Work Scene with F.A.C.T.

Freshwater Australian Crayfish Traders

Crayfish farming is Rob Hutchings’ pride and passion. But the well-known Scenic Rim farmer hasn’t eaten any of his produce in more than twenty years.

Despite his long and rewarding career on his 200-acre farm in Tarome, Rob has not been able to eat his highly sought after produce for a number of years due to his developed allergy to the freshwater crustacean.

“Every time you pick up a crayfish, you get an injection from the spines on them and after a while, your body becomes sensitised and eventually, with continuous handling, you develop an allergy,” Rob said.

“All of our staff handle them with gloves, but I have had the allergy for a number of years already. I haven’t cooked one in twenty years.”

Despite this paradoxical relationship, Rob’s passion for aquaculture has not deterred.

After working as a marine biologist researching freshwater crayfish at the University of Queensland, Rob saw an opportunity to take up the farming practice privately and later launched Australian Freshwater Crayfish Traders in 1979.

Pioneering the field of aquaculture, almost 40 years later, the farm now has more than seventy freshwater dams and produces anywhere between 400-800kg of crayfish a week, plus an assortment of other fish and prawn species.

Following a booming demand for crayfish produce from overseas countries, Australian Freshwater Crayfish Traders spent a number of years supplying only the export market.

“In the early days, we were purely export-orientated - Germany, Switzerland, Austria, the United States, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, China - We sold everywhere. I imagine it was five to ten years we were really into that,” Rob said.

These days, the business supplies produce for both private and commercial use. Rob says that while majority of produce is sent down to Sydney and Melbourne seafood distributors, the business still has a consistent demand from local people and businesses.

“Sometimes one order might be one to two kilograms of crays, then the next hundreds of kilos - we really supply anyone who wants to buy,” he said.

While business has been good and the demand for his produce has been consistent, Rob says they have also faced some setbacks.

“We do have cases where people come in the night and steal the crays from the ponds to sell commercially,” he said. “Because our staff load is small, and it is a 14km walk around the ponds, it can be hard to patrol.”

Rob has installed cameras to assist but estimates the thieves to have stolen around $100,000 worth of crayfish in the past couple of years.

“Unfortunately, people have been doing it for a long time but we do monitor everything very closely now and the cameras definitely help,” Rob explained.

After crayfish farming for more than 40 years, Rob says one of the best parts about the job is learning how to face the technical issues arise within the industry. One measure he has introduced for his farm is the recycling of all water.

“Aquaculture started from nothing a few decades ago, and now it does have environmental issues attached, including water usages and the density of waste going back into the ecosystem,” he said. “You can have a large industry, but it all has to be balanced and our job is to figure out the best practices and ways of doing that are.”

At 62-years-old, with hobbies including learning to fly a light plane and scuba diving, Rob puts his vivacious and positive attitude down to one simple thing.

“I have this philosophy, whatever you’re doing in life make sure you find something you love,” he said. “I’ve been doing what I love for my entire life, and the novelty hasn’t worn off at all.”

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