Farmers mussel in on deep

FORGET the golden soils. Savvy farmers are now turning to the deep blue for inspiration.

The WA aquaculture industry is on the edge of a massive boom period, with global demand for seafood delicacies higher than ever.

Mussel growers are the most recent to enjoy the popularity, cornering the local restaurant market and are now well on the way to developing a lucrative export market.

Fisheries WA has estimated the mussel industry to be worth $1.7 million, and according to aquaculture senior program officer Tina Thorne, it has the potential to blossom into a $25 million industry if exports are successful.

“The mussel industry has done very well over the past few years, and is looking good for the future,” Ms Thorne said.

“The mussel farmers sell everything they produce… and they produced 683 tonnes of mussels in 2000.

“Some farmers are now looking at value-adding ideas of processing and packaging.”

Greg Peck, a partner in WA’s biggest farm, Blue Lagoon Mussels, said trial shipments of mussels had been received well overseas.

“We’ve exported more than 40 tonnes to Singapore, Malaysia, Italy, Greece and Japan,” Mr Peck said.

“The product has been received well and America could be next on our hit-list.”

Blue Lagoon Mussels produce 450 tonnes of shellfish a year, catering for more than half of the Perth market.

“There is a huge market for it,” Mr Peck said.

“Ten or 12 years ago, 800kg a week was considered a good harvest, and now 800kg a day is bad.

“Mussels have become more popular as a good quality seafood...some restaurants go through a tonne a week.”

According to Ms Thorne, while the mussels industry is much more than simply the flavour of the month, two other aquaculture areas were about to enjoy similar success.

“Black tiger prawns and abalone will be the next two industries to take off,” she said.

“About 15 licenses have been issued for abalone farms and three for black tiger prawns.”

Prawn farmer Bronwyn Harries expects to have the first produce from her Exmouth operation on dinner plates within 18 months.

“Prawn farmers produce 7000 tonnes a year worldwid… the demand is huge, it can’t be met,” Ms Harries said.

“The farm cost in excess of $10 million to set up… but this type of technology has had a lot of success elsewhere.

“I’ve had a long-term involvement with the fishing industry and aquaculture is the way it is going, it is becoming specialised.”

Brent Watson, chairman of WA Abalone, agreed and said the benefits of aquaculture went beyond big profits.

“Everyone knows our oceans are severely depleted and aquaculture is going to relieve our oceans and allow them to recover,” Mr Watson said.

Mr Watson said the industry was at a point where research and development meant abalone farms could now be operated within budget.

“This aquaculture technology is far from pioneering and with more research and development that is only going to get better,” he said.

“The local abalone market has not yet been tapped and when it is it will be very exciting.”

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