Updated: Nov 23, 2020
COVID-19 Impact COVID-19 has caused a disastrous loss of income for all businesses, ASI included. It has been proposed by some of our stakeholders that ASI could help the industry by temporarily suspending levy payments until the crisis subsides. Directors recognize the pressure caused by the COVID-19 crisis and considered all aspects of the proposal in detail. However, the board ultimately agreed unanimously that it could not afford to implement the idea. The rationale for the decision is summarized in the points below:
As with all other seafood businesses ASI will be taking an income hit over the next 6-12 months because reduced seed sales by hatcheries translates directly into reduced levy income. We are certainly not immune from the financial pain.
The levy is ASI’s primary source of income, and there has been no increase in levy since it was established six years ago, meaning ASI has absorbed all cost increases over that time.
ASI has made budget cuts according to the reduced income projections and we will continue to run a very tight ship as we always do.
Any further reductions in levy income will impact our ability to deliver what industry expects. In particular, our drive to deliver POMS resistance in young spat and our proposal to invest in trials in South Australia to collect the data needed to breed for SA survival would be at risk. The long term benefits of this work would considerably outweigh any benefit of a levy holiday.
As far as we can tell only a limited number of growers are likely to buy spat in coming months, so any benefit from a levy suspension would be limited to a few growers, which might be deemed as unfair.
Reinstating the levy may cause some market distortion with a rush to purchase seed prior to whatever reinstatement date was agreed.
The current agreement with hatcheries where levies are payable to ASI upon receipt from the grower means that ASI is linked at the hip to hatcheries that may offer extended terms to growers. We are comfortable with this and see it as intrinsically fair.
We recognise that many oyster farms with high stock levels have had a double hit and will not be buying a lot of spat in coming months. Consequently, we have budgeted for significantly reduced levy income. With help from government subsidies we hope to be able to maintain our operations until sales return to pre-COVID levels. Unfortunately, no one can predict when that will be. We are all in this together and I fervently hope the pain we have all experienced will soon be relieved as businesses begin to reopen. There is plenty more about what ASI is doing for the industry in the following pages. If you want more information or wish to share your ideas, please feel free to call me at any time (contact details at the end of the newsletter).
General Managers Report
What’s next for ASI? The industry showed great foresight in funding ASI to breed for POMS resistance. The return on the investment was massive for Tasmania and while SA growers are fortunate not to have been exposed to POMS, they now have a “POMS insurance policy”. Whilst we still have some work do in the POMS area our success to date has allowed us to reassess our breeding goals with a view to redefining the ASI value proposition. The following is a summary of the areas ASI will be focusing on in the short to medium term. As always, we will listen carefully to the needs of industry and act accordingly. Complete the POMS mission
ASI oysters in Tasmania are >90% resistant to POMS at one year of age. We are now pushing our best families to achieve that level of resistance in spat 2 – 3 months of age.
ASI oysters in South Australia do not have the same level of resistance. Breeding must continue to achieve higher resistance.
If the South Australian industry and government decide to do so, ASI will boost the POMS resistance breeding program in that state by importing a small number of our best Tasmanian oysters
Re commence breeding for other traits
While all our effort was directed to POMS, breeding for other traits was put on hold. This year in Tasmania we have recommenced selection for growth rate, uniformity, shell shape, meat condition, and shell quality. The focus will initially be on meat condition and shell quality after listening to industry feedback.
In South Australia we are about to begin a significant program of selection against non-specific mortality. Again, this has been based on listening to industry needs.
Manage long term POMS resistance and inbreeding
ASI is able to make rapid genetic gains because our breeding program is based on 80 families whose progeny are measured every year for key traits. Selected families are then interbred to produce each new generation without in-breeding.
It is not just the oysters ASI provides, we also provide this data to the industry each year.
If ASI ceased breeding operations, it would not be possible for commercial operators to maintain the same intensity of selection or manage inbreeding. The result would be that POMS gains would be rapidly lost and the risk of inbreeding, which can cause a severe depression in stock performance, would be huge.
The size and complexity of the operation means that no individual business or even state could replicate what ASI does, it requires a whole of industry approach
Being ready for the next threat
The POMS response showed the value of having a functional breeding program. Our POMS recovery is unparalleled internationally and was entirely due to having the breeding program in place. The industry’s ability to respond to future threats, including diseases and climate change, would be severely compromised if there was no breeding program.
COVID-19 Direct Impacts on ASI
ASI has been impacted by COVID-19. As mature sales fell off a cliff a flow on effect has been the cancellation or deferring of seed sales which is the basis for ASI’s income. We have adjusted budgets accordingly both in terms of income and expenditure. ASI has been able to access job keeper and various other state and federal support so we have been able to avoid standing down permanent staff. We have not been employing any casual labour over this time. We will reassess on a monthly basis and have been seeking regular feedback from hatcheries and growers to be able to best predict recovery timeframes. We will manage our budget accordingly. Operationally we have been able to safely continue our field work in Tasmania and all work remains on track. Our SA partner growers have been maintaining the stock but we have data collection which needs to be conducted over the coming months. With restrictions easing it is looking like we will be able to get over to SA in the very near future.
TAS YC19 Breeding Season and POMS Trials
The YC19 breeding season was difficult. We encountered issues in the hatchery for the first time in many years and this resulted in a lower number of families being produced and a later than anticipated deployment. A thorough review of the problems encountered has been conducted including recommended changes for the upcoming season. Despite these issues we were still able to produce 60 families which were deployed from mid-January. The environmental conditions over the summer period with relatively cool temperatures resulted in very low level and sporadic POMS activity in upper Pitt Water. We were able to get a mild POMS hit on one ASI trial. The result is that we have been able to calculate POMS EBV’s for this year class although the low level POMS activity means that we do not have heavy within family selection. We are currently grading the spat and calculating numbers so we can develop a commercial deployment plan.
SA YC18 POMS Testing
The South Australian YC18 port river POMS trial has concluded. Once again, this trial produced only moderately useful results mainly due to the low mortality rates measured. We have taken steps to improve these trials each year but the Port River site has limitations which are preventing us from collecting useful data. The Oyster population in the Port River is much lower than in commercial growing areas and the result is a much less extreme disease event. We really have no other options for measuring POMS resistance in the SA population and as a result it will be virtually impossible to improve POMS resistance in the same way as we have in Tasmania. We have been very open with industry about this and it was very pleasing to see that industry voted heavily in favour of importing genetics from Tasmania to address the issue. We will do all we can to assist this process should it be approved by the minister. The SA industry now has the opportunity to be the first industry in the world to significantly insulate itself from the devastating impacts of POMS before it arrives.
We have recently completed a major revision of SA survival collected throughout the life of the ASI program. We have measured survival at multiple time points for 30 trials over 12 year classes (from YC05 to YC17) and for 449 families. When the data was analysed in this way we were pleasantly surprised by the results. Heritabilities on the underlying scale, which is the important measure and the one that is indicative of the response to selection, were h2=0.27±0.02 and h2=0.29±0.03. Those are moderately high heritabilities and this is a good result for selective breeding. Heritability estimates for individual trials were comparable to those in a combined analysis of all trials which indicates that the causative effects of the mortality are expressing in the same way at different sites and in different year classes, which is another good result for selective breeding. To summarise, when we combine all the data we see a much better result than when we look at individual trials or year classes. The heritability of this trait tells us that we can significantly improve survival if we were to concentrate on this trait in the SA population. If we were able to gain further improvements in the way we measure the trait by incorporating spat survival trials we would be able to accelerate gains further, this would be a game changer for the SA industry. We are currently in the process of developing a funding application to allow us to really focus on this trait so that the benefits can flow through to industry.
If you would like to get in touch with us, please find our details below:
0417 965 405
0418 454 726