Getting a grip on red claw

Getting a grip on red claw


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Gympie-region producer Peter Moore says farming red claw is a lot more than just complicated that just throwing the cray fish in a dam and pulling out the money.

Gympie-region producer Peter Moore says farming red claw is a lot more than just complicated that just throwing the cray fish in a dam and pulling out the money.

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FARMING red claw is not a simple case of throwing a few crayfish in a dam and pulling out the money.

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THE rewards are certainly there, but don't think farming red claw is a case of throwing a few crayfish in a dam and pulling out the money.

Peter and Ethel Moore from Cherax Park at Theebine in the Gympie region said while there was no doubting the ready demand for both live fresh water crayfish and its meat, it came with a lot of hard work before any profits was delivered.

"I reckon you would have to be mad to do what we do," Mr Moore said.

"Absolutely bloody mad.

"It's seven days and week, daylight to after dark including and five to six hours at a time in the water.

"Then there is everything else associated with running the farm and getting them to market."

Part of the challenge has been learning how to farm Cherax quadricarinatus.

Although identified as a promising aquaculture species in the early 1990s, the industry went from about 120 farms of various size to now about 20 recognised enterprises.

"We have had to learn just about everything as we have gone along," Mr Moore said.

"It was certainly difficult because a lot of what we were originally told was simply wrong.

"It has taken a lot to understand how to properly farm red claw but now we think we have a pretty good system."

Cherax Park was established in 1999 and is now the largest operational red claw facility in south east Queensland. More than $1 million has been spent developing the farm.

The Moores concentrate on two main markets: the Chinese restaurant trade in Melbourne and the five star restaurant trade in Sydney.

At present live red claw are selling for a very attractive $32/kg in either market.

"It's very good now," Mr Moore said. "But up until the last couple of years it has only been a break-even at best proposition.

"Now we can sell absolutely everything we can produce."

In addition, Cherax Park has developed a very strong clientele through its farm gate sales selling not only live crays but also frozen meat, crumbed tails and very popular red claw spring rolls.

The Moore's farm has five hectares of water made up of 57 ponds on their 100ha property.

The ponded area is bird-netted and fenced with a 600mm high solid barrier in an attempt to stop cray eating water rats entering the farm.

"It seems everything loves red claw, Mr Moore said.

"Even if we can keep the birds and rats out we are still constantly working to prevent for fish or eels entering the farm."

Each aerated 50m x 20m pond contains about a megalitre of water which rises from 1.2m to 1.8m in depth to assist in the drainage of the storages for maintenance purposes.

"Water is everything," Mr Moore said.

"We're looking for a nice green colour because it indicates there is a good amount of oxygen in the water.

"What we don't want to see is brown water. An oxygen crash would obviously be a real disaster.

"We're actually very lucky here. We have a heavy clay mud-stone soil which means we have no leakage from our ponds."

The farm also has three dams providing 350-megalitres of water storage.

The crays are fed up to three times a week a high-protein grain based pellet that includes a fish oil as an attractant.

The other main food source are the plankton, bacteria and protozoans in the water. Biscuits of prime lucerne hay hang suspended in the water to feed micro-organisms.

Part of the management of red claw also involves sorting and seperating the males from the females when they reach about 6cm in length to prevent breeding.

The Moores buy genetically selected 10mm craylings from the AquaVerde Hatchery on the Atherton Tableland.

However, Mr Moore said a key factor in making a profit from red claw was harvesting the "extremely clever little animals" by hand.

"Some people will say they can be harvested using traps," Mr Moore said.

"That's true to a point. But you cannot get any where near the yields from the ponds using traps."

The Moore's literally enter the water in wet-suits and pull up each shelter from the pond floor. Each shelter is tipped into a 1m round floating net at which stage the juvenile crays are returned to the water.

"It's a lot of very hard work," Mr Moore said. "But we have found this is the only way to get the necessary yields from the ponds."

The harvested crays are then transferred to a floating plastic box before being carried up to the processing shed.

Once in the shed the crays are purged for 24 hours in a specially designed shower room.

Then the crays are sorted and packaged ready for market.

Live crays bound for the capital city markets are packed as 10kg batches in 20-litre poly-styrene containers.

While red claw are about to be sold from 35g, the crays will grow to 150g-plus.

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