Dr. Len Stephens
Little Swanport, TAS.
A lot to achieve over the next two years.
The ASI company constitution requires the position of chair to be reviewed every two years. In May this year, the directors of Oysters Tasmania and South Australian Oyster Growers Association endorsed my reappointment as Chairman of ASI for another two years. That will make eight years in total, which is long enough for any chair!
Also in May, the Board met with representatives from Oysters Tasmania and South Australian Oyster Growers Association to update and revise our strategic plan. That session starkly emphasised some major challenges that ASI must overcome within the coming two years.
Our biggest challenge is to continue to find the money needed to run two breeding centres - at IMAS in Hobart and SARDI in Adelaide. The ASI service fee, paid by all growers via hatcheries, was only meant to cover the cost of breeding in Hobart. Biosecurity requirements introduced to control POMS four years ago meant we had to establish a centre in Adelaide. Fortunately, SARDI and ASI obtained R&D grants that covered the costs of a second centre at SARDI. However, those grant finish next year. We will naturally attempt to secure new grants, but it will be difficult, and we must consider as many alternatives as possible, some of which I have set out below.
Our first approach will be to conduct a review of our operational efficiency. That will identify possible savings but will not cover the full cost. We will also approach both the South Australian and Tasmanian governments for support, particularly through the continued provision of their breeding facilities. Another approach under consideration is to issue a tender calling for bids from commercial entities to conduct the breeding under contract. If those approaches are not successful, we will need to look at significantly reducing the scale of the program by retracting to one breeding centre in South Australia or Tasmania. Before that is done however, we would ask our shareholders to consider whether they wish to increase the service fee paid by growers to enable both breeding centres to continue.
It would be a great shame to reduce the scale of the ASI breeding program, just at a time when major benefits to growers are due to be delivered. Some of these are described in this newsletter. They include oyster families with high survival rates in South Australia, POMS resistant spat in Tasmania and South Australia, and improved growth performance traits in both states. In addition, we hope to introduce a new breeding technology called “genomics” that will deliver genetic improvement at double the rate of conventional breeding and will also allow for selection of new traits that are difficult to measure until the oyster is opened. It will also allow for selection of oysters that are specifically adapted to growing regions.
The revised strategic plan will be posted on our website soon. Meanwhile, please do not hesitate to contact Matt Cunningham (0417 965 405) or me (0418 454 726) if you wish to discuss anything about ASI.
General Managers Report
Pitt Water lease, TAS.
I am very happy to announce that our expression of interest in Pacific Oyster genomic selection has resulted in Oyster Australia requesting ASI to develop a full project proposal. We still have to navigate the FRDC application process, but we are confident that the full application will be successful. Genomics has the potential to become the next big thing in Oysters and will give the ASI breeding program much more power to fast track genetic improvement for commercially important traits. Genomics is one example of many where ASI can add significant value to grower investment through the service fee.
The South Australian survival project is progressing very nicely. The project is already starting to bear fruit with the feedback from CSIRO being positive. The increased effort in data collection has already seen a higher proportion of trials returning useful results.
The quality of the ASI commercial lines are dependent on the quality of the data collected on the families, so we are expecting to see excellent survival in future ASI spat produced by commercial hatcheries. The results of this massive effort are exciting for ASI but will only be of benefit to industry if the families are produced commercially by the hatcheries. They will only do this if there is sufficient demand. Please talk to your hatchery producer and request "ASI SA survival lines" and they should be able to do the rest.
It is also pleasing to report that ASI has been able to translocate highly POMS resistant Oysters from Tasmania into South Australia. This will allow industry to take full advantage of the excellent results in improved POMS resistance in Tasmania and
provide a great insurance policy for the South Australia growing regions in the case of a POMS incursion.
In Tasmania we are investing an increased amount of effort into collecting what we call "performance data". Performance data essentially relates to commercially important traits other than survival such as growth rate, shell shape, meat condition, shell quality and uniformity. The recent grower survey indicated that all of these traits are important but in particular uniformity rated very highly with growers. It was clear that skipping a grade with uniform growth adds to the financial bottom line. There is still some work to be done to understand uniformity as a trait, but we are hopeful the increased data collection will allow us to add this as a trait with it’s own Estimated Breeding Value (EBV).
In terms of the survey, we have covered a large percentage of industry by volume, but we are still very keen to add to the results with more growers. If you are interested please contact myself (0417 965 405) in Tasmania or Bryce (0476 648 733) in South Australia and we will make sure your views are included.
ASI Grower Survey
ASI has been conducting industry surveys in Tasmania and South Australia to help guide future breeding direction and identify general issues around ASI commercial production. The surveys will be ongoing but have captured a significant percentage of the industry in both states. The results will be used to develop a long term breeding index for both populations.
Interim results summary
Tasmania – POMS continues to be a focus trait with growers at least wanting maintenance of current resistance levels. Uniformity is viewed as being equally important. When describing uniformity respondents were indicating uniformity within batches and consistency across batches as being important. Meat condition and resistance to environmental change were also viewed as important. Other traits rank lowly in Tasmania but it worth noting that uniformity may relate to shell shape, colour and growth rate.
South Australia – SA survival is the clear standout trait in South Australia which confirms the industry feedback we have received previously. Despite no outbreaks SA industry clearly sees the risk posed by POMS and as such this is the second ranked trait. There are then a mix of traits which are seen as roughly equally important – shape, meat condition, consistency of growth, uniformity and resistance to environmental change.
In late March, ASI sent a shipment of spat from Tasmania to South Australia for the first time in six years. PIRSA introduced very strict translocation protocols after the 2016 Tasmanian POMS outbreak. In order to get to the point where this was possible required a huge amount of work to address these protocols and ensure adequate risk mitigation. The spat were produced in ASI’s biosecure facility at IMAS in September/October 2020. The families were tested as larvae and spat and returned negative PCR results for POMS. The spat were then sent to SARDI’s biosecure Roseworthy facility where they underwent a further 4 weeks quarantine and additional PCR testing for POMS (which also came back negative). All tests were conducted whilst the spat were above 20 degrees Celcius. No mortality was observed throughout the nursery rearing in Tasmania and quarantine period in South Australia. As a result, final approval was received from PIRSA. The spat have since been sent to Franklin Harbour where they will be grown out for future breeding. These families are now a massive asset to the South Australian industry as an insurance policy for POMS. Once they reach an appropriate size they will be offered to hatcheries for commercial spat production and used for ASI’s family production.
TAS Field Update
ASI team collecting performance data at Pitt Water, TAS . Left to right: Jess Kube, Zoe Byrne, Nick Griggs and John Wright.
A major data collection effort is underway in Tasmania with ASI significantly increasing the amount of data collected on commercial performance traits. By performance traits we mean growth rate, shell shape and meat condition – essentially traits that are not related to survival. In recent years, we have roughly doubled the number of individuals measured within these trials and we are again substantially increasing the numbers this year. The increased effort will generally result in more robust data, but will also allow us to look at additional traits such as uniformity, which was seen as a very important trait in the grower survey. We are also collecting samples for use by IMAS PhD student Ernest Chuku. Ernest is looking at shell and meat characteristics for his project and will focus on the ASI family lines.
SA Field Update
ASI broodstock for the 2021 family lines. Stock from Cowell and Smoky Bay.
Our 2020 bred SA families are resilient and surviving very well. At present, we have seen less than 1% mortality across trials deployed in the five different growing regions on the Eyre Peninsula. In the coming months, we will be assessing further 2020 and 2019 trials, which will allow us to commercially allocate 2019 lines later in the year.
“I am excited about the quality of the 2020 spat and the future gains to industry. The 2019 families we will soon be allocated, which contain some extremely resilient families; better than we have seen in previous years.” Bryce, ASI SA Regional Coordinator.
Selective breeding continues to provide improvements to the survival of South Australian Pacific oysters. A large amount of work has been done over the last 12 months with additional field trials, updated measures in the 2017 and 2018 year classes, and new measures on the 2019 year class. In total, there were 13 new trials across 5 sites and with nearly 200,000 oysters deployed and counted; a great effort by the ASI team.
On average, the ASI breeding program has been improving survival by 1% every year. A limitation for the 2018 and 2019 year classes’ has been issues with family production, and that has adversely affected the quality of the results and the families available for commercialisation. Those issues have now been addressed, meaning better genetic gains can be expected for the 2020 year class and beyond for SA survival.
If you would like to get in touch with us, please find our details below:
0417 965 405
0476 648 733