Dissecting the dining habits of prawns

By August 13th, 2009

What sound does a prawn make when it eats? How much food can one prawn devour in a day?

The secret feeding habits of farmed prawns will be investigated as a part of a new CSIRO research collaboration with an Australian company to develop aquaculture technologies that could revolutionise the prawn farming industry.

The goal is to increase yields, enhance sustainability and improve the health and quality of aquaculture prawns by developing and applying the best high-tech marine Research and Development available.

“More efficient feeding of prawns will reduce cost, waste and potential contamination of the environment around farms from nutrient rich effluent,” Dr Lee said.

CSIRO Food Futures National Research Flagship Director Dr Bruce Lee said CSIRO was designing video and audio analysis techniques to automatically measure how much feed farmed prawns consume and how much they grow as a result.

“More efficient feeding of prawns will reduce cost, waste and potential contamination of the environment around farms from nutrient rich effluent,” Dr Lee said.

Food Futures Flagship Research Group Leader Dr Nigel Preston said the key to increasing prawn yields, and improving their health and quality is developing a better understanding of their feeding habits in farm ponds.

“To achieve this we are developing software which uses mathematical algorithms to analyse prawn consumption and growth patterns,” Dr Preston said.

CEO of Hobart-based marine aquaculture technology company AQ1 Systems Ross Dodd said that “from the perspective of the technology used to farm prawns, the industry is currently back where the salmon industry was 15 years ago”.

“The demand for farmed prawns is expected to increase rapidly, but the industry is still heavily reliant on manual labour and unsophisticated feed management systems,” Mr Dodd said.

This research involves developing software to analyse the sound prawns make when they eat.

CSIRO’s Information and Communication Technologies Centre’s Dr Stephen Giugni said this sound is a bit like hearing oil popping in a pan.

“While still at an early stage, we hope this audio information will reveal many aspects of prawn behaviour, including which feed the prawns prefer and how the biomass moves around a pond throughout the day,” Dr Giugni said.

Apart from establishing a technology platform with potential application across many types of aquaculture, this partnership should generate significant revenue for an Australian small business and add around $20 million per year to the Australian prawn industry’s profits.

”If the technology proves viable, this partnership is well positioned to revolutionise the prawn farming industry not only in Australia, but internationally,” Mr Dodd said.

AQ1 will receive investment funds of more than one million dollars through CSIRO’s Australian Growth Partnership program, which is designed to provide capital to high potential small- to medium-size enterprises that have an alignment with CSIRO’s Flagship programs.

National Research Flagships

CSIRO initiated the National Research Flagships to provide science-based solutions in response to Australia’s major research challenges and opportunities. The 10 Flagships form multidisciplinary teams with industry and the research community to deliver impact and benefits for Australia.

CSIRO’s ICT Centre has a specific focus on Flagship projects in Tasmania where operations are jointly funded by the Australian Government through the Intelligent Island Program.

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