Western Australia looks to aquaculture for growth

A coordinated, inter-agency approach is being formulated to support the development of aquaculture in the west

Photo of new aquaculture zone is being developed in the Abrolhos Islands, Western Australia.

By Catherine Norwood

The need for sustained and patient capital, and an alignment of government and industry effort, were two of the key messages to emerge at a forum discussing the future of aquaculture in Western Australia earlier this year.

The 2016 Aquaculture Western Australia State Forum was the first of its kind for the state – an opportunity for industry, policy makers, regulators and funders to share information to better understand risks and barriers to aquaculture success. Participants also discussed collaborative action needed to support the sector’s development.

Attendees heard from existing aquaculture operators, including Western Australia’s Shane McLinden from Southseas Abalone, who operates abalone farms in Tasmania, South Australia and Victoria, and David Whyte from the Tasmanian Atlantic Salmon farming company Huon Aquaculture.

Erica Starling spoke about her family business, Indian Ocean Fresh Australia, based at Geraldton, which has evolved from plans to farm tuna, and then Mulloway, to its current focus on Yellowtail Kingfish.

Craig Kestel, from the land-based farm and hatchery 888 Abalone, outlined the history of the business and its partnership with the abalone-ranching operation Ocean Grown Abalone, which is set to produce its first commercial harvest of Greenlip Abalone from Flinders Bay, WA, this year, after 20 years of research into ranching techniques. Glen Dibben of Blue Lagoon Mussels also discussed the challenges of mussel farming in WA’s Cockburn Sound over more than a decade, including recent environmental changes.

Economist Dan Fels provided an overview of Operation Sea Dragon, a major initiative of the Seafarms Group that aims to establish extensive land-based prawn production, with several proposed sites in WA and the Northern Territory.

Although not involved in aquaculture, David Carter, CEO of Austral Fisheries, spoke about the challenges of maintaining a social licence to operate. Staying ahead of potential issues through engagement and good leadership would help the industry win community and consumer support from the beginning, he said. Transparency was crucial, he said.

The FRDC’s executive director, Patrick Hone, also outlined the national research, development and extension priorities, and the FRDC’s New and Emerging Aquaculture Opportunities sub-program. He said it was important to focus on in-depth research about a few selected, ‘most-likely’ species, to get the best value for money, and seek out national and internatioanl expertise.  

Photo of Yellowtail Kingfish

Next-generation opportunities

Following the forum, Erica Starling said she believed the event marked a “generational opportunity” for the state, after years of limited development that have seen Tasmania, NSW and South Australia leap ahead.

“I think hearing from existing operators has opened people’s eyes to just how long we have actually been at this, and the journey – the challenges and setbacks,” she said. “Aquaculture is a risky business and there have been a lot of failures. It takes time to get it right and it must be in ‘continual improvement’ mode, which is where quality research counts. Sustained and patient capital is necessary to develop it.

“There are already some opportunities we could focus on; with a few tweaks we could be away. It’s about creating the right environment to bring in the sophisticated and educated aquaculture investors to see the opportunities here and to help grow the industry.” She pointed to Barramundi, Yellowtail Kingfish and abalone as three species already showing potential in WA, and suited to different areas of the state.

The forum was coordinated by WA’s Regional Development Commissions and followed a major statement of commitment to aquaculture issued last year by WA Premier Colin Barnett. This included support for “investment-ready” aquaculture zones, the first of which has been established at Cone Bay, with another underway for the Abrolhos Islands off Geraldton.

Regional investment

The need for sustained and patient capital, and an alignment of government and industry effort, were two of the key messages to emerge at a forum discussing the future of aquaculture in Western Australia earlier this year.

The 2016 Aquaculture Western Australia State Forum was the first of its kind for the state – an opportunity for industry, policy makers, regulators and funders to share information to better understand risks and barriers to aquaculture success. Participants also discussed collaborative action needed to support the sector’s development.

Attendees heard from existing aquaculture operators, including Western Australia’s Shane McLinden from Southseas Abalone, who operates abalone farms in Tasmania, South Australia and Victoria, and David Whyte from the Tasmanian Atlantic Salmon farming company Huon Aquaculture.

Erica Starling spoke about her family business, Indian Ocean Fresh Australia, based at Geraldton, which has evolved from plans to farm tuna, and then Mulloway, to its current focus on Yellowtail Kingfish.

Craig Kestel, from the land-based farm and hatchery 888 Abalone, outlined the history of the business and its partnership with the abalone-ranching operation Ocean Grown Abalone, which is set to produce its first commercial harvest of Greenlip Abalone from Flinders Bay, WA, this year, after 20 years of research into ranching techniques. Glen Dibben of Blue Lagoon Mussels also discussed the challenges of mussel farming in WA’s Cockburn Sound over more than a decade, including recent environmental changes.

Economist Dan Fels provided an overview of Operation Sea Dragon, a major initiative of the Seafarms Group that aims to establish extensive land-based prawn production, with several proposed sites in WA and the Northern Territory.

Although not involved in aquaculture, David Carter, CEO of Austral Fisheries, spoke about the challenges of maintaining a social licence to operate. Staying ahead of potential issues through engagement and good leadership would help the industry win community and consumer support from the beginning, he said. Transparency was crucial, he said.

The FRDC’s executive director, Patrick Hone, also outlined the national research, development and extension priorities, and the FRDC’s New and Emerging Aquaculture Opportunities sub-program. He said it was important to focus on in-depth research about a few selected, ‘most-likely’ species, to get the best value for money, and seek out national and internatioanl expertise.  

Next-generation opportunities

Following the forum, Erica Starling said she believed the event marked a “generational opportunity” for the state, after years of limited development that have seen Tasmania, NSW and South Australia leap ahead.

“I think hearing from existing operators has opened people’s eyes to just how long we have actually been at this, and the journey – the challenges and setbacks,” she said. “Aquaculture is a risky business and there have been a lot of failures. It takes time to get it right and it must be in ‘continual improvement’ mode, which is where quality research counts. Sustained and patient capital is necessary to develop it.

“There are already some opportunities we could focus on; with a few tweaks we could be away. It’s about creating the right environment to bring in the sophisticated and educated aquaculture investors to see the opportunities here and to help grow the industry.” She pointed to Barramundi, Yellowtail Kingfish and abalone as three species already showing potential in WA, and suited to different areas of the state.

The forum was coordinated by WA’s Regional Development Commissions and followed a major statement of commitment to aquaculture issued last year by WA Premier Colin Barnett. This included support for “investment-ready” aquaculture zones, the first of which has been established at Cone Bay, with another underway for the Abrolhos Islands off Geraldton.

Regional investment

Eight of WA’s nine Regional Development Commissions identified aquaculture as a major growth opportunity in their 10-year development “blueprints”. These blueprints were finalised  in 2015 and are backed by a $642 million investment through WA’s Royalties for Regions program, part of which will be earmarked for aquaculture.

Minister for Regional Development Terry Redman, who opened the forum, said afterwards that a 10-year plan would be developed to help WA capitalise on the potential of aquaculture to build a new industry and generate economic growth for the state. A multi-agency approach would be needed to coordinate fishing, investment, planning and training expertise.

At the forum, the aquaculture industry called for a high-level advisory group of relevant government agencies and industry members to lead the sector’s expansion and growth over the next 10 years. The FRDC will be part of these ongoing discussions.

More information

Erica Starlin, erica@wn.com.au

Western Australia Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development – Fisheries