Over the last eight years, a research and development team at the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) has taken Cobia from a wild fish with recognised aquaculture potential to an award-winning new seafood served in high-end Australian restaurants and Qantas business class.
Cobia is a fast-growing, saltwater fin fish that reaches a harvest weight of about five to seven kilograms in one year. It has a firm, flaked, sweet flesh with a high fat content, perfect for both sashimi and cooking.
The initial idea was to develop a species to farm in land-based prawn ponds between prawn crops. However, after considerable research to breed and grow Cobia in a farmed environment, it was decided that a longer production time could deliver a high-quality product. Cobia was not the short-term opportunistic crop that researchers intended.
The research program was a genuine multi-disciplinary partnership between different research groups within DAF, the university sector and private industry. To develop the new product, the team had to solve key questions at every stage in the supply chain:
- optimum breeding techniques
- diet formulation for various growth stages
- stocking densities
- harvest strategies
- transport and packaging systems
- food preparation and consumer taste testing
From the outset DAF worked closely with the University of the Sunshine Coast, feed manufacturer Ridley Aquafeeds, and industry partner Pacific Reef Fisheries to ensure the research was focussed on solving and applying production issues. A local food technology company developed a packaging systems to maximise the freshness of the product in the marketplace.
Taking this fish to market
The team used a consumer taste panel to assess consumer acceptance and preference for Cobia against Atlantic salmon, yellowtail kingfish and barramundi. Pacific Reef Fisheries worked with leading chefs to develop Cobia recipes for use in high-end restaurants.
Queensland is now producing 100 tonnes per year of high-quality farmed fresh Cobia. It has overtaken wild caught Cobia (40 tonnes per year) and is competing successfully with 200 tonnes of imported product (mostly produced in sea-cage production systems).
Pacific Reef Fisheries was awarded the prestigious silver heritage President’s Medal by The Royal Agricultural Society of NSW for their Sashimi Grade Pacific Reef North Queensland Cobia in July 2015. They also won both a Gold medal and the Champion Fresh Fish for its Sashimi Grade Pacific Reef North Queensland Cobia at the Sydney Royal Summer Fine Food Show in February 2015.