Manjimup marron claws its way on to mainstream menus

10th May 2023 | EATIVITY Editors

Marron farming has a long and proud history in Western Australia, but labour and land requirements have previously inhibited the industry’s expansion. Now, the large freshwater crayfish, native to WA’s south-west river systems, has become a highly-valued ingredient sought by some of Australia’s most awarded restaurants. With demand outstripping supply, the quintessential native food is on track to become the next barramundi, thanks to an innovative new production method.

Marron is served in some of Australia’s top restaurants including Attica in Melbourne, Catalina in Rose Bay and Cirrus in Barangaroo.

Culinary creative and Head Chef of Perth’s award-winning, 3-hatted restaurant Wildflower, Michael D’Adamo says Manjimup marron is ideally suited to their nature-based menu. “The consistency is flawless and that’s something we really strive for at Wildflower,” D’Adamo said.

The restaurant’s intricate menu is built around the six seasons of the Indigenous Noongar culture, with a focus on highlighting the best native ingredients the region has to offer. Mr D’Adamo didn’t discover the culinary value of Manjimup marron until well into his career while working in Melbourne at renowned restaurants such as Cumulus Inc. and with acclaimed chef Jacques Reymond.

Manjimup marron with sweetcorn, desert lime, ajo blanco.

Manjimup marron has a sweet, firm flesh that carries flavour in a way that many other shellfish can’t, and it can be prepared using many different methods.

“Sometimes we blanch it and then glaze it back through the oven with butter and serve it with togarashi elements, barbecue it or serve it cold with a finger lime dressing – almost ceviche-style,” D’Adamo said. “We’ve always had glowing feedback about our Manjimup marron dishes, no matter what season we are in.”

Born in Western Australia, D’Adamo has worked in some of the most celebrated restaurants in Perth, Melbourne and London.

Manjimup marron has garnered a reputation as one of WA’s best kept secrets, but if Perth-based agritech start-up Aquatic AI has anything to do with it, it won’t stay that way for much longer.

Thanks to research investment from AgriFutures Australia, Andrew Walker, and his Aquatic AI co-founder Michael Storey are working with scientists at the University of Western Australia to develop a modern approach to marron farming to solve a problem that has hampered industry growth for years. “One of the biggest challenges of growing marron at scale is that they are not the greatest neighbours to each other,” Walker said.

Andrew Walker and Michael Storey, the Co-Founders of Aquatic AI. 

Aquatic AI aims to develop a vertical farming system that will overcome that issue and reduce land, water and labour requirements at the same time. Currently, Australia produces about 80 tonnes of farmed marron per year, with 60 tonnes of that produced in Western Australian farms.

The Aquatic AI team aren’t interested in gradual production gains – their dreams are much bigger. “We see WA rock lobster as such an iconic industry and it’s worth half a billion dollars. We don’t see any reason why marron can’t compete with it on a global stage.”

While traditional marron farming in outdoor ponds yields around three or four marron/square metre, Aquatic AI has already achieved yields of more than 100/square metre in its trial laboratory using a tank stacking system to optimise its physical footprint. “By using robotics and data analysis, we see that growing to around 1,000/square metre and we also expect improved growth rates, improved taste and good conditions for an animal to live in.”

Part of the on-going modelling for Aquatic AI’s farming system is also focused on optimising the nutrition and sale size of the marron to balance flavour, market demands and cost drivers. “Marron is the largest commercially available freshwater crayfish, with demand outstripping supply, so we really want to play into those strengths,” Storey said.

Wildflower sources about 80 kilograms of Manjimup marron a week, serving it up to between 500-600 diners, except during periods of unavailability. They literally can’t get enough of it.

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