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BARRA: Josh Goldman says Australis\' Vietnam operations will complement the US production hub. Photo: Courtesy Australis.

Australis grows barra business

Perth-based barramundi producer Australis Aquaculture has started stocking its Vietnam production operations with 230,000 barramundi fingerlings, just weeks after securing approvals to operate in the region.

After 12 months of negotiations, on June 17 Australis received official approval from the Vietnamese government for an investment licence and a 200-hectare marine lease to establish a wholly owned subsidiary that will develop integrated barramundi production, processing and sourcing operations.

Under the operation, Australis will generate an additional 150 tonnes of fish to be sold to market within a year. An ongoing program will stock additional batches of fingerlings during the next 12 months to build an inventory exceeding 1 million fish, about the equivalent of its current US stocking levels.

Over several years, Australis' Vietnam operation will increase output to 10,000t, 10 times that of the US facility.

"The initiative to establish a large-scale production base in Vietnam is a major element in the company's strategy to diversify its base of supply in support of its expanding sales and distribution activities," Australis managing director Josh Goldman said.

Australis operates its main production facility at Turners Falls, Massachusetts, in the US, about three hours from New York.

The facility produces 1,000t of barramundi each year.

Mr Goldman said the Vietnam operation would complement the US production hub and its proprietary third-party sourcing network, which began last year.

"This broad and diversified supply strategy will enable the company to rapidly increase availability of fresh and frozen barramundi to its expanding sales channels," he said.

Chairman Ian Mitton said Australis planned to increase its total production capacity to 16,000t of barramundi each year within the next five years.

"By establishing ourselves in Vietnam, we are ensuring that we have enough production to support our sales objectives over that period," Mr Mitton said.

The company, which listed on the Australian Securities Exchange in August 2004, currently generates about $16 million in annual sales worldwide.

Mr Mitton said Australis's objective was to increase that figure to $100 million by 2013.

He said Vietnam was selected as a production site due to the low start-up and production costs and its favourable marine environment, which ensured rapid fish growth and a high-quality product.

The process in Vietnam is different to that employed in the indoor facility in the US.

In the US operation, fish move progressively from the hatchery through a large number of tanks, reaching their optimum size of about 1 kilogram in a year.

"In Vietnam, the fish leave the hatchery for adjacent marine grow-out ponds, where they remain until they are transferred to a large number of polar circles located in an offshore marine environment. The pristine water conditions and high water temperatures ensure rapid growth and a consistent quality product,'' Mr Mitton said.

Most of the fish produced by Australis in Vietnam will be sold frozen, with some sold fresh to markets in South-East Asia.

"The US-based operation is the largest recirculating barramundi facility in the world," Mr Mitton said.

"It is a strictly controlled sophisticated system that ensures constant volumes of high-quality product."

Unlike in Vietnam, the US operation has a world-class processing facility and sells fresh produce which is whole round, meaning the barramundi is headless and is gutted or filleted, then vacuum-packed for sale.

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