As part of the new FreshDirect Sustainable Seafood Ratings Program, Jeff Ludwin, our seafood category manager and buyer, was tasked with finding delicious new sustainable fish as alternatives to some less ocean-friendly items, such as farmed salmon.
Follow along on Jeff’s tour of Australis Aquaculture in Vietnam — one of our “best practice” vendors who demonstrate eco-friendly fish farming and produce fresh, delicious and sustainable barramundi fillets.
After more than twenty hours flying from NYC to Ho Chi Minh to Nha Trang, (a small town on the south-central coast of Vietnam), I arrived at Australis Aquaculture.
Australis is the world’s largest and only vertically integrated barramundi producer, and they started supplying FreshDirect customers with barramundi last January.
Having toured the Australis corporate headquarters in Massachusetts earlier this year, I was excited to see their open-sea farming program, which is mirrored on their land-based farming practices here in the US.
First I visited the hatchery, where the fish are born and raised in land-based recirculating tanks before being transferred to open sea pens.
These small fish are graded every few days to maintain sizing uniformity. They spend four months in land-based tanks before being transferred to sea to grow for another eight to ten months.
Next we took a half-hour boat ride to view the sea pens, which are five miles offshore.
Click into this video of Australis Aquaculture in Vietnam for a quick view of what I saw there.
I was surprised by how clear and blue the water in the bay was. Upon approaching the pens, sixteen in all, I could see fish coming to the surface to be fed.
Once the barramundi are harvested, the pens are left fallow so that only a small portion of the site is in active production at any one time. This helps ensure that there is no build-up of waste beneath the pens.
After visiting the pens and having a chance to feed the fish, I met the Australis staff, who spend their work-week living on a boat that’s anchored alongside the pens.
Roughly a dozen workers are responsible for taking care of the fish — everything from feeding, monitoring their health and rotating fish between pens to checking the integrity of the pens’ netting.
I sat down with the staff and shared an authentic Vietnamese meal before returning to shore and heading to the airport.
A few of the things that impressed me most at Australis:
- As you can probably see in the photos, the beauty and clarity of the crystal-blue seas of Vietnam was stunning.
- While one pen holds as many as 50,000 fish, the densities were actually very low — averaging just 15 lbs of fish per ton of water, so they occupy less than 1% of the pen.
- Australis barramundi are harvested and filleted one day and they arrive in NYC the next day, so in 48 hours, a FreshDirect customer can eat barramundi that was just swimming on the other side of the globe.
Today FreshDirect sells more than four hundred lbs of barramundi a week, and that’s only the beginning!
Interested in learning more about the FreshDirect Sustainable Seafood Ratings? Read the explanation in our Seafood Market or check out this post on healthy oceans for healthy people by our nutritionist.
Many thanks to Australis Aquaculture for the images and information!