Wednesday, April 22, 2015

22/04/2015: "Preston positive despite restructure"

Dr Nigel Preston is the Research Program Director for Aquaculture, one of eight new programs in the recently created Agriculture Flagship in the Australian Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). 
The restructure of CSIRO and formation of the Agriculture Flagship followed a reduction of Aus$111 million to CSIRO in the May 2014 federal budget, with significant reduction in science and support staff.  

Dr Preston acknowledges that it is always difficult to meet the challenges of funding cuts, especially the departure of close colleagues, however, he and his research team are determined to focus on responding to the increasing national and international demand for aquaculture research and development. 

His research experience includes; marine biology, marine ecology, environmental management of aquaculture and the development and application of advanced genetics and nutrition technologies in aquaculture.

He is an acknowledged world authority in aquaculture and has contributed to the sustainable growth of aquaculture industries in Australia and overseas. His proficiency in assembling multidisciplinary research teams to tackle key research issues has been invaluable in developing CSIRO’s research portfolio and delivering realised impacts to industry.

The program
The CSIRO Aquaculture Research Program covers a large area within Australia, from tropical aquaculture in the north to temperate aquaculture in the south. 

The program has also established collaborative research partnerships in many other countries. 

The goal of the Program is to transform the productivity, profitability and sustainability of Australian and global aquaculture industries via whole of system collaborative research. The Program integrates capabilities in applied selective breeding and quantitative genetics, molecular genetics bioinformatics and genomics virology and immunology, physiology and biology, nutrition, nutrigenomics, feed technologies, microbiology, organic chemistry, sensor based technology and decision support systems. 

At the World Aquaculture meeting in Adelaide in June 2014, Dr Preston was honoured by the World Aquaculture Society and made a Fellow of the Society. Matt West, President of the Australian Prawn Farmers Association (APFA) said that making Dr Preston a Fellow of such an important body is a well-deserved honour in recognition of his contributions to Australian and global aquaculture over the last 25 years. 

"Nigel has been at the forefront of driving Australia's aquaculture industry and his decades of research work have encompassed most aspects of the industry from water quality to selecting broodstock. However the success of recent commercial trials of the new fish-meal-free feeds for farmed prawns, the result of a Aus$10 million CSIRO research program headed by Nigel is a standout achievement.”

Nigel is rightly proud of leading the CSIRO team that created the Novacq prawn feed additive. The research was a truly multidisciplinary team effort. 

Dr Brett Glencross turbo-charged the research with his comprehensive knowledge and experience of feed technologies and nutrition. Stuart Arnold and Simon Irvin played critical roles in testing the technology in China and Vietnam. Andrew Chalmers skillfully negotiated all aspects of commercialising the Novacq technology. Every other member of the team has also contributed to the success of Novacq.

After 10 years of research, the CSIRO team delivered the Novacq technology.
Prawns (shrimp) fed with Novacq grow on average 20-30 percent faster, are healthier and can be produced with no fish products in their diet, a world-first achievement in sustainability. 

Major global breakthrough
Matt West considers that this achievement by Nigel’s Program in Australia is a major global breakthrough in the prawn aquafeed industry – something which is viewed by the APFA as "a game changer” that will deliver direct benefits to the industry. 

"This means that Australian prawn aquaculture; already a world leader in sustainability and environmental management, is now set to become even better, and really solidifies aquaculture as a sustainable source of protein to help meet the ever growing demand for food."

"When we are talking about relieving pressure on our ocean stocks of fish, every little bit helps. Novacq will mean that the prawn farming industry could potentially no longer be reliant on wild-caught fishery products," Dr Preston said.

Novacq is an entirely natural food source based on the smallest organisms in the marine environment, the marine microbes which are the foundation of the marine food pyramid. Working on understanding the natural marine microbial processes that occur in prawn farm ponds and natural marine estuaries, and the role of microbes in prawn nutrition also won the CSIRO team the prize for the Environment, Agriculture and Food category in The Australian Innovation Challenge in 2014.

Natural extension

Nigel sees his work as Research Director of CSIRO’s Aquaculture Program as a natural extension of his career in science research and management, with new challenges in critical thinking and nurturing partnerships that deliver practical outcomes for aquaculture.
Research and industry partnerships have proven vital to Dr Preston's research in domesticating the Black (Giant) Tiger Prawn (Penaeus monodon) in close collaboration with industry organisations Gold Coast Marine Aquaculture, Australian Prawn Farms and Pacific Reef Fisheries, is relieving the dependency of Australian prawn farmers on wild broodstock.

Subsequent genetic improvements made through selective breeding have improved reproductive performance by 200 percent and doubled the harvest yields of domesticated farmed prawns. 

Australia is a minor player in the global business of prawn production, accounting for around 4500 of the three million tonnes produced annually. The country is a net importer of seafood (and prawns) but, looking at the bigger picture, Preston realises a rising global population and greater demand than ever for protein that can be produced sustainably, seafood is growing in importance.

“Although the Australian aquaculture industry is small by global standards it has an excellent reputation for sustainably producing high quality seafood. There is growing awareness the opportunity for a step-change in the sustainable growth of Australian aquaculture and to respond to the increasing global demand for advanced aquaculture knowledge and technology.” 

Novel technology

The success of Novacq has highlighted the opportunity for the development of novel Australian aquaculture technology and products for global markets. In responding to this opportunity it will be important to work with effective commercialisation partners. 

An excellent example is Ridley Agri-Products, the Australian licensee for Novacq, who have already enhanced the efficiency and effectiveness of the technology for Australian and global markets. Likewise, the commercialisation partners in Vietnam, China and other major prawn farming countries are helping to obtain maximum market penetration via exclusive licenses.   

Preston says “The CSIRO Aquaculture Program is currently working a portfolio of new technologies to further enhance advances in; applied selective breeding technology, reducing the impacts of disease, relieving the pressure on wild harvest fisheries and sustainably enhancing production efficiency.“

The business model that CSIRO operates in today is so very different to the old days when they were solely financed by the Australian Government. 

Commentators have highlighted that prior to the latest cut-backs the CSIRO operated under a matrix management system that is overly complex. They claim it is more or less bound to maximise both the scale of the management process and the number of its management personnel and its major characteristic is a diffusion of the lines of responsibility. 

There are multiple reporting avenues that vastly increase the time a scientist spends on bureaucracy rather than research. Whilst governance is essential much of the paperwork shuffling is not necessarily conducive to good and original research an adds to the cost burdens.

The operation of the matrix system with its inputs and outputs and themes and streams and flagships and business units and the like would be a nightmare to the CSIRO’s staff, let alone to potential clients that have to deal with and negotiate with the organisation.

Changing finance causes comments
The changing financial environment caused comments from financial media who raised the issue some time ago that CSIRO is no longer as independent and unbiased as it once was due to it having to obtain external funding and suggesting that its advice might be compromised. 

Conflicts, however, are not necessary an issue as long as there is good transparency.
Whilst Australia still has good intellectual capability in its aquaculture research area the finance streams for industry to connect with are becoming drought like and when funding is available the paper war that ensues can be overly costly. 

Many industry operators have indicated frustration as they say that Fisheries Research & Development Corporation (FRDC), a co-funded partnership between the Australian Government and the fishing industry (commercial wild catch, aquaculture, recreational and indigenous) program is also locked down in bureaucracy and when you add the criticism mentioned above regarding CSIRO it has become very difficult for small business to get direct access to the needed expertise. 

Another major complaint from business has been the overall aversion to risk.

Added to all this negativity there has been a feeling in university circles that the very presence of the CSIRO was cutting them out of their natural constituency of pure research and that FRDC are controlling who is awarded the funding for various research projects.

CRC falls short on vital role outcomes

Furthermore, The Australian Seafood Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) which started in 2007 is in its last months of existence. According to documents from the Australian Government’s Senate Legislation Committee this CRC aimed to play a vital role in the seafood industry by developing technologies to improve productivity and quality in the high-end of the market, and delivering improvement the entire value-chain.

Based on the planned seven year investment of Aus$160 million which included significant industry cash contributions of Aus$37 million the CRC projected delivering a NPV of Aus$1.05 billion over 12 years. 

Whilst the CRC has undertaken and supported over 400 projects during its existence it will not go close to the NPV it projected. 

Whilst there can be no doubt that some sectors have profited from engagement it would be taking a very long bow to suggest that is has played ‘a vital role in the seafood industry’ during its existence. At the grass roots end of the industry there has been minimal change and from a consumers perspective it would be hard to suggest any massive improvements in the offering. 

So in this atmosphere there can be no doubts about Preston and the work he and his team have done at CSIRO. They have been a shining light considering the difficulties relating to funding and industry engagement have been a constant. 

Dr Nigel Preston will be International Chair of the Shrimp Genetics, Broodstock and Hatchery Management Session at the World Aquaculture 2015 Conference & Trade Show in Jeju, Korea in May 2015.

Read the magazine HERE.

The Aquaculturists
This blog is maintained by The Aquaculturists staff and is supported by the
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Perendale Publishers Ltd

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1 comment:

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