Aquaculture value chains in Northern Australia

Describing, analysing and comparing edible oyster supply chains in Australia

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Describing, analysing and comparing edible oyster supply chains in Australia

01 October 2020

Authors: Peggy Schrobback, John Rolfe (CQUniversity)

The black-lip oyster (BLO) has been identified as a tropical edible oyster species that could be cultivated on a commercial basis in Northern Australia (Queensland, Northern Territory, and Western Australia). This industry could generate employment, production diversification and economic growth for communities living in northern rural coastal regions of Australia. However, to
develop this industry a better understanding about the potential supply chain for this shellfish product is required. Since Australia produces several other oyster species on a commercial basis, information from the oyster supply chains of these industries can be useful in guiding the development of a supply network BLOs.

This study has three main aims. The first is to explore the development status of the BLO oyster supply chain. The second is to map and describe the supply and value chains of other edible oyster species which are currently produced in temperate regions of Australia (e.g., Sydney rock oyster, flat oyster) and to identify potential issues and opportunities associated with their supply
chains. The third aim is to synthesize findings from the first two aims and to derive  recommendations for the development of a tropical oyster industry and supply chain in Northern Australia. To collect information about the oyster supply chains a mixed method approach was used consisting of semi-structured interviews with supply chain stakeholders during October 2019 and February 2020  (prior to the COVID-19 crisis in Australia), a literature review and a web search for retail price information.

The scope of this study did not include an assessment of Australia’s Pacific oyster (PO) supply chain since this industry has been affected by the Pacific Oyster Mortality Syndrome (POMS), a disease which significantly impacted the industry’s production volume and supply chain network. Yet, in a different context, e.g., supply chain adaptation to supply shocks, an analysis
of the PO supply and value chain may provide stakeholders with useful insights.

The findings of the present study indicate that:
• the BLO supply chain is currently at a very early stage of its development with only small commercial volumes being produced in Queensland and by two indigenous communities in the Northern Territory;
• the market for this shellfish product is presently mainly local, with the product being supplied by farmers either directly to consumers and restaurants or to
processors/wholesalers which distribute to restaurants and fishmongers;
• a major limitation for any increase in the production volume of BLOs is the current lack of hatchery spat supply for this species, as wild spat, although abundant in tropical regions of Australia, appears to be difficult to catch;
• there are several other tropical oyster species present in northern Australia and a clear genetical identification is needed to differentiate these species from each other;
• the current shellfish quality assurance program for temperate oyster species needs to be amended to reflect seafood safety requirements for tropical oyster species; and
• there is limited information available about the potential domestic demand for this oyster species.

The assessment of the flat oyster (FO) supply and value chain suggests that this
supply network is more mature than the distribution network of BLOs. The FO can be considered as a niche product due to its distinct taste and low production volume. Although hatchery spat seems to be readily available for this species, the specific environmental and spatial conditions in which FOs thrive appear to limit any expansion of the production volume and subsequently in the production of this oyster species. 

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