundi, a big-scale business

MainStream Aquaculture founder Dr Paul Harrison. Photo: Supplied/Mainstream Aquaculture

By Alesha Capone

Barramundi means big business in Werribee, which is home to the world’s largest barramundi hatchery.

MainStream Aquaculture runs a selective breeding program, with the aim of creating the world’s best barramundi, at its Lock Avenue site.

The company’s Head of Sales and Marketing Jess Tale said that the program focused on producing the healthiest, most robust fish possible, with traits such as increased fillet yield and disease resistance.

“We’ve got microchips in the fish, so we can track who is the parents of who,” he said.

MainStream Aquaculture is the largest supplier of barramundi fingerlings in the world and distributes its fingerlings to barramundi producers in 25 countries.

Its Werribee headquarters are home to Australia’s largest warm-water recirculating aquaculture system (RAS), with eight tanks holding 600,000 litres of water each.

The business also produces table-fish barramundi, under the brand name Infinity Blue Barramundi, and supplies live and chilled fish to food service and retail markets.

“Eighty per cent of the barramundi fish you eat (in Australia) are bred here,” Mr Tale said.

“A third of the world’s barramundi are born here.

“This facility is capable of producing 1000 tonnes of barramundi per year.”

For comparison, the global barramundi industry produces around 10,000 tonnes of fish per year.

Mr Tale said the company decided to build a facility in Werribee after a long nation-wide search, with one of the main reasons being a large aquifer – an underground lake – located below the area.

Water in the aquifer travels to Werribee from below the Macedon Ranges, moving around 1 centimetre per year and getting filtered through land and rock.

MainStream Aquaculture drills around 300 metres into the ground to locate the water, which is 1500 years old.

Mr Tale said the water was free from industrial pollutants and biological ones, such as bird droppings which can carry diseases.

“The other special thing about the water here is that it’s geo-thermically warmed and heated by the Earth’s crust, it’s 29 degrees.”

Photo: Supplied/Mainstream Aquaculture

Mr Tale said this was the ideal temperature to raise barramundi, which are tropical fish.

Mr Tale said another reason the company decided on its Werribee location is the suburb’s proximity to Melbourne.

“We can get the super-fresh fish to the market and they’re alive the morning and on a plate that afternoon, or the next day, that’s quite incredible,” he said.

Mr Tale said that MainStream Aquaculture has around 62 employees across its sites, including a pond farm in Queensland, with around 50 staff based in Werribee.

“We’ve got a lot of really highly-trained people here, like doctors and most of the people have a degree in aquaculture or marine science,” he said.

The work of MainStream Aquaculture is certainly not going unnoticed – officials from the Australian Open were so impressed when they visited the business, that it was selected to supply fish for tennis players’ meals at this year’s event.

Photo: Supplied/Mainstream Aquaculture

“They came here and loved what we were doing, and said the fish would be perfect for the players,” Mr Tale said.

The fact that barramundi is also high in omega-3s, including Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which are important for human health, also meant the fish was helpful for the player’s nutrition.

The company was also asked to supply three rare, gold-coloured barramundi to display inside a tank, in the players’ lounge at the Australian Open.
“I think it was fantastic, not many international tennis players knew what barramundi is, but they do now,” Mr Tale said.