The Marron Industry - Western Australia's Native Freshwater Crayfish
Marron is the largest Australian freshwater crayfish which lives on the sandy bottoms of rivers and streams. The marron is native to Western Australia and is the third largest freshwater crayfish in the world.
Marrons can grow up to 1.5kg (one mentioned up to 2kg) in weight as opposed to Yabbies which are commonly about 150g in weight.
The photos below show marrons in the wild and on the plate.
In Western Australia, recreational fishing for marron is popular but restricted to 4 weeks of the year. This restriction is to help maintain the stock for the future. In the 1960s and the 1970s, the recreational catch was around 150,000 tonnes: today it is 15,000 tonnes.
Types of Marron
There are two main types are found in WA: hairy marron (Cherax tenuimanus) and smooth marron (Cherax cainii).
Smooth marrons are found in most south-west rivers and dams. They are commonly seen and caught in the wild and are the farmed aquaculture species.
Hairy marrons are listed as critically endangered and only found in the upper reaches of Margaret River. (The head and sometimes tail (of larger marron) are covered in short hairs.)
Marron is endemic between the Western Australian towns of Harvey and Albany. Historically, marron was stocked into farm dams and waterways from Hutt River north of Geraldton inland to the WA Goldfields and east to Esperance on the south coast. They are stocked into commercial aquaculture farms in South Australia.
Marron survive well with water that is low in salinity, high in oxygen or low temperatures. They prefer to live in parts of rivers and dams where there is permanent water and plenty of suitable habitat and food, containing fallen trees and submerged leaves.
Marron spawn in spring and grow in summer. They grow by moulting and it is at this stage that they become most vulnerable to predators as it is this time of hardening their inner shell where predators can get to them at ease.
Juvenile marron is rare as they hide under rocks and in the forest litter on the river or dam bed. The biggest danger to a sustaining marron lifecycle is the introduced species of redfin perch and trout.
Marrons eat living, dead and decaying plant and animal material found on the river and dam bed, including small invertebrates, fish eggs, fish larvae and algae.
The Marron industry is very “cottage” industry because the growers have not been able to invest in increasing production. In my years of speaking to people in the aquaculture industry, this has been a sore point for many years.
Currently, there are 60T of marron produced in Western Australia and about 10-25T from the rest of Australia.
In my opinion, international markets will not be reachable for local growers until they find new investments to help them to increase production. Recently, in a meeting with an associate who was in the industry, he describes the need for funds as a necessary step to any expansion as the traditional owners are small family operators who can’t invest large sums of money into the business.
Usually, marron takes 2-3 years to grow, and this can be a hindrance to increasing commercialisation. Live trade for marrons is sustainable because they can survive a long time during transit.
The opportunity for innovative long-term investors is to invest some time to look at the Marron Industry in Western Australia. The south-west, here all the marron industry has an A-class infrastructure and has the best climate. It is still very unappreciated, so the land cost will not be prohibitive.
In 2016, there were reports that the marrons stocks were declining due to change in climate. Falling water levels lead to extensive marron deaths. You would think that in n industry that at a guess is worth protecting, there would be sufficient means not to allow this to happen.
These are the factors which would be perfect for potential investors to fix and partner with existing growers to make the industry more robust and profitable.
An example of foreign investment interest is the purchase of the 289 hectares Andermel Marron Farm on Kangaroo Island for more than AUD$1.6 million in 2016. The purchaser was the investment arm of the Chinese government-backed miner, Shandong Geo-mineral.
Whether the interest is on the marron or the 8-hectare boutique vineyard and cellar door selling wines under the Two Wheeler Creek label and the Marron Cafe is up for debate :-).
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