Millions of tonnes of fish waste is produced by processors every year. In general, only the fillets are retained and the bulk - some 60 per cent - of the product is discarded, often at a cost to the processor and ending up as little more than landfill.
Within South Eastern Australia's seafood industry alone, well over 20,000 tonnes of fish product waste is produced each year.
However this practice is coming under increased scrutiny due to environmental concerns and is becoming an increasing cost burden for the whole industry. Processors are being squeezed by retailers, and are looking at how best to achieve cost efficiencies within the supply chain.
As a result, the seafood processing industry has decided to take action in a bid to increase efficiency and cut out waste. A group of key stakeholders in the seafood industry have formed Australian Seafood (ASCo), whose aim is to add value to the seafood supply chain through the sustainable utilisation of fish and fish co-products that are not traditionally utilised or marketed.
First of all, the association considered a range of options for the utilisation of seafood waste, and decided that processing the waste into organic fertiliser was the most suitable option. ASCo then went into partnership with Sieber, a New Zealand fertiliser company with proven fertiliser technology, technical backup, and partnerships with other established fertiliser companies and the agricultural industry.
With all this now in place, the association is confident that its strategy of recycling fish waste into fertiliser is not only workable, but also highly attractive to fish processors. A feasibility study into the installation of a fish silage processing plant at Sydney Fish Market has just been completed, and found that the concept was attractive from both an environmental and financial point of view.
The concept also complied with stringent waste disposal regulations currently being implemented. And under almost all scenarios, the report found that the installation and operation of a fish silage plant provided a sound annual pre-tax return on investment.
Major risk to the viability and safety of the project were considered to be low and manageable.
In addition, biological farming is a rapidly growing sector of Australian agriculture, which promotes environmental responsibility and sustainable farming practices. The ASCo network company and the joint venture company with Sieber (ASCoF), therefore also have a ready market for its solid phosphate-based fertiliser product, called BioPhos.
Trials have also been carried out to examine the efficacy of BioPhos. ASCo claims that all the trials conducted to date in Australia have had positive results, and suggest that the product will have commercial application in both irrigated and dryland Australian farming situations.
BioPhos has a range of competitive strengths, including strong price competitiveness (compared to superphosphate) cost-effective concentrations of phosphorous, organic certification and environmental sustainability and beneficial soil microbial action.
Commercial trials and market feasibility studies are now being conducted by the joint venture team.
It seems that the Australian Seafood concept is well in tune with current food production concerns - waste disposal, environmental responsibility and supply chain efficiency. For this reason, the ASCo model has applications not just in Australia, but also across the globe.