Scholarships reveal new shellfish opportunities

By Catherine Norwood

Enterprising young oyster farmer Ewan McAsh has returned from the first part of his FRDC-sponsored Nuffield Scholarship travels with plans for the development of his family’s business, including exports to Asia and diversifying production.

He says the demand for shellfish in Asian markets is huge, and Australian growers could do more to capitalise on this if they could increase production to achieve the necessary critical mass.

Ewan McAsh

Ewan McAsh produces Sydney Rock Oysters on a 22-hectare lease on the Clyde River estuary, on the southern NSW coast, with his father, Kevin.

“We have much better water quality than so many other parts of the world and we have many hectares of under-used lease areas,” he says of the NSW oyster industry in general.

“There is a market out there for any volume of oysters we can grow. We are really not operating at our full potential. We also need to see ourselves not as oyster farmers, but as shellfish producers.

“Travelling, I have seen how important it is to diversify production so that you’re not wiped out by a disease or a market collapse. We might be making money out of oysters at the moment, but we need to be prepared with other species to fill the gaps, instead of relying on a monoculture.”

McAsh Oysters produces about 50,000 dozen Sydney Rock Oysters a year and is expanding to produce 150,000 dozen. Ewan McAsh says he is looking to diversify production.

“There have been trials of other native shellfish for NSW, including blood cockles and pipis, but there have been no commercial trials. That’s something that really needs to happen,” he says.

He has already begun to incorporate the findings from his travels into a draft strategic plan for shellfish production in NSW, which is being prepared in conjunction with the NSW Farmers Association’s oyster committee. “The aim is to triple the state’s shellfish production and create a profitable and resilient industry,” he says.

Having visited Hong Kong and China, and seafood expos in Belgium and Spain, Ewan McAsh is planning to visit France, Ireland, the US and Cuba during the remaining four weeks of his travel. He expects to finish his report for Nuffield Australia by September 2013.

Other recent FRDC-sponsored scholars include Rhys Arangio, also in 2012 (see 'Scholar seeks strategies to keep whales at bay'), and Clint Scharfe, in 2011.

Clint Scharfe, a self-employed prawn fisher from Port Lincoln in South Australia, focused his research on new technologies that could be used in the South Australian prawn industry. He also looked at management practices that might be adapted to improve the performance of the Spencer Gulf Prawn Fishery and prawn fisheries in Australia generally, and at how product differentiation could improve prawn prices.

Clint Scharfe

During his study tour he visited Norway, Japan, the US and the UK, drawing on the advanced food processing and fishing technologies of these nations. Clint Scharfe’s final report is expected to be published in 2013. A presentation of his findings, made during the Nuffield national spring tour in October 2012, can be viewed online.

Applications for 2014 Nuffield Scholarships will open on 1 April and close on 30 June 2013.

The scholarships provide those in the agricultural and fishery industries with an opportunity to travel overseas to conduct research related to primary production. It is a 16-week program consisting of group and individual travel. The objective is to increase primary production knowledge, management skills and techniques generally.

Nuffield Scholarships provide an opportunity to study primary production practices around the world. They also promote closer understanding of producers in the countries visited. Applicants do
not need to meet a specific standard of academic qualification.

The scholarships are open to men and women between 28 and 40 years of age who are engaged in farming or fishing, either as an owner, manager or active member of a farming business. The scholar must also intend to remain involved in primary production in Australia.

FRDC Research Code: 2007-315

More information

Ewan McAsh, ewan@mcashoysters.com

Clint Scharfe, clint.scharfe@gmail.com

Nuffield Australia