Fresh and Flavourful

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-By Kristy Attard

“We want to be Australia’s biggest and largest aquaculture facility growing sustainable product for the Australian and the overseas market.” says Maria Mitris, the Operations Manager of her family’s business Pacific Reef Fisheries. Consumers can’t get enough of the exquisite flavour of Pacific Reef Black Tiger prawns, which like all farmed Australian prawns are antibiotic and hormone free. From the high tech hatchery at Guthalungra to the impressive farming operation at Ayr, Pacific Reef has total control of quality growing the tastiest, freshest prawns consumers love. Pacific Reef Fisheries is a family owned and funded business capable of farming a staggering 700 tonnes of Black Tiger prawns per year.

Today consumers want to know the origins of their food – how, where, when and by whom it was grown. The trend was sparked off by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s confronting Food Revolution series and the hugely popular MasterChef series. Aquaculture now represents 50% of total world’s fisheries production and it is a growing market. Although aquaculture has been around for 25-30 years in Australia, there still lingers an unfounded stigma about buying farmed prawns. It’s a grey zone, but the situation is starting to change with people beginning to ask questions and finding out the truth for themselves. Ms Mitris believes that by bringing Pacific Reef’s certified, tightly regulated processes to light, people can feel good about buying and enjoying farmed prawns. “I’m not sure why there’s such a stigma on farmed prawns, but I can tell you between a farmed product, a good quality farmed product that is, and a wild caught prawn, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.” After all, as the General Manager of Pacific Reef Alistair Dick reasons, all of the other foodstuffs consumers eat are farmed, so why not prawns? “When farming, in actual fact you do have more control on quality than wild caught…”

Pacific Reef Fisheries was bought in September 1998, as an established farm of about 20 ponds. Ms Mitris’ father Nick, who hails from a small village in Greece, bought the farm and ran it with the assistance of his family. Pacific Reef later expanded by five ponds and then another 50. Now the thriving business has another 30 hectares in the pipeline to extend the farm at Ayr to its full capacity which is 98 hectares. The Mitris family operates out of Melbourne, frequently travelling to Queensland, and is proud of the success they have had farming premium quality Black Tiger prawns.

Interestingly, the various markets within Australia have different prawn preferences. In Sydney customers like a bright red prawn while in Victoria consumers favour large green (raw) prawns. As the name suggests, Black Tiger prawns have striking black bands along their body which turn a vibrant red when cooked. With a succulent, firm flesh they are an extremely versatile, tasty addition in everything from salads to stir fries. Besides being tasty, Black Tiger prawns are also highly nutritious. They are low in saturated fat and high in protein, zinc and omega 3 fatty acids.

Customers can be assured that when they are purchasing Pacific Reef prawns they are making a great choice. Both Ms Mitris and Mr Dick can attest to the Australian aquaculture industry having the toughest environmental standards and best practices in the world. It’s a tightly regulated industry to the point where it daunts any newcomers, but produces only the finest farmed seafood. Pacific Reef is a part of AQIS (Australian Quality Inspection Service) and a proud member of the Australian Prawn Farmers Association. The business has SQF 2000 accreditation which is a quality accreditation required by Coles, one of the company’s main buyers. Audits are carried out regularly, ensuring that good food hygiene practices are being upheld. Pacific Reef is also a part of Safe Food Queensland and adheres to strict food safety jurisdiction and quality standards from all three levels of government.

Over the years Pacific Reef has been the recipient of awards for the fine quality and flavour of its prawns. Pacific Reef competes in the Sydney Royal Fine Food shows, having won gold, silver and bronze in its category. Ms Mitris has recently won the category for Young Achievers for Queensland Seafood Awards.

Pacific Reef was nominated to be a part of the Commonwealth bank Agribusiness advertising campaign. As a part of the campaign, Ms Mitris attended the Women in Focus conference up in Cable beach Broome. She was grateful for the opportunity and enjoyed speaking with other successful women in a range of industries all facing different business challenges and hurdles.

Pacific Reef’s $3 million hatchery supplies all the seed stock required each year. The hatchery is not located on the same site as the farm to minimise bio security risk. This is a part of good animal husbandry and helps prevent the transfer of bacteria. Strict quarantine and hygiene rules apply to workers inside the sleek, modern facility. At the beginning of each breeding season, around 200-300 pairs of broodstock are sourced from the waters around Darwin and Innisfail. Workers feed the larvae different live feeds which are cultured onsite. After about one month from spawning, the post larval prawns are transported up to the farm. There, 68 hectares of earthen ponds filled with pristine water drawn directly from the Coral Sea provide a grow out facility for the prawns.

From hatchery to harvest, farming and processing prawns is a labour intensive process. “If we’re not good to work for in this competitive environment people will go and work elsewhere.” Pacific Reef has a diverse, multicultural team ranging from bookkeepers and supervisors to mechanics and process workers. The processing season at Pacific Reef coincides with the end of the sugar cane crushing season. Locals are employed and then trained by an industry professional to process the prawns in accordance with HACCP and OHS principles. Having employees undergo these workshops ensures that Pacific Reef’s strict hygiene and safety standards are maintained. Pacific Reef has around six degree qualified marine biologists who overlook the prawns’ development and general health. Mr Dick is also a biologist and has been working at Pacific Reef for nearly four years. Ms Mitris identifies Mr Dick as “one of the key people at Pacific Reef” and credits him with progressing the company in a positive direction.

Success at Pacific Reef is measured by what Mr Dick refers to as the triple bottom line: financial, environmental, social. By the year 2013, Pacific Reef aims to be producing over 2,500 tonnes of prawns per year. To make this vision a reality the company has conditional approval to build a further 259 hectares of prawn ponds adjacent to the Elliot River, around 40 km north of Bowen.

Going forward, no broodstock will be sourced from the wild as Pacific Reef is developing a closed breeding program. Aquaculture is really the way forward in terms of sustainability. Mr Dick stresses that this has absolutely nothing to do with genetically modifying the prawns. Instead the fastest growing, largest males and females will be selected to breed the next season’s seed stock. This will reduce environmental impact greatly and give Pacific Reef total control of breeding and timing which is critical to meeting consumer demand.

In the future, Pacific Reef is likely to begin exporting to Asian markets, which prize Australian seafood. “The Japanese market dislikes salty prawns, so we can make our way into those markets because we can control things like salt content.” Meeting customer needs and getting customer satisfaction is a key focus at Pacific Reef. The high Australian dollar is putting off export for the moment but when conditions become favourable, the company is open to export. Pacific Reef can supply premium quality frozen products to markets all year long. Fisheries in China are now looking outside their supply chain for suppliers to feed their rapidly growing population. There is a huge opportunity for Australian fisheries to supply countries like China where food security is likely to become a pressing issue in the future. However Ms Mitris believes that the Australian market can take a lot more product and the company is nowhere near capacity with great potential for growth. The biggest challenge for Pacific Reef at the moment is one every company dreams about – being able to meet a massive demand for its product. There has been a positive progression for the company with demand for its fresh or frozen, raw or cooked prawns increasing from 700 tonnes last year to 800 tonnes this year.

Pacific Reef is looking into farming other species besides prawns and has ventured into farming fish. Pacific Reef is signed on with DEEDI, the Department of Employment and Economic Innovation to farm the Cobia. Although it’s still early stages yet, this is going to be an exciting progression for the company with interest already being shown from major supermarket chains.

Customers, forget the unfounded stigma about buying Australian farmed prawns. You can trust Pacific Reef to farm only the best Black Tiger prawns out there. Put them to the taste test and savour the fresh, clean flavours for yourself. The truth has never been so tasty!

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

November 21, 2018, 3:46 AM AEDT