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Demand drives aquaculture

THE next serve of snapper you buy may never have been in the ocean. Instead it may have been born and bred at the Aquaculture Development Unit (ADU) at Challenger TAFE.

The ADU’s snapper marketing trial is one of many new initiatives under way in WA’s aquaculture industry.

Aquaculture has long held great potential and there is increasing hope this potential will soon be realised.

Private sector investment could reach $100 million if current proposals in WA came to fruition, according to industry watchers.

The projected growth is not just in WA. The Federal Government’s Aquaculture Industry Action Agenda aims to more than triple the value of aquaculture produc-tion to $2.5 billion by 2010.

Aquaculture’s positive prospects are based on a very simple supply and demand equation.

The world’s wild fisheries have reached their maximum sustain-able yield of about 100 million tonnes per annum, while world demand for seafood products is expected to rise to 150 million tonnes by 2050, according to the Department of Fisheries.

Aquaculture aims to fill the breach.

The aquaculture industry in WA is highly diverse, from yabby farming in farm dams through to marron farming in purpose-built ponds and intensive sea-cage farming.

It includes oyster farming at Broome, barramundi farming at Lake Argyle, mussel farming at Cockburn Sound, and algae farming at Carnarvon (for the production of beta carotene, a pigment used in food and cosmetics).

Species with high growth potential include tiger prawns, greenlip abalone and black pearls, according to Greg Paust, program manager for Pearling and Aquaculture at the Department of Fisheries.

The increased interest in the industry is highlighted by the growth in the number of aquaculture licences issued by the department, from 120 in 1984 to 480 currently.

Many of the extra licences have been issued to groups engaged in research and pilot projects.

The challenge for the industry is to convert pilot projects into commercial scale projects.

“The major bottleneck is that proponents haven’t been able to attract sufficient capital,” said consultant Zelko Lendich, who is preparing an industry development plan for the State Government, 

“The industry needs patient investors prepared to wait three or four years.”

Other issues the industry needs to manage include achieving environmentally sustainable practices and Native Title claims.

“Australia has a clean, green image. This may be a real marketing advantage,” Mr Lendich said.

Many of the new growth areas, including black pearls, tiger prawns and barramundi, are based in the north of the State.

High hopes are held for black pearl aquaculture, around Shark Bay and the Abrolhos Islands, following the first commercial harvest of black pearls last year.

Tiger prawns are another species with high potential, boosted by the first successful grow out of black prawns in controlled conditions last year.

Two substantial production facilities have been licensed at Exmouth and Derby and there are plans for a third facility at Wyndham.

In the south of WA, greenlip abalone is the species with the most exciting potential. In fact, the south coast has been identified as the prime growing area in Australia for greenlip abalone.

Great Southern Marine Hatcheries at Albany and Bayside Abalone Farms at Bremer Bay have established relatively small breeding and grow-out facilities. Plans for larger commercial ventures have to date been halted by their inability to raise the $8-$10 million needed.

Research by the Department of Fisheries has improved the prospects of successful commercial production. Specifically, researchers have increased the proportion of abalone larvae settling on feeding grounds in nurseries from 5 per cent to 60 per cent.

While coastal aquaculture holds great potential, inland aquaculture is already a significant industry.

In many cases it is a cottage industry. For instance, many farmers in the eastern Wheatbelt grow yabbies in their dams as a part-time pursuit.

The award winning Cambinata Yabbies, based at Kukerin, has taken the industry to a new level by forming a supply network of 650 farms.

Cambinata collects the yabbies from farms and exports to Asia, Europe and the US.

Marron is another well-established sector and the Department of Fisheries has an active research program to support the industry.

The Aquaculture Development Unit at Challenger TAFE – the largest applied R&D facility for marine finfish in Australia – is investigating a range of new opportunities for inland aquaculture.

These include the farming of black bream, King George whiting and snapper in saline ponds at Northam.

This research is designed to help farmers – particularly those affected by land degradation – who may consider diversifying into aquaculture. The ADU is also researching potential new species for aquaculture in WA, including jade perch, yellowtail kingfish, mulloway and roe’s abalone.

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