Generational innovation

1440 1080 In Good Company | Northern Rivers

Australian Bay Lobster Producers

9484 Tweed Valley Way, Chinderah

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Generational innovation  

Thenus australiensis. Moreton Bay bugs. The Bay Lobster. Whatever nomenclature you want to use, there is no doubt that these crustaceans are a much-loved staple of Australian seafood menus. And Australian Bay Lobster Producers (ABLP), based near Chinderah, are at the forefront of ensuring production of this delicacy is sustainable, responsible, innovative and importantly, fulfils demand. 

ABLP’s strong focus on sustainability is behind the company’s cutting-edge approach to land-based aquaculture biotechnology. And what exactly, you might ask, is that?

“There are a few different types of common aquaculture operations in Australia,” says James Dalton, ABLP manager. “There’s offshore cage aquaculture and onshore ponds, for example, and generally they are open and exposed to the environment.

“We are vastly different in that we’re completely indoors and climate controlled. We use a recirculation aquaculture system, which means that we can reuse as much water as possible by filtering it between our different production areas.”

The story of ABLP’s innovation began in 1994, when James’s father Michael launched the project. Back then, the business was more committed to research and development than the sale of products. 

Things are different now. ABLP operates out of a 45-hectare site that will be equipped to produce up to 100kg per day, or 2,000 soft-shell Bay Lobsters, in addition to maintaining a wild caught Bay Lobster operation. The company employs over 50 people.

“The business was founded on the idea that wild resources are limited,” says James. “Michael had been running a business supported by wild fishing, but he had the foresight to develop something on land that was protected from negative externalities. We have such a focus on sustainability – we’re not 100 per cent there yet, and we’re transparent about that, but it’s something we’re working towards.”

This year (2022) is shaping up to be one of the most important years in ABLP’s illustrious history. The company has started construction of a seawater intake pipeline that will channel fresh seawater from a pipeline offshore from Kingscliff Beach to the ABLP site. James describes the project as “a major milestone that is progressing well”.

“The pipeline will create a large number of jobs for the area and we have a mandate to support local suppliers”

The idea behind the pipeline is primarily to solve the problem of a lack of enough fresh, clean seawater for the company’s operations. 

“Just getting to the point where we were allowed to start digging was very difficult,” says James. “But we’re really excited to have started it. Now it’s all about getting it completed, but infrastructure that big is probably going to bring some new challenges as well.

“We undertook a lot of community engagement in the lead-up to the pipeline and it was received quite well. It’s going to create a large number of jobs for the area and we have a mandate to support local suppliers.”

The pipeline, which is set to be finished in the second half of 2022, represents a bright new dawn for ABLP after a COVID-effected couple of years. The company had strong ambitions to expand into international exports, but this idea was swiftly shut down in the wake of the pandemic, due to restrictions and the spiraling cost of freight. But when one door closed another opened. 

“We completely refocused on the domestic and local market – on restaurants, as well as adding a direct-to-consumer online platform, selling products to people’s homes, which was initially never on the cards.”

Another string to ABLP’s bow is that it has a number of important partnerships underway, including a research relationship with Griffith University for artificial intelligence and robotics, and one with the University of NSW that focuses on microbiology. The business is truly at the vanguard of innovation in its field. 

“ABLP has created and refined a world-first method of rearing Bay Lobster in a commercial aquaculture facility, and created new proprietary biotechnology that can be applied to next generation of food production and waste disposal,” James says. 

“We’re looking forward to the next chapter in our history.”

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