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Top seafood species tipped

THE Western Australian Government needs to focus on a handful of high potential species if the aquaculture industry is to achieve its full potential, a new report has recommended.

Prawns, southern bluefin tuna and abalone are the species with the highest potential, according to the report by consultant Zelko Lendich.

Species with medium potential include beta carotene (a form of algae); black pearls; finfish such as barramundi, mahi-mahi and yellowtail kingfish; and marron and yabby.

Mr Lendich has identified a range of initiatives to foster development of the aquaculture industry, which has chronically failed to live up to expectations.

“Despite the issuing of nearly 500 licences, there is concern in some quarters that aquaculture’s potential may not be realised,” the report says.

“The overriding concern relates to the judgement made by investors that the expected returns from a particular aquaculture project are insufficient to cover the perceived risks.

“Hence the central thrust of this draft strategy is an attempt to reduce the uncertainties, diminish the perceived risks and demonstrate the potential for achieving sustainable returns.”

The report argues that Government should take calculated risks and be more proactive.

Specific recommendations include investigating the establishment of pilot prawn farms in the Kimberley.

Private groups have been trying for many years to establish prawn farms at Exmouth, Derby and Wyndham and, the report says, the pilot farms could be established independently by the WA Government or jointly with industry.

It advocates the development of a commercial-scale abalone grow-out facility.

The State currently has two relatively small abalone farms at Albany and Bremer Bay and plans for commercial scale abalone farms have not yet come to fruition.

The report calls for the reopening of discussions with community and environmental groups in Esperance over the development of sea cage farming of southern bluefin tuna.

It also calls for research into the establishment of a public heavy-duty jetty in Esperance.

MG Kailis Group has been assessing the possibility of transferring some of its southern bluefin tuna quota from Port Lincoln in South Australia to Esperance, subject to gaining community and environmental support.

The report has questioned existing Government support for marron and yabby farming, which provides a secondary income for many wheat farms. It says the industry should be encouraged to provide more funding for research and recommends the Avondale research facility be moth-balled once current projects are completed, unless alternative funding can be obtained.

The report also questions Government support for inland finfish species, which are categorised as having low potential.

It recommends a moratorium on significant Government-funded projects until species with economic potential are identified.

Other species with low potential include mussels – which are currently farmed at Cockburn Sound – and ornamental fish.

Rock lobster and yellowfin tuna are described as having high potential but needing significant research and development.

A group of fishermen in Geraldton are looking at the possibility of farming yellowfin tuna in sea cages in the Abrolhos Islands.

General recommendations include the provision of Government grants to project proponents once they have met “key hurdles” to assist with preparation of business, marketing or investment plans.

The report recommends the Government and Western Power reintroduce schemes to provide infrastructure to projects in isolated locations. The issue of power supplies arose early this year when Western Power initially said it would not supply a new aquaculture venture near Exmouth.

It reversed this decision after Gascoyne Minister Tom Stephens intervened on behalf of project proponent Marine Farms. At an organisational level, the report recommends formation of an Aquaculture Development Council to advise the relevant minister and oversee the proposed Aquaculture Development Group, a small unit that would report directly to the Minister for Fisheries.

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