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The Farming Potential of Cherabin, a Freshwater Prawn

(Macrobrachium spinipes)


Ken Robinson (kennethrobinson2@bigpond.com) writes: Just in case you missed this one, I’ve attached some information on one of my pet projects.


Shrimp News: Hi Ken, Thanks for thinking of Shrimp News.  Very interesting.  Before I post anything about the freshwater prawn “cherabin”, I’ll need a little more information.


1. What is its species name?

2. What is its range in the wild?

3. Is it farmed anywhere in the world?


Ken Robinson:

1. It’s Macrobrachium spinipes (formerly M. rosenbergii)

2. It’s range is northern Australia and some parts of Southeast Asia, including      Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

3. It has not been farmed because it’s considered to be too aggressive.

Charles Darwin University in the Northern Territory tried and failed some

    years ago.


For further information contact Associate Professor Chaoshu Zeng (email chaoshu.zeng@jcu.edu.au) at James Cook University.  I am sure he will be happy to provide information because he seems to be the only other person who’s interested in it.


Recent Internet Report on Cherabin: A native prawn known as “cherabin”, found in northern Australian waterways, could have potential for commercial aquaculture in the northern Australia.


Trials at James Cook University have shown cherabin can be bred and grown in ponds to over 200 grams.  In addition, there is strong market potential for it.


James Cook University associate professor Chaoshu Zeng has studied aquaculture techniques for crustaceans for 20 years and has been researching the commercial potential of cherabin for the past four years.


Zeng said successful trials growing cherabin in tanks had shown that it could be bred in captivity.  “We won’t need wild broodstock after one or two years,” he said.


The infrastructure needed to grow cherabin commercially is relatively simple and is not very labor intensive.  Zeng said, “I think it is very suitable for remote areas where there is not a lot of infrastructure, like northern Australia.”


He said cherabin has a market advantage over marine shrimp because it can be grown to larger sizes.  “I envisage these selling at a premium price in Hong Kong and Singapore.  They can be shipped easily out of Darwin.  We could ship them anywhere in the world.


Ken Robinson (above) said, “If cherabin aquaculture is to grow in Australia, I think it should target...prawn sizes from 60 grams up to 150 grams.  ...The largest grow up to 220 grams in a very short period.  The saltwater prawn is usually less than 40 grams.”


In growout trials Zeng said it was difficult to grow large numbers of cherabin to a consistent size.  “There was a certain percentage that were still very small,” he said.  “Some were 2 grams and some up to 200 grams.  There was a huge variation in cherabin growth.”  He said the growth variation was caused by the dominant males inhibiting the growth of smaller animals.  When the larger males were removed to other ponds, the smaller cherabin grew quicker.


Ken Robinson has researched cherabin on his own for years and recently presented his ideas to the Joint Select Committee on Northern Australia.  Robinson said the northern coast of the Northern Territory was ideal for a cherabin farm.  He said, “We have the clean, green image; we have very large amounts of suitable land and large amounts of water.”


Robinson said alongside the export potential, there was a strong local market for cherabin.  “At the moment they come from somewhere in Southeast Asia, through Sydney Fish Markets, and they are wholesaling at $20 per kilo,” he said.


“I can imagine in a top-end restaurant—as long as the water is kept above 25 degrees they are quite comfortable—they could be on display [in aquariums] and cooked on demand.”


New Guinea Study on Cherabin Farming: The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) has invested extensively in research to increase production from inland aquaculture in Papua New Guinea (PNG).  It is evaluating Macrobrachium spinipes as a potential commercial species.


This project has two components:


Determine the performance of Macrobrachium spinipes through its larval, nursery and growout phases and demonstrate that reliable hatchery production is feasible.


Four in-country missions have been conducted to date.  During the first mission in September 2011, available infrastructure was assessed and an outdoor wet-lab at the University of Papua New Guinea’s was selected as the best site for a demonstration hatchery.  In 2012, an agreement was signed to re-configure the wet-lab as a prawn hatchery.  Work on the hatchery was 90% completed during the second in-country mission.


Macrobrachium spinipes are present and available as hatchery broodstock in the Aigevaru, Laloki Angabanga, Woma and other rivers.


During the fourth mission in May 2013, the hatchery work was completed.  On starting up the air blower for the first time, it promptly jammed and is now the subject of a warranty claim.  Apart from this, the hatchery is now ready to begin the first-ever trial run of Macrobrachium spinipes.


Sources: 1. Emails to Shrimp News International.  Subject: Prawn. Ken Robinson.  October 24 and 25, 2015.  2. ABC Rural.  Native Prawn Touted for Top End Commercial Aquaculture Potential.  October 22, 2015.  3. Australian Government.  Evaluation of the Potential for Commercial Aquaculture of the Freshwater Prawn Macrobrachium Rosenbergii [Renamed Macrobrachium spinipes] in Papua New Guinea.  Project Completion Date, January 2014.  4. Bob Rosenberry, Shrimp News International, October 26, 2015.

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