Presenter: Sean Dorney
Speakers: Phillipe and Benedicte Gontard, business owners; Michel Blanc, Nearshore Fisheries Development Adviser
DORNEY: About an hour's drive into the mountains north west of Noumea takes you to a property owned by Phillippe and Benedicte Gontard. They've have both retired - he was an engineer and she was a nurse and senior health department official.
But they have not stopped work.
They have set up a small workshop a few hundred metres from their home where they turn fishheads and the rest of the fish not wanted by the tuna loining factory in Noumea into fish sillage - liquid fertilizer which they are marketing as BioAgri-NC.
I went along with media people from throughout the Pacific who were attending a workshop titled Tunanomics. Phillippe Gontard opened up some of the large plastic drums where the fish waste is fermenting and invited invited participants to see the results.
VOICE OF PNG FEMALE JOURNALIST: It's not smelling. The ones from the tuna plant is PNG is very smelly. This one is not very smelly.
DORNEY: The reason is that formic acid is added to the ground up fish waste which prevents it from rotting. An interpreter from the S-P-C was on hand to translate as Phillippe Gontard told the group how they have made a business out of what is normally thrown away.
PHILLIPPE GONTARD (Translator): But we had to face this issue of fish waste that went to the dumping grounds. And in New Caledonia it represents 900 tonnes per year that go to the rubbish dumps!
DORNEY: The scientist at the S-P-C who helped the Gontard's get their operation going is Michel Blanc, a Nearshore Fisheries Development Adviser.
He's written an illustrated booklet - something like a comic book - on 'How to make Fish Sillage' which has been distributed throughout the Pacific.
He says the process he is advocating is better suited to people in the Pacific Islands who have access to the waste from tuna processing facilities or markets.
He says that in the more isolated villages fish waste is not much of a problem because Pacific Islanders eat the heads of the fish and put the remainder to use.
BLANC: They either cook it and give that to the pigs or to the chicken or they bury it in the soil so it is fertilizer.
DORNEY: But he says at major fish processing facilities like the one in Noumea a lot of fish waste is often just thrown away.
BLANC: People don't realise that when you process one tuna you have about 50 per cent of waste, of by-product. The by-product is about 50 per cent when you take the loins off a tuna this is 50 per cent of the fish. Then the rest, the head, the skin, the bones, the fins, everything - another 50 per cent.
DORNEY: He estimates the cost of dumping that in New Caledonia comes to about $100,000 a year. Back at the Gontard property at Mont Mou Phillippe is explaining through an interpreter the process that Michel Blanc taught them.
PHILLIPPE GONTARD (Translator): There's no fishy smell or bad smell. The acid has brought the PH to four and this enables to prevent the rotting process.
DORNEY: His wife, Benedicte says the resulting liquid fertilizer is high grade.
BENEDICTE GONTARD (Translator): And so it's very rich for the earth and to nourish the soil especially here where they lack a lot of phosphorus and calcium.
DORNEY: Michel Blanc says there is room for much larger projects utilising fish waste. He says the Gontards are taking less than one percent of the waste from the Noumea plant.
BLANC: The process would be fairly similar to what you saw this morning although this morning it's purely for fertilizer.
DORNEY: And it's a very good fertilizer?
BLANC: It's great. I mean it's dynamite.
DORNEY: Philippe Gontard opened a number of those large plastic drums to show us the various stages of the breakdown of the fish sillage. Early on it's like damp meal. But as the process goes on the solids are gradually converted into an oily liquid. As he showed me a drum just filled a week or two ago he told me that the rate of conversion depends very much upon how hot the weather is.
DORNEY: How many days between here and there?
PHILLIPPE GONTARD: In warm time it is short - two weeks or three weeks or one month. In cold time three months or eight months.
DORNEY: And he joked that it was not quite as easy as Michel Blanc's comic book suggested. Michel said the coversion process would be a lot quicker if the Gontard's could also get the guts of the fish.
The enzymes in the gut would accelerate the breakdown. However, in New Caledonia the fish have to be gutted at sea. Elsewhere in the Pacific that might not be case and the SPC believes creating fish sillage from fish waste is a business opportunity for Pacific Islanders in places where there are canneries or processing factories.
BLANC: What you saw is one way of using the waste is to transform into fish fertiliser. But you can, you can extract the oil for human, you know, pharmacetical use and all that. So there's many ways of using it. But the idea is that instead of dumping this product, make use of it and do something with it through value adding. That's what we're promoting in the Pacific.