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Aquaculture boom at our fingertips: study

Utilising existing artificial fertilisation technologies could be the key to unlocking a supercharged aquaculture market, researchers at James Cook University say.

As wild-caught fish production has dropped since the 1980s and the world transitions to sustainable aquaculture techniques, adapting existing insemination practices is the next step.

“The industry is booming and aquaculture is already taken over wild caught fisheries in terms of productivity,” Professor Damien Paris told AAP.

“No longer are we just hunter-gathering our seafood, we’re actually growing it ourselves and these technologies help improve that efficiency even further.”

JCU’s research has identified three tools already in existing export markets to capitalise on an industry responsible for global seafood at 82 million tonnes per year, worth more than $US250 billion ($A357 billion).

Prof Paris says a good set of fertility tools, semen freezing and storage, plus artificial insemination are imperative to getting an advantage in the market.

(Artificial insemination) is a technique that can take frozen sperm and you can re-inseminate females and reintroduce genes back into the population,” he said.

“Those sort of techniques are really important for things like increasing genetic diversity if you’ve got a genetically reduced a broodstock.

“A lot of these tools are already in existence. The only difference is that they’ve never probably been adapted to aquaculture species before.

“Certainly, this is widespread in the cattle industry, in the horse industry, and the pig industry as well.”

Some sperm in prawns can be frozen for up to 50 years, he said, with other crustaceans, fish and wildlife also highlighted for use in these practices.

By freezing sperm en masse, worldwide trade and distribution coupled with artificial fertilisation, can reinject important genes back into populations to improve disease resistance.

Importantly, it can also increase genetic diversity from wild-caught founding stock, or accelerate selective breeding of superior broodstock.

With an abundance of species in our front yard, Prof Paris says it’s time for the national aquaculture market to capitalise.

“It will really change the way agriculture operators approach the industry,” he said.

“With these banks of sperm basically what you create is a market where people can actually trade and sell and distribute sperm globally.

“Advanced fertility monitoring tools and assisted breeding technologies are needed if Australian farms are going to remain competitive in the rapidly changing aquaculture sector.”

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