Tropical Finfish – The Company
In 1997, Dr. Richard Knuckey hatched a plan to diversify aquaculture and protect coral reefs. He and his team would develop new broodstock techniques for Giant Grouper and other high-value species of fish. The proposal found favour in the Queensland Government, was awarded funding, and the Tropical Marine Finfish project began.
Six years later, Finfish stepped out on its own as a privately held operation. Knuckey and his team had not only reached their goal of pioneering new techniques—they had created a world-class hatchery. Finfish is now the only breeder of Giant Grouper in Australia, and one of only a handful in the world. In addition to Giant Grouper, Finfish raises three other species in the Grouper family: Gold Spot, Tiger and Coral Trout.
What does Finfish General Manager Richard Knuckey have to say about all this?
“It’s been an exciting trip; there are not many jobs that hold your interest for such a long period of time. I’ve worked on five different species, so I’m learning something new all the time. You don’t often get the opportunity to bring your research project to a commercial stage.”
What is it about Giant Grouper that has the food scene buzzing? With its yellow fins and mottled scales, this reef-dwelling giant can reach a length of three metres, a weight of 600 kilograms, and a formidable age of 50 years. It’s an iconic and beautiful fish—but that’s not why gourmet chefs are seeking it out.
The flesh of Giant Grouper is light in texture and taste. It sucks in flavour like a sponge, and the skin crisps nicely, allowing the flesh to keep its form when cooked. The end-result is easy on the eyes and incredible on the palette.
It’s no wonder Australians are excited by the prospect of a sustainable source. All one has to do is look to cities like Hong Kong—where a single large specimen can fetch thousands of dollars on the market—to see the culinary and commercial potential of Giant Grouper.
But you don’t need to travel overseas, book an expensive table and feel guilty about consuming a vulnerable species. High-end restaurants in Melbourne and Sydney are already enticing diners with mouth-watering Giant Grouper dishes, all sourced right here in Australia.
From hatchery to plate
Giant Grouper is fully protected in Australia—and that’s the way it should be. Years of overfishing throughout the world have worn down the population, forcing the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to list the species as Vulnerable.
But each year, Finfish is allowed to collect six wild specimens from the quiet town of Weipa, in the furthest reaches of Northern Queensland. These fish are carefully transported back to the hatchery in Cairns, where they are introduced as broodstock.
What happens next is a delicate process for Knuckey and his staff. Once spawned from the broodstock, eggs float to the top of the tank. These are collected, sorted for quality, and taken to the hatchery.
24 hours later, the little giants hatch. They remain in the larval stage for 40 days, after which they go to a nursery. Finally, the young fish are transported to one of two Finfish farms in Cairns and Mourilyan. This is where they mature to market size over a period of six to eight weeks.
And this is how approximately 500,000 Giant Grouper come out of the hatchery each year. The rapid maturation of Giant Grouper means that various sizes are readily available. Finfish expects their annual output to surpass two million in the next two years. If the culinary buzz is any indication, Australia’s kitchens are going to need them.
Clearly, there is commercial potential in Giant Grouper, but there is also an incredible species at risk. Finfish was designed from the ground up to source this fish ethically and sustainably—not only to provide an exciting new option for Australian tables, but also to reduce illegal fishing practices, protect the reefs where Grouper live, and contribute to the long-term preservation of the species.