Sustainable production drives WA abalone exports to new highs

Rare Foods Australia (RFA) has confirmed the importance Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification plays in international brand development and sales, with the company seeing a rise in international buyers since it was awarded MSC certification in June 2022.

The Western Australia-based abalone company already supplies over 20 per cent of the world’s wild caught Greenlip abalone, but continued sales growth has fuelled ambitious global expansion plans.

Alex Wilson, RFA’s General Manager Sales and Marketing said the company’s growth forecasts were becoming more exciting as global attention for its sustainably grown Greenlip abalone continued to increase.

“There is an expectation the business is about to boom and the timing couldn’t be better as we work with Austrade to find new master distributors in key export regions. The more we work with Austrade, the more we wish we’d worked with them sooner,” he said.

Austrade is also advising RFA on new markets such as Vietnam, Canada, India and the Middle East.

A key point of difference for the Rare Foods product is its world-first abalone ‘ranch’ in the cool southern waters off Western Australia.

The ‘ranching’ model combines the efficiencies and product consistencies of aquaculture, with the high quality that comes from wild catch, ocean grown abalone.

“Our unique ocean-ranching model allows us to hand-pick the best abalone while they grow in a natural conditions. The cold, salty water ensures a high quality product that is grown and harvested at the perfect depth and time for maximum quality and efficiencies,” Alex said.

What is a wild-enhanced fishery?

The unique wild-enhanced abalone ranch was first developed in 2009 and is based on a patented technology to build 10,000 underwater towers, known as ‘abitats’, in the form of an underwater reef in Flinders Bay. Greenlip abalone are then hand-seeded onto the abitats to grow wild in the water currents and tides, just as they would in nature, for three years then harvested.

This sustainable process greatly reduces supply volatility and produces abalone that are identical to their wild-caught counterparts.

In 2021–22, RFA achieved a record harvest of 81.7 tonnes.

“The ocean-ranching model is already working well and proving profitable, yet we are currently only utilising around 1.5 per cent of our total 413-hectare lease, so there’s plenty of room to expand supply,” Alex said.

In addition to its ranched Greenlip abalone production, RFA exports wild harvested Roei, Brownlip and Greenlip abalone from local abalone quota holders.

While Asia currently accounts for 76 per cent of RFA’s abalone sales, the company sees enormous potential for global growth and is preparing to roll out a new distribution model across other regions.

“Our aim is to expand and position abalone as a seafood with global appeal. We’re developing a group of master distributors who on-sell through distributors and wholesalers. Once we get master distributors in Europe, Vietnam, India, Middle East and Singapore, on top of our existing clients in other Asian markets, we’ll have secure sales and distribution for our whole harvest,” Alex said.

Rare Foods Australia is one of only 11 enhanced wild-caught fisheries worldwide to hold MSC certification and is the first fishery in the world to be MSC-certified for abalone ranching.