13/02/2008 - 22:00

Lobster licence boost for industry

13/02/2008 - 22:00

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The Department of Fisheries has granted its first commercial lobster aquaculture licence, signalling a possible revival of the fledgling industry.

The Department of Fisheries has granted its first commercial lobster aquaculture licence, signalling a possible revival of the fledgling industry.

The licence, granted to Western Kingfish, will allow the company to culture and sell several lobster species, including Moreton Bay bugs, tropical rock lobster and western rock lobster.

Western Kingfish director Alan Savage said the company would look to establish a small scale pilot project for the larval rearing and grow-out systems for Moreton Bay bugs and tropical rock lobster at its Jurien Bay facility within the next few months.

Western Kingfish is awaiting a ministerial exemption to collect a small number of western rock lobster in the juvenile phase, called pueruli, to conduct studies into the commercial feasibility of an aquaculture industry.

“The technical feasibility of collecting pueruli on a scale to grow out commercially is uncertain,” Mr Savage said.

Western rock lobster takes longer to grow to marketable size compared with tropical rock lobster, taking about two years to reach 250 grams and between four and five years to reach a marketable 450-500g.

The western rock lobster industry has undergone rationalisation, rising costs and below-average catches in recent years.

The industry is also concerned that it could be in for one of its lowest harvests on record in two to three years’ time, with Fisheries data indicating the lowest puerulis settlement since records began.

That means the annual harvest could drop to 7,200 tonnes by the 2010-11 season, significantly less than this year’s 9,200t.

Western Rock Lobster Council executive officer Alice Hurlbatt said the council did not oppose lobster aquaculture, provided certain conditions were met and the allocation was closely monitored by fisheries.

“Sustainability is our number one concern. We’re keen to make sure that sustainability label stays,” she said.

Geraldton Fishermen’s Cooperative chief executive Wayne Hosking said  any significant increase in the volume of product had the potential to affect the price of wild caught product.

“In an industry already stressed by high costs, low catches and low prices, there are genuine concerns about sustainability of stocks and compensation for access to the resource,” he said.

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