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Culture environment for barramundi

Barramundi can tolerate a wide range of salinities and can be grown in sea, brackish or fresh water. This allows farmers to cultivate barramundi in ponds, sea cages and recirculating systems.

In Queensland, most barramundi production comes from ponds. Both ponds and sea cages need to be located in areas that will provide the longest growing seasons.

Freshwater ponds

Barramundi production in freshwater ponds usually involves the use of floating cages for the first part of the growout period. Cages are accessed from walkways, with individual cages varying in size from 2m x 2m to 6m x 12m, and are 1.5-2m deep.

Most farmers choose to release the barramundi from the cages once they reach a size that makes them less vulnerable to predation (usually heavier than 300g) and then grow them free-range in the pond to a weight of 2-3kg.

Pond sizes range from 0.2ha to 1.5ha and are 2-3m deep. Ponds are normally aerated mechanically with paddle wheels and aspirators. Water exchanges are carried out to remove ammonia and control algal blooms.

Sea cages

Growout in sea cages occurs in floating cages, which are generally larger and more robust than the ones used in freshwater operations.

Recirculating aquaculture systems

Intensive heated indoor recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) are established in the southern areas of Queensland. Most RAS farmers use a series of 5-10t production tanks connected to a solids removal device and a biological filter. RAS operations may be located close to markets and other infrastructure because of their compact nature and ability to control environmental parameters.

These systems require a higher level of management than the pond systems because of the water quality issues associated with high stocking densities and their complex mechanics. Most recirculating systems incorporate a biofilter, which removes toxic products (ammonia and nitrites) by a process called nitrification. There are many different designs of recirculating systems that can be used. Some are more suitable than others for barramundi.

Water temperature

Barramundi is a tropical species requiring water temperatures of 20-30oC. Commercial growth rates require temperatures above 25oC.

Seasonal variations in temperature cause growth rates of outdoor fish to decrease rapidly over the winter months, even in North Queensland. In southern Queensland, the lower year-round water temperatures makes these methods uneconomical. Death is reported to occur when water temperatures drop below 13oC, although stress-related mortalities and disease outbreaks become increasingly frequent as the water temperature drops below 20oC.

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