A range of new Southern Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus maccoyii) products designed for Australians are hitting the market, allowing producers to diversify and improve the viability of the sector.
New products such as individually portioned saku blocks, cured tuna hearts and akami poke cubes are joining traditional cuts of Southern Bluefin Tuna (SBT) and a dedicated retail store in Adelaide are all part of the "master plan" to tempt more Australian SBT consumers.
These are initiatives from Kin Seafood, an exciting collaboration of three South Australian SBT producers, supported by FRDC-funded research (2020-109) to develop new products and find efficiencies to future-proof the SBT sector.
Australia’s marine ranched SBT has produced about 8000 tonnes of fish in recent years, 90 per cent of that has been sold to Japan. Producers are based in Port Lincoln where wild-caught fish are raised in oceanic pontoons for up to seven months. Fish are fattened by controlled feeding of locally caught Sardines to improve their condition and reach the size and quality preferred by Japanese buyers.
In addition to new products, the research identified that SBT for Australian markets could be harvested within three months rather than seven, delivering significant cost savings for producers.
Exploring new markets
In 2021, Kin Seafood approached FRDC with a project idea to research how to make the industry more money and profit, as well as to explore new markets both locally and overseas.
The two-year project began in May 2021 with the aim of reinvigorating the Southern Bluefin Tuna sector.
Dr Trent D’Antignana, a consultant and the director of Nutrisea, was the Principal Investigator on the project and worked alongside Kin Seafood.
“There’s been very little domestic sale of Southern Bluefin Tuna and over time the price set by Japan has declined, so the profitability of the fishery has become marginal,” explains Trent.
The project had four parts:
Developing alternative value-added SBT products for both domestic and international markets;
Undertaking a literature review on preservation and packaging options to increase the shelf life of products;
Investigating innovations in cold chain management; and
Evaluating optimal harvesting times with a farm trial and consumer taste testing.
The farm trial focused on whether a shorter ranching period would impact the quality attributes of SBT and consumer preferences.
Researchers from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (QDAF) and Kin Seafood conducted preference taste testing with two tuna cuts, akami and otoro, from SBT harvested after nine, 12 and 15 weeks of ranching.
The product quality evaluation looked at flesh colour, texture and fatty acids of SBT, and tried to determine if consumers could identify differences between the samples.
The results indicated the timing of the harvest had minimal impact on consumer preference for either the akami or otoro samples.
“That was a really important result because it tells us we can actually harvest them nine weeks after their capture,” Trent says.
The 15-week sample of otoro received the lowest score, but stress at harvest, which affects meat quality, was identified as a likely factor.
Shortening the production season significantly reduces costs including labour, cage operations and fish feed. Kin Seafood’s producers have already implemented early harvesting for the Australian market.
The retail store in Adelaide is also providing a new avenue to market test Australian consumer preferences of different cuts and portion sizes, as well as value-added products developed through the project, such as cured tuna hearts, carpaccio, poke bowls, sushi and tuna steaks.
Australia’s allocated catch of SBT is based on internationally set quotas and FRDC Senior Research Portfolio Manager Chris Izzo says this project aims to add more value to the local industry within that catch allocation.
“The project is positioning SBT as a premium seafood product, it’s now just making it available in formats like 100-to-300-gram portions, which are more appropriate for the Australian market,” says Chris.
While the project is now complete, FRDC will continue to fund research on the SBT ranching sector and Australia’s wild-catch tuna fisheries, to increase value in both the production process and product development.
FRDC Project 2020-109: Future proofing the Southern Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus maccoyii) Industry by developing new products for new markets