A review of projects concerned with improved exploitation of underutilised species
Dr Leonard Stephens
The potential use of underutilised species has been identified as a means of increasing the productivity and profitability of some fishing sectors, as such, jurisdictions continue to prioritise research that explores the viability of underutilised species as seafood and/or receives applications of this nature. While the prospect of using fish that are readily available is attractive, there are likely to be numerous reasons why the fish are not currently exploited commercially. These reasons may be related to fishing processes, regulation, market perceptions, quality and supply chain arrangements. Before investing additional funds in projects of this nature, FRDC requires an evaluation of past projects to determine the factors behind their success or failure. This analysis will then provide the basis for a decision matrix that can be used by project applicants and FRDC staff to design future projects. It is not clear why there is a low market demand for seafood products derived form underutilized species. It is likely that provision of low cost, attractive seafood would create significant consumer interest, as has happened with basa. But it is unknown why the supply chain has not responded to this opportunity. More information about seafood demand is required from the seafood trading companies. If a significant change to the emphasis of these projects is proposed by FRDC as a result of this study, a workshop will be needed to inform and consult with key stakeholders about the proposed changes.
1. Provision of a collated summary of all underutilized species projects supported by FRDC, and an analysis of lessons learned from each project.
2. Provision of a check list of success criteria to be used as guidance for future applicants in preparing projects concerned with underutilized species and by FRDC in evaluating them.
3. Identification of commercial factors and fisheries managememt policy concepts that might influence future supply and demand of underutilized species in Australia.
Catching unwanted fish species is an unavoidable consequence of commercial fishing. Some of this fish is bought from fishers at very low prices and used for low value products but the bulk of it is discarded at sea.
Many improvements have been made to fishing gear to reduce fishing bycatch, however there are still large volumes of underutilised species caught. Apart from some niche products, little of this product that is landed reaches wholesale and retail food markets because there is lack of demand for it, further complicated by failures in the supply chain. Most of the landed product is diverted to pet food, bait, and rendering for fish meal and oil. This study was commissioned by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation to investigate the factors that influence supply and demand of underutilised species. This project also sought to make recommendations on how FRDC might support future research on this subject.
The study was conducted in two parts:
1. The first part involved a review of previous and current FRDC projects focusing on developing commercial opportunities for underutilised species. This component was undertaken to assist FRDC and researchers in the design and execution of projects aiming to improve exploitation of underutilized species.
2. The second part involved interviewing operators at all levels of the supply chain and Principal Investigators of past and current FRDC projects to better understand the potentially competing objectives of public policies aimed at minimizing fish discards and commercial drivers that limit the harvest of underutilized species.