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Aqua farmers in Queensland, Australia, are excited after country's top chefs had declared cobia the next "best thing" in fine-ding. Their endorsement, they believe, could kick-start a new multi-million-dollar aquaculture industry in northern Australia.

 

Cobia culture: Can Australia succeed where Taiwan failed?


By F.E. OLIMPO

 


Aqua farmers in Queensland, Australia, are excited after country's top chefs had declared cobia the next "best thing" in fine-ding. Their endorsement, they believe, could kick-start a new multi-million-dollar aquaculture industry in northern Australia.


In fact, the warm-water fish, which grows up to 78 inches, is now on the menu of some of the country's most expensive restaurants.


"Cobia holds its moisture well, it's economical, you get great return from the body of it, and it's a fantastic tasting fish," says Melbourne chef Ian Curley.


Other chefs have even called it "the Wagyu of the sea," referring to Japan's priciest beef, because of the healthy omega fats in its flesh. "Like Wagyu it has a good fat content marbled through the product. It is sashimi grade and can be used in entrees and main courses," says Sydney chef Tim Browne.


If Queensland's seafood farmers are excited, the state's fisheries officials are overwrought. Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries scientist Dr. Peter Lee says cobia culture has "the potential to grow into a 10-, 20-, 40-million-dollar industry."


Cobia, of course, isn't a new aquaculture discovery.  Taiwan has been farming since the 1970s buoyed by good demand from neighbouring Japan and even Hongkong. China followed suit that in 2004, according to FAO, the two countries accounted for 80.6% of the world's cobia production.
 


Taiwan's production peaked at 4,000 to 5,000 tonnes in 2006 and 2007 before it began to slump in 2012, which saw many aqua farmers declaring bankruptcy.  


A number of factors caused the collapse of the industry. They included disease outbreaks caused largely by poor or no management systems at all, as well as the annual threat of typhoons.


Because of this threat, a FAO report said, some farmers located their grow-out systems in more enclosed, lower energy areas, at the expense of higher water flow and flushing rates. This increase in near-shore production resulted in more disease outbreaks, not to mention lower quality flesh from cobia raised in cage systems in more polluted areas.


Australia will have to learn from Taiwan's experience if it hopes to succeed where the former failed – although there is reason to believe Queensland fish farmers are aware of these pitfalls.


In the first place, the cobia's new superstar status in northern Australia's culinary scene didn't happen by accident.  It was a product of a carefully drawn strategy launched by the state government, with the cooperation of local seafood farmers, to promote cobia culture by creating demand for it.


It can't be expected to do less in the production aspect of its newfound industry.
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