Looking at Melbourne Polytechnic’s Epping campus from the street, it’s hard to imagine that one of the few aquaculture training centres in Australia resides on campus, hosting tanks full of Murray cod and silver perch behind the brick walls of Building D.
However, Melbourne Polytechnic’s Bachelor of Agriculture and Technology degree program (which features an Aquaculture major) boasts a modern commercial-scale and industry standard facility in Melbourne’s northern suburbs.
It’s here that the institute is training tomorrow’s professionals for Australia’s commercial seafood farming industry, which is still in its relative infancy. Ironically, aquaculture may also be one of the oldest industries in our country, with evidence that the Gunditjmara people of western Victoria farmed eels up to 8000 years ago in enclosures within ponds formed by ancient lava flows.
In today’s climate of concerns about food security and safety, aquaculture is a hot topic, with the ability to control the production of seafood products more important than ever.
“People like buying local products, even if the price point is higher,” says Andrew Christie, Melbourne Polytechnic Aquaculture lecturer for the Bachelor of Agriculture and Technology – Aquaculture. “Poor handling of farmed seafood products creates the potential for serious health impacts, and Australia’s Atlantic salmon industry, our most lucrative aquaculture industry, has comprehensively demonstrated that people are prepared to pay more for what they perceive to be a clean, green Aussie product.”
The challenge is to develop the processes and technologies used by the local industry so that the economies of running a seafood farming business become increasingly viable.
“Our students learn hands-on skills, researching solutions to real-life industry issues so that they can make an immediate impact upon graduating and entering the industry,” he said.
An example of this innovation is the work done by student Bryan Ko on improving the taste of Murray cod raised in captivity. Murray cod, a native of the warm waters of the Murray-Darling River system, can have an unpleasant ‘muddy’ undertone to the flesh, which reduces its palatability and makes it less competitive against imported freshwater fish, which typically have a reasonably delicate flavour.
“Bryan trialed various ‘purging’ durations to improve the flavour of the flesh, and we were pleased to see that it was very successful,” says Andrew. “The flavour of the fish was significantly improved after seven days of being placed in a separate system to the main aquaculture unit with clean water. At their worst, these fish can take on a taste and odour similar to potting mix, and are therefore just about unpalatable, but Bryan was able to confirm that within a week of being put aside in the separate system, the flesh reverts back to a delicate flavour.”
Andrew sees a lot of potential in developing this fish for both local and overseas markets.
“There is no reason that Murray cod cannot become far more commonplace in the diet of Australians, with its firm white flesh and large obvious bones. Our expatriate Asian communities are already tucking into it, and must be wondering what is taking us so long!” he says.
Students in the course learn about the full lifecycle of farming the Murray cod, from growing live feeds (including microalgae, which are fed to various species of zooplankton, which are then fed to the fish), to breeding the fish, rearing the juveniles and raising the fish, all the way through to preparing it correctly for sale and consumption.
“We’re the only institute that provides this training in metropolitan Melbourne,” says Andrew, “and our students have all been successful in gaining a diverse range of jobs in the industry throughout Victoria, interstate and overseas.
“As well as gaining roles in traditional seafood farming businesses, such as working with barramundi or on trout or salmon farms, our graduates are working in fields as diverse as the manufacture of biofuels from algae and sea cucumber research. We’re really proud to be training enthusiastic, highly skilled professionals for an industry that has massive potential for Australia.”
And according to Andrew, there’s so much more to do; with the industry being relatively young, there are an enormous number of potential subjects for student study and industry support.
To find out more about the Bachelor of Agriculture and Technology – Aquaculture degree program, please contact Andrew Christie, Lecturer, on 03 9269 1693 or via email: ua.ud1502991220e.cin1502991220hcety1502991220lopen1502991220ruobl1502991220em@sa1502991220a-hcw1502991220erdna1502991220
The degree is offered through Melbourne Polytechnic in partnership with La Trobe University.
Media enquiries should be directed to Melbourne Polytechnic Communications Officer, Anita Coia, on 03 9269 1251 or ua.ud1502991220e.cin1502991220hcety1502991220lopen1502991220ruobl1502991220em@sn1502991220oitac1502991220inumm1502991220oC1502991220
Melbourne Polytechnic (formerly NMIT) operates across five campuses and seven specialist training centres throughout Melbourne’s north and south east and Ararat. The institute delivers high quality vocational education in industry-standard facilities.
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Media enquiries should be directed to the NMIT Communications Officer, James Gardener.