Aussie startup develops sustainable land based aquaculture

Aussie startup develops sustainable land based aquaculture

A few years ago, Mat Goddard began to realise what he believes is the “root cause” of the many challenges in the contemporary food industry.  

“We’re completely disconnected from our food and how it’s produced,” he says. “And that’s especially true for seafood. We still harvest so much fish from the wild at an industrial scale, using huge trawlers with nets hundreds of metres long that catch everything.

“Would we do this to birds? Would we set up huge nets behind jumbo jets and collect whole flocks to eat? No, but that essentially happens every day in the oceans and because it’s out of sight and out of mind, we turn a blind eye to it.”

Reconnecting people not just with the food they eat but also the mode of its production was the “philosophical inspiration” behind Goddard founding Aquacultr Group in November 2022. Based in Port Stephens, in New South Wales, the start-up company is forging what it says is a “new type of aquaculture” – one that Goddard says is “accessible, sustainable, land-based” and “can be close to markets and have a real presence and connection to people.”

Matgoddard aquacultr
Mat Goddard (Supplied)

Over the past few decades, aquaculture has rapidly expanded to provide more than half of the seafood consumed around the world. This trend, which is projected to continue, is a product of the surging global demand for seafood and the growing concern about the environmental impact of some trawling practices in the open ocean and the unsustainable amount of seafood that is being wild-caught.

…new type of aquaculture that is “accessible, sustainable, land-based”

Mat Goddard

Indeed, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation, the number of overfished stocks globally has tripled in half a century and today one-third of the world’s assessed fisheries are currently pushed beyond their biological limits. Apart from damaging ecosystems, overfishing also exacerbates the effects of climate change – which is itself affecting the populations of fish and other marine species.

But even though fish farming reduces pressure on wild fisheries while fulfilling the growing global demand for seafood, there are also serious problems with the way it is conventionally practiced, which are exemplified by the vast commercial Atlantic salmon farms in Tasmania.

Read more: Taking aquaculture offshore

These farms grow salmon in huge, open-water netted pens. But they do so at a considerable environmental cost. Last month, for example, Tasmania’s largest salmon company, Tassal, revealed wild fish nearby to one of its salmon farms contained antibiotic residues at almost 5 times the allowed level. Farming of salmon in Tasmania’s Macquarie Harbour has also caused dangerously low oxygen levels in the water and severe algal blooms, which represents a critical threat to the survival of the critically endangered Maugean skate.

Goddard, who will be speaking at this week’s Blue Solutions Summit about sustainable seafood, says  fish farming faces a “growing social licence challenge” and “needs to evolve”. And the “best way forward”, he adds, is what’s known as a recirculated aquaculture system (RAS) – a tank-based system which operates on land and uses filtered, recycled water to enable the farming of fish at high densities under strictly controlled environmental conditions.

In fact, any problem can be rapidly fixed because all of our system elements can be maintained and repaired by farmers and local tradespersons.


He has support from the European Union.

In a 2020 report, it said that “compared to traditional pond or open water aquaculture, the water recirculation process in RAS makes it possible to control the culture conditions and collect waste. In addition, land-based aquaculture avoids escapees and limits external transmission of diseases and parasites.”

The report continued: “RAS gives promise of more sustainable food production with healthier fish, lower consumption of fresh water, and shorter transport distances, as fish can be grown closer to the markets. By controlling the culture conditions, aquaculture production in a RAS facility can be established almost anywhere, regardless of local conditions. By moving the production on land, it can also mitigate the scarcity of available space and competition for access to sea areas.”

However, the report also noted some downsides to RAS facilities – namely that they are “quite expensive”, consume “vast amounts of energy” and require “a skilled workforce”.

“Furthermore, the technology remains to prove its viability on large-scale production, especially concerning saline water environments. Fish welfare is not necessarily ensured in RAS, and several projects have experienced mass mortality, due to design errors or technical difficulties of the water recirculation.”

However, Goddard says that Aquacultr Group has refined existing RAS technology to overcome these problems – and can be commercially scaled.

“Ours has a much lower energy intensity than existing systems because it uses a lot of gravity, passive filtration and very few pumps,” he says. “It is also much simpler and doesn’t require specialist skills to operate or repair. In fact, any problem can be rapidly fixed because all of our system elements can be maintained and repaired by farmers and local tradespersons.”

Aquacultr Group’s RAS has also been designed to reduce the risk of mass mortality events.

“Our system is modular, and our modules are small and isolated from other ones. Whereas in conventional systems, there will be one filtration bank and the whole farm is intricately tied together.”

According to Goddard, the modular design means that tanks can be managed individually.

Aquacultrteam2 1
The Aquacultr team (Supplied)

“If you have a small problem in one tank, it’s much easier to manage and there’s much less risk of it becoming a big problem and ultimately a catastrophic one for the whole system.”

Aquacultr Group is currently focusing on farming freshwater species “in order to  scale the technology on land,” Goddard says. Barramundi – around 60 percent of which consumed in Australia is currently imported from farms in south east Asia –  is the company’s particular focus at present – “because we believe it can be the affordable table fish of Australia. It’s really nutritious and suits the Australian palette.”

However, Goddard says that Aquacultur Group’s system “can support and grow other species as well” – including saltwater species. 

Goddard is expecting “a number of our systems to be installed on Australian farms by the end of this year.” There will be “more to come in the future”, although he acknowledges that, like with any new technology entering the market, “it’s not an overnight thing. It takes time to build it out.

“But we’re excited with what’s in our pipeline.”

You can register to attend the summit here.

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