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Course drives fish farm plan

ESPERANCE authorities and residents are considering a proposal to run a course in environmentally sound caged fish farming.

A public meeting in the town last Thursday supported the proposal put forward by Challenger TAFE, the Conservation Council of WA, MG Kailis Group and the Esperance Marine Institute.

It is understood the course materials will be written by July.

While proponents of the course insist the course is not a ‘backdoor way’ of introducing tuna farming to the town, there is an undercurrent suggesting that if the course proves successful, fish farming may go ahead.

However, it appears any caged fish farms would be set up off the islands in the Recherche Archipelago rather than within Esperance’s bays.

Esperance Marine Institute chairman David Smallwood said the course, which has received a $50,000 WA Government grant, was not a “backdoor way” of bringing tuna farming to Esperance.

“At present there is no course in Australia on the environmentally sound operations of caged fish farms,” he said.

“The EMI is in a town that has thought seriously about the issues surrounding caged fish farming.”

Many Esperance residents vehemently opposed a Fisheries WA proposal to put tuna farms in the town’s bay in the late 1990s.

They were concerned effluent from the cages would mar the town’s pristine white beaches and that the tuna would attract sharks into the bays around Esperance.

Indeed, the proposal is still referred to locally as the “Fisheries’ debacle”.

Mr Smallwood said the course needed to be developed to everyone’s satisfaction.

“At least if we create the course we’re going to be two steps ahead of Port Lincoln, where they had a lot of problems when first establishing tuna farms,” he said.

An Esperance Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman said that if the course proved successful it could lead to caged fish farming in the town.

“There will certainly be some small scale benefits from people coming to Esperance to study the course,” she said.

“And if it shows there can be minimal impact on the town from fish farming it could create a new industry for Esperance.”

MG Kailis Group quality and new projects manager Steve Hood said there would be benefits for the company to be involved in the course even if caged fish farming never eventuated off Esperance.

“There will be spinoffs for training our people who work in South Australia,” he said.

MG Kailis is one of the major players in the Port Lincoln tuna fisheries.

Tuna are caught in the Southern Ocean and raised in pens off Port Lincoln until they reach the condition required to meet the needs of the Japanese market.

Mr Hood said the company would have to work with the Esperance community if it wanted to set up a fish farm there.

“Esperance is being used as a case study because of its awareness of the issues surrounding caged fish farming,” he said.

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