AAAS QLD & NT Webinar Series: November 2020

Shrimply the best – advancing prawn breeding and farming in Australia

Hi Fellow Animal Enthusiasts!

In the past 70 years, global seafood consumption has increased from 7 kg per person to 21 kg per person. This includes the consumption of all aquatic species, including crocodile – CRIKEY! Aquaculture is a rapidly evolving industry. Since 1971, seafood production from aquaculture farms has grown from < 5% of total global seafood production to 50% in 2020, whilst the rest is supplied by capture fisheries (i.e. wild caught). Aquaculture farms are expected to contribute to 65% of total global seafood production by 2050.

In Australia, prawn farming is an important component of the aquaculture industry worth $80M. It is small compared to other food production sectors, but it is poised to grow rapidly! Ten-thousand hectares of prawn ponds are currently being developed in the Northern Territory and will produce over $1B worth of prawn per year. That’s a lot of shrimp for the barbie! In the November webinar we heard from Prof Dean Jerry (Professor of Aquaculture, James Cook University, Queensland) and Dr Camilla Thompson (RD&E Coordinator, Australian Prawn Farmers Association) about the most recent research advances in the Australian prawn industry and opportunities for further research and collaboration.

Black Tiger prawns predominate the Australian prawn industry, but they are hard to domesticate. Prawn farms rely on the capture of wild brood stock that are caught and brought into hatcheries to spawn to then stock prawn ponds. Knowledge about the domestication and selective breeding of Black Tiger prawn is paramount for the industry to be highly productive and profitable and this information needs to be accessible when the industry is ready. Prof Dean Jerry and his team (including a number of collaborative partners) sought to better understand the population genetic structure of wild stocks to identify traits that may be desirable in a selective breeding program, such as growth and tolerance to viruses and disease. Three major genetic stocks have been identified in Australia and there is opportunity to select and cross-breed between genetic stocks to maximise genetic diversity. However, creating accurate genetic records about performance of families is set to be a challenge for selective breeding programs because thousands of individuals within each cohort need to be genotyped to find enough representatives from each family to estimate brood stock genetic performances. There were no major genes for body weight, but some markers were identified and will be further explored. However, a strong chromosomal region in the genome linked to sex of prawns was found! This is really exciting as female prawns grow faster and are larger, so breeding objectives in the future could be skewed towards producing more females in the farmed population. The project also looked at machine learning to industrially phenotype prawns for body weight using photographs which had 97-98% accuracy of predicting the weight of an individual, which is a massive advantage to selective breeding programs. Selecting prawns for increased tolerance to viruses and diseases is also a major focus in selective breeding programs because 40% of losses in aquaculture is caused by disease. Some prawn populations have tolerance to gill-associated virus, but the heritability of the trait is low. However, this is still a trait worth selecting for in future breeding programs. Recent research has also found that the microbiome within the gut of prawns and in ponds is important in determining productivity of a crop and also may have potential for identifying new probiotics.

Overall, this research has set the prawn industry in good stead to start developing genomic prediction models for the Black Tiger prawn.


Lucy Watt

AAAS QLD & NT Branch Committee

To listen to the full webinar, including some interesting discussions between the speakers, visit our FaceBook page

For further information directly relating to this research please contact

Dean Jerry,

For further information about grants in aquaculture and connecting to industry please contact

Camilla Thompson,