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Sardine Catch Port Lincoln Key To Success Tuna Farming Industry Australia, September 4, 12

In the sea off Port Lincoln, boats work in the sardine fishery, one of the nation’s least known but single largest commercial fishing industry.

Celebrating its 21st year, the sardine fishery is about four times larger than the tuna industry and while not as valuable, the fishery underpins the entire southern blue fin tuna sector.

The sardines are a vital link in the region’s economy with 95 percent of them fed to Port Lincoln’s southern blue fin tuna farms.

The annual catch in the Eyre Peninsula sardine fishery, largely in the southern Spencer Gulf and West Coast, has grown from 1000 tons in 1991 to 34,000 tons, worth about $20 million today.

SA Sardine Industry Association executive officer Paul Watson said the industry directly employs 178 people and has considerable room to expand by improving the value of the fish.

“The big potential is in using a portion of the sardine catch for human consumption, either in Australia or as a high protein feed in countries such as China or India,” Mr. Watson said.

The sardines as tuna feed are worth about 75c a kilogram. As food for humans their value would be worth significantly more.

But despite plans to make the humble sardine as popular as calamari in Australia, successful value-adding of sardines is still a work in progress.

While nutrient-rich sardines are consumed in large quantities by people around the world, either canned, smoked, grilled or pickled, only about 5 percent of the Port Lincoln catch is used for human consumption, recreational fishing bait and premium brands of pet food.

“We have had two companies looking closely at value-adding sardines for human consumption, but like all developments and innovations in the seafood industry, it takes time, investment and perseverance,” Mr. Watson said.

For now the sardine in South Australia is mainly confined to feeding and value-adding southern blue fin tuna, which need large volumes of feed. The industry also imports additional feed from other sources around the world.

Without the development of the sardine industry in the 1990s, the growth of the tuna industry would have been a lot harder and more expensive, Mr. Watson said.

The sardines are caught by purse seine nets up to 1000m long, which are deployed around the school of fish and are then pumped on board into refrigerated holds.

A $2.5 million study by South Australian Research and Development Institute scientists has shown that the steady growth of the sardine industry has been achieved without any adverse impact on the marine ecosystem.