The company currently produces black tiger prawns (Peneus monodon) and banana shrimp (Fenneropenaeus merguiensis) at three sites in Queensland. However, the sites are “primarily intended to demonstrate the fundamental operating concepts for Project Sea Dragon [a $1.4 billion project which aims to cultivate shrimp across 10,000 hectares of the Northern Territory and Western Australia] and provide the platform for the core of the workforce required for the much larger greenfield project,” the company explains in its latest report.
The Queensland operations take place at Flying Fish Point (commercial hatchery), Cardwell (Farms 1 & 2 and processing plant) and Ingham (Farm 3). Total production for the year was 1,366 tonnes, down from 1,770 tonnes the previous year. Black tiger prawns constituted 88 percent of production, while banana prawns – which are produced to provide fresh product throughout the year during seasonal periods when cooler temperatures do not favour black tiger prawn production – make up the remainder.
The first half of the year was impacted by lower growing temperatures and adjustments to the stocking schedule, while the second half was broadly in line with expectations taking into account two adjustments made late in the third quarter.
“First, with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, a decision was taken to not stock some ponds for banana prawn production across winter. Second, part of the second-half year crop was held over into the current financial year in order to accelerate product acceptance in Europe,” states the report.
“Production at Farm 3 was in line with expectations. The biological metrics on Farm 3 continue to demonstrate the feasibility of achieving key assumptions for Project Sea Dragon,” it adds.
In order to step up biosecurity the company decided to invest in the construction of incoming water settlement ponds at its first two farms. Nine production ponds, totalling 11 hectares across both farms, were converted to settlement ponds.
“This infrastructure upgrade is intended to improve on-farm water quality and reduce biosecurity risk. While grow out pond area has been decreased it is expected that the long-term sustainable profit of the farms will improve through improved animal health,” the company reports.
The company has now produced the third generation of prawns within its specific pathogen-free (SPF) programme, and is now poised to stock these in any new sites it constructs.
“The experience being gained on the east coast reinforces the benefits of the SPF strategy for Project Sea Dragon. At Bynoe Harbour all planned early works were completed prior to the commencement of the Wet Season. The site has been fenced, land cleared and access roads upgraded. The raw seawater settlement ponds and the outlet ponds were constructed, lined and fenced. The site is ready for construction which will commence upon financing. Environmental and regulatory requirements were maintained however, minimal activity took place at Legune with the company pausing some minor activities as a result of border controls being implemented,” the report states.
The first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in Australia had a substantial impact on Easter sales. However, the board determined that the company should hedge against reduced domestic demand by not stocking some ponds for banana prawns in the second half of the year. This decision reduced total production by 42 tonnes.
“Given the highly unpredictable nature of the course of this pandemic it remains necessary to be able to retain as much flexibility in relation to production as practicable. The successful second half year crop means that the company is confident it can supply into the Christmas period,” the report states.
“Project Sea Dragon continued to progress despite the pandemic. Nonetheless on-ground adjustments were required. Border restrictions and control meant that unless full financing was achieved the logistics at Legune meant that mobilising to site to undertake relatively minor or early works would be inefficient. Covid-19 management plans enabling effective construction at the various sites have been drafted. The plans can be amended to incorporate the government requirements. They are intended to be lodged proximate to project finance being in place. The timing for financing remains the material factor in the construction schedule,” it adds.