A UNIQUE Australian prawn fishery is using its reputation for sustainable practices and high quality to break into export markets.
The South Australian Prawn Co-operative was formed in 2011 by a core group of about 15 fishermen in Port Lincoln who wanted stable prices and the advantages of working together as a collective.
“The prawn fishermen wanted to take a bit more control of their own destiny,” SA Prawn Co-operative CEO Terry Richardson said.
The co-operative catches an average of about 700 tonnes of Western King prawns a year in Spencer Gulf, about 200km west of the South Australian capital Adelaide.
Of these, some 10 per cent are exported through distributors to high-end restaurants and retailers in Europe and five per cent to Hong Kong, Singapore and China.
Richardson said the co-operative aimed to further expand into Asia and reach 20 per cent by the end of the year with a long-term export goal of up to half the catch.
“Because of the price point of our prawns and the logistics of getting things over there it has to be targeted to the top end of the market,” he said.
The Western or Spencer Gulf King Prawns are proving popular in Northwest European countries including France, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Denmark and Belgium.
The Spencer Gulf King Prawn fishery received the prestigious Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification in 2012. It is the first prawn fishery in the Asia Pacific, and the first king prawn fishery in the world to gain the certification for sustainability.
Richardson said cooler the waters of Spencer Gulf, the limited number of prawn licences, the large size of the prawns and absence of other species made it an ideal fishery.
“It’s a single species prawn fishery and that’s unique in Australia – most other prawn fishing areas catch Tiger Prawn with King Prawn with Banana Prawn.
“There’s only 39 licenses in the whole gulf and no more will be issued. It’s almost a self-managed fishery and that’s done so for sustainability.
“We’re also located in colder water, which tends to provide a sweetness of flavour - it’s an absolute premium of a prawn for flavour, texture and look.”
The SA Prawn Co-op won a South Australian Food Industry Award in 2015.
Richardson said Australian seafood has a strong reputation internationally for quality and freshness.
He said the Marine Stewardship Council certification for Spencer Gulf was also an important selling point.
“In most of our marketplaces in Europe we would not have even got a look in if the fishery was not MSC certified,” Richardson said.
“The sustainability size is starting to enter into their thinking as well. In five-star restaurants in Asia they are starting to adopt policies where they will only use sustainable seafood so it’s becoming more important.”
The Marine Stewardship Council is an international non-profit organisation established to address the problem of unsustainable fishing and safeguard seafood supplies for the future.
The MSC certification recognises the fishery’s first-rate management practices, which include effort restrictions, closed fishing periods, closed areas and harvest strategies to regulate the total catch.
The Spencer Gulf prawn trawling season runs from March to June and also includes a two-month period in November and December.