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Rob Jorden | CEO | RARE FOODS Australia

RARE FOODS Australia: Sustainable Transformation of the Greenlip Abalone Fishery

Enhancing a greenlip abalone fishery through Marine Stewardship Council-certified sustainable practices involves obtaining rigorous MSC certification.

This comprehensive approach not only safeguards the greenlip abalone population but also contributes to a thriving marine ecosystem and the sustained prosperity of the fishing industry.

Rare Foods Australia, a trailblazing leader in abalone production, stands as a beacon of sustainable practices as the world’s only MSC-certified enhanced Greenlip Abalone fishery.

Guided by a profound mission, Rare Foods Australia continuously seeks to enhance its processes and products while nurturing the pristine natural environment of the South-West of Western Australia.

Its founder, Brad Adams, a visionary third-generation fisherman and professional diver, set out on a journey to create a regenerative commercial fishery after seeing wild stocks decline and fishing quotas tighten.

More than two decades of unwavering commitment led to the remarkable achievement of establishing a sustainable and enhanced greenlip abalone fishery, building stocks, and bringing new life to Flinders Bay on Western Australia’s South-West coast.

Rare Foods Australia worked tirelessly over 20 years to achieve this goal, which motivated Insights Success to interview Rare Foods Australia’s CEO, Rob Jorden, to better understand how things work.

Below are the highlights of the interview:

As a leader in the fisheries sector, could you provide an overview of your company’s mission and its significance within the industry?

At Rare Foods Australia, we strive to continuously improve how we produce premium products in a way that is not only sustainable but also naturally enhances one of the world’s most pristine locations, the South-West of Western Australia. Our ongoing pursuit of developing a regenerative commercial fishery started when our founder, Brad Adams, began to witness rapidly declining wild abalone stocks in his beloved Flinders Bay. Brad was determined to find a way that would ensure the survival of the abalone fishery and the reinvigoration of the bay.

He experimented tirelessly over 20 years to achieve this goal in the face of an industry governed by stakeholders with different agendas and motivations. Today, our innovation generates approximately 20% of the world’s supply of wild Greenlip abalone. Looking ahead, we have strong potential to grow thanks to our scalability and the fact that our harvests are not curtailed by quotas. We are also in the process of scaling and growing by both strengthening our core business and adding to our range of aligned, premium products.

In a competitive landscape, what strategies have you employed to secure your position as one of the top fisheries companies in 2023?

In terms of our biomass, our goal is to achieve a 5% improvement year on year in juvenile survival rates, which equates to an estimated A$550k in additional revenues from greater harvest tonnages.

To reach this goal, we have been developing a database to better understand what is happening on the reef within our 413ha ocean lease. This feeds into our “Knowledge” and “best management routine” for the reef. We began improving deployment practices during FY23 and have now refined those to better track juvenile survival throughout FY24.

In the key area of sustainability, our founder, Brad Adams, was named the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Sustainability Hero for 2023. This followed our MSC accreditation as a sustainable and wild-enhanced fishery in June 2022 after a rigorous auditing process by the international organization.

Innovation is driving transformation across industries. How has your company embraced innovation to optimize processes, improve products, or enhance sustainability?

Innovation is part of Rare Foods Australia’s DNA, as our artificial reefs for abalone were developed by our founder. The reefs are now used to commercially produce Greenlip abalone, with the tonnage in FY23 a record 87 tonnes. The innovation additionally enhances sustainability by reducing reliance on wild-harvested stocks of this highly sought-after seafood. The reefs also have a regenerative effect by attracting a variety of marine life. As we gain a deeper understanding of the reef through data collected by our divers, discussed above, we are trialing initiatives that we expect to yield even better results for our biomass.

With increasing environmental concerns, how does your company address sustainability practices to ensure responsible fishing and long-term environmental preservation?

Our MSC accreditation is extremely important to us as a recognition of our long-term efforts to grow a sustainable fishery, and we are committed to upholding the MSC’s values. While our fishery is sustainable by its very nature, we constantly aim to minimize our environmental impact by, for example, finding markets for the abalone shells and intestines so these “waste” products can be repurposed.

The fisheries industry is influenced by consumer preferences and trends. How does your company anticipate and adapt to these changing market dynamics?

We maintain very close relationships with our Master Distributors in regions across the globe, and they give us immediate feedback and insights on consumer demand. In FY23, we added Brownlip and Roei abalone to our range through partnerships with local quota holders to help meet strong market demand for these products.

Our Master Distributors additionally track evolving consumer demand for our abalone meat, whole in shell, and canned options. We can adapt to any changes in demand for these products thanks to the upskilling and flexibility of our processing team. Navigating challenges is part of any industry.

Can you share a specific challenge your company has faced and the innovative solutions you’ve implemented to overcome it?

To create a rare, premium wild Greenlip abalone is an almost five-year journey. At 18 months, juveniles are deployed by our specialist dive team onto our reef, left to grow naturally by feeding off algae carried by ocean currents and harvested about three years later. Thanks to our close monitoring of life on the reef and our adaptations to learnings, our biomass value grew to $8.4 million in FY23 compared to $7.6 million the previous year, and we have systems in place for further growth.

Looking ahead, where do you envision your company’s role in shaping the future of the fisheries industry? Are there any exciting projects or initiatives on the horizon?

We’re embarking on FY24 with a clear plan to scale and grow our business to create the next generation of “Sustainability Heroes” while better understanding and measuring our Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) profile.

Additionally, we share with the public the importance of sustainable fisheries through our website and tours of our innovations at the Augusta Boat Harbour.

An innovative product that complements our seafood offerings is ocean-cellared wine, or wine that is matured on our ocean lease. After a successful trial in 2020, we now have agreements with local wineries from Australia’s famous Margaret River wine region to expand this business.

For aspiring entrepreneurs and professionals in the fisheries field, what advice would you offer to excel in a dynamic and evolving industry?

The seafood industry has immense opportunities as the global demand for sustainably produced protein expands, but there are also challenges such as social license, competing resource access issues, and cost pressures. Innovation – and the preparedness to learn through trial and error – is key to overcoming these challenges.

Also important is an understanding of the supply chain from the aquaculture or commercial fishing stage through to postharvest processing, sales, and marketing. To better leverage our ocean lease, processing capabilities, and sales channels, we have been doing due diligence on other premium and sustainable products from WA’s South-West to which we can add value and that are scalable.

As a leader, what role does your company play in promoting responsible fishing practices and contributing to a sustainable global seafood supply chain?

We are proud to have MSC accreditation for our ranched abalone, and the same accreditation applies to the abalone product acquired from local licensed quota holders that we process and sell.

This accreditation underpins our credentials as sustainably supplying products from wild fisheries. When considering future supply chains to scale and grow, we will be ensuring they come with, or we can gain for them, similar accreditation to maintain our sustainability guarantee for customers. While our fishery is sustainable by its very nature, we constantly aim to minimize our environmental impact.

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