Bribie Island Research Centre Key to Queensland’s Seafood Security

Bribie Island has always served as a strategic location for Queensland to guard Moreton Bay from danger and that continues today at the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) Research Centre at Woorim.

Many locals know the facility is on the island near the entrance of the 4WD track to Ocean Beach and just as many wonder what goes on beyond the entry gates.

The Bribie Island Research Centre (BIRC) was the first dedicated multi-functional aquaculture research facility to be built in Australia. The Centre plays a significant role in technological development and extension to the aquaculture industry in tropical and subtropical Queensland, as well as fisheries management and aquatic ecological research. Primary activities include:

  • Research and development into areas of significance to Queensland aquaculture;

  • Contract research and consultation for industry;

  • Research and development of native freshwater fisheries;

  • Encouraging development of local industries that support aquaculture;

  • Providing information on new and existing technologies to prospective aquaculturalists.

BIRC also has strong collaborative links with CSIRO and several universities (James Cook, Sunshine Coast and Queensland) as well as a number of industry partners e.g. Australian Prawn Farmers Association, utilising the site.

A cup of coffee with Senior Principal Scientist, Dr Paul Palmer reveals the importance of current research projects being undertaken at the facility and the fascinating work being done by his colleagues.

The current draft DAF Strategic Plan for the centre has three focus areas:

  1. Health and Biosecurity – looking at ways to manage aquaculture farms that produce much of our seafood in the face of diseases such as White Spot which has badly afflicted our prawn farming industry in southern Queensland.

  2. New Aquaculture Species – to develop commercially viable alternative species for farming which are not prone to these diseases to provide business flexibility and diversification options for farmers and food chains. Their focus is on species that are suited to pond aquaculture and represented historically in wild catch fisheries.

  3. Efficient Production Systems – including new innovations and a whole-of-farm approach to ecological health. This ties the range of specific projects together surrounding water treatment and waste management for cost effective and sustainable production systems.

This plan is due for release for industry comment over the coming months.

Saltwater Research

The research centre has been investigating the best methods of filtering pond water to exclude disease carrying organisms from culture systems. Current results suggest the optimum grade of filtration is around 40 to 50 microns (which is very fine at 0.04-0.05 mm). In addition, once the disease carrying vectors like zooplankton (e.g. larval prawns and crabs, copepods) are filtered out, the research focuses on what to replace it with in the water to rebalance the ecosystem. One approach recently investigated is to add cultured copepods which serve as a cost effective natural feed. DAF are looking to roll this innovation out to industry over the next few years.

The Queensland government maintains the research centre and both State and Federal funding is sourced to conduct the research. One important Commonwealth Government funding source is the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, who support research and development (R&D) in competitive funding grants. Industry partners in specific projects ensures there is industry impact from the R&D at BIRC.

These R&D partnerships are important to ensure the future and security of our seafood supply as the wild ocean catch is managed sustainably and getting close to its maximum production. As our nation grows we will need to feed our population, and for seafood aquaculture farms are the best way to do this.

Ocean cage farming is practiced overseas and in Australia’s southern states, however protection of the Great Barrier Reef has slowed these developments in Queensland, and aquaculture may be better developed in land-based ponds where culture systems and nutrient discharge can be better controlled and managed. Recently, several thousand hectares of suitable and available aquaculture land near Rockhampton and Gladstone has been identified for aquaculture developments, and it is anticipated that R&D at Bribie will help support these developments.

The research centre’s previous 10-year commitment to the development of the Black Kingfish or Cobia as a species for farming is now nearing completion. Fingerlings have been supplied to industry for several years and it is expected that full transfer of seed production technologies will be complete by mid-2021. Bribie has been the only cobia hatchery in Australia during this development work, and this has already resulted in an additional great eating fish alternative at some seafood outlets.

All of these projects have far reaching benefits to industry and to Australia in reducing our reliance on imported sea foods which in turn can result in disease if health standards and biosecurity in countries of origin are poor.

Freshwater Research

Another focus of the centre is to maximise the economic potential of recreational dam fishing areas by investigating the installation of artificial structures and fish attracting devices (FADs) in freshwater impoundment. Recent work in this area has been undertaken at:

  • Mt Morgan Dam near Rockhampton, where Barramundi and Sleepy Cod are the focus;

  • Kinchant Dam near Mackay, again for improved catches of Barramundi;

  • Cressbrook Dam near Toowoomba, where Cod and Golden and Silver Perch are the species caught.

Researchers have tagged fish with acoustic tags to monitor their movements in the dams and to see how much they use the artificial structures. Fisher surveys also assess patronage and catch rates to measure the economic benefits to the regions.

The Freshwater Team also recently completed a project that restocked Jungle Perch into areas where they have become extinct due to the placement of weirs which impede their movements from salt water (where they spawn). They also transferred fingerling production technologies to industry fish hatcheries to allow the commercial sector to continue this work.

Researchers also contribute to the Murray Darling River System fish management strategy by studying the status of fish stocks in these extensive freshwater habitats. Fish stocks in these inland river systems can be heavily impacted by rainfall events where moderate amounts of runoff can cause black water events and losses of fish life following the associated natural deoxygenation of river. It appears that such fish kills in rivers can be natural events that make way for the young of the species, but there is much more to learn about these systems to enable effective management.

An example of how the research centre helps industry manage these factors is advice on the effective filtering of cotton growing irrigation off-take pipes to prevent baby fish being sucked up into pumps in the South West of the state.

The State Government’s investment in Bribie Island in establishing and improving this facility is large and includes a variety of specialised plant and equipment at Woorim including filtration, reticulation and culture systems such as:

  • Extensive high quality seawater supply, filtration and aeration systems;

  • Specialist freshwater and seawater recirculation systems;

  • Specific electric and gas seawater heating systems;

  • Portable recirculation systems allowing re-use of both seawater and freshwater;

  • And a range of large scale ponds and tanks such as replicated, bird-netted and covered in-ground ponds, and a large number and variety of above ground tanks for holding and carrying out experiments with live marine organisms.

This equipment and the staff who operate it support this important work which will continue into the future to ensure our food chain security and reduce our dependence on imported seafood.

Local fisherman Michael Savige who is also a qualified Marine Scientist is one person who understands the value of this work in creating and maintaining our fishing industry. Michael has provided stock of Mullet and Whiting to the research centre over the years and is happy to work with the team of professional researchers on the island.

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