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7.2.2010 Australian scientists develop the perfect prawn

By Isabella Cummins

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Scientists have come up with a way to satisfy Australians' demand for prawns which have become the nation's main Christmas fare -- a genetically bred strain of larger, black tiger prawns that taste great.

After 10 years of careful breeding and research, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) scientists have bred a larger tiger prawn which will reduce the need to import the popular seafood platter and barbecue food.

The new prawn, which has won five gold medals at Australian marine aquaculture shows in recent years, means an increase in prawn yield from an average of around 5 tonnes per hectare to 17.5 tonnes per hectare.

"One of the (prawn) ponds actually achieved 24.2 tonnes per hectare, which is a world record," Bruce Lee, director of the CSIRO's Food Future Flagship.

With around 50 percent of Australia's prawn market imported from overseas, particularly China and Vietnam, the genetically-modified tiger prawn will deliver quality, sustainable seafood in large quantities, enabling Australia to reduce imports, said the CSIRO.

"You can now produce prawns, particularly at times of the year when you want them fresh. In Australia one would like to have fresh prawns is at Christmas time," said Lee.

The black tiger prawn is bred in drought-proof salt-water ponds in a closed loop system.

"The advantages are you can now do this sustainably, that is you don't have to trawl nets across the ocean floor to take prawns from the ocean," said Lee.

In keeping with sustainability, the prawns are fed a bi-product of flour grain converted to fish food.

"We've developed a system where we can take waste carbon and convert it into a fishmeal replacement," he said.

CSIRO said that if, hypothetically, the entire Australian tiger prawn industry adopted the new breeding programme, it would increase production to 12,500 tonnes from 5,000 tonnes a year, adding A$120 million (67 million pounds) to the value of the industry by 2020.