Aquaculture on a rising tide

Photo of farmed tiger prawns

With planning approvals finalised, and crucial research underway, Australia appears to be poised for a surge in aquaculture production

In 2008 it seemed optimistic, but not unreasonable, that Australia would be producing 100,000 tonnes of fish and seafood from aquaculture by 2015. At the Skretting Australasian Aquaculture 2008 International Conference and Trade Show, then-chairman of the National Aquaculture Council Craig Foster offered a list of targets for the aquaculture industry, based on innovation in technology and production that were by then underway (FISH June 2008).

Some of the anticipated growth has not eventuated and aquaculture production in 2014-15 reached about 85,000 tonnes. However, several major developments and expansions are underway or in the final planning stages, which suggests a surge in production in the next two to five years.

Tasmania’s Atlantic Salmon sector production more than doubled to 48,614 tonnes from 2006 to 2015, and the sector has a growth strategy that targets a further doubling of production by 2030. Atlantic Salmon remains the strongest sector to see increased growth over the coming five years.

More prawns

The prawn sector is set to be another big mover in aquaculture in the next decade. The Australian Research Council Industrial Transformation Research Hub for Advanced Prawn Breeding is sequencing the genome of the Black Tiger Prawn as part of efforts to advance domestication of this species and launch production on an industrial scale.

Project Sea Dragon, an initiative of the Seafarms Group, expects to begin construction next year on an industrial-scale facility in the Northern Territory, capable of producing 100,000 tonnes of Black Tiger Prawns. The venture is scheduled to come on-line in 2019, capitalising on these projected advances in breeding.

Expansion is also underway in Queensland, where stringent environmental regulations related to water discharges into the Great Barrier Reef have restricted development for many years. Pacific Reef Fisheries, James Cook University, CSIRO and the Queensland Departure of Agriculture and Fisheries have all worked on the development of new (government-approved) water treatment options. This has been key to winning approval for Pacific Reef’s plans to expand production from 1000 to 4000 tonnes, with construction of new ponds to begin next year.

White fish options

Yellowtail Kingfish was expected to be a major growth sector and although volumes have increased to 1200 tonnes, this has still fallen well short of projections for 2015 that ranged from 5000 to 15,000 tonnes.

Cleanseas Tuna has been the only commercial producer. It is now one of several partners in a $6 million Australian Government research project coordinated through the FRDC to improve production.

Other partners include the South Australian Research and Development Institute, Indian Ocean Fresh Australia in Western Australia, NSW Department of Primary Industries and Huon Aquaculture. It is expected that production of Yellowtail Kingfish will double in the next five years.

The aim is to establish a white fish equivalent to Atlantic Salmon in the domestic market – a position both Yellowtail Kingfish and Barramundi producers are seeking to fill.

Chris Calogeras, executive officer of the Australian Barramundi Farmers Association, says an industry survey indicates production reached about 6000 tonnes in 2016. The sector’s target is for 25,000 tonnes by 2025. Chris Calogeras anticipates this will be achieved, particularly with new aquaculture leases announced in Western Australia that will increase production capacity from 1400 to 20,000 tonnes. “We already have the commitment from our members for expansion,” he says. “Now it’s just a matter of making it happen.” 

Policy initiatives

The new aquaculture leases in WA are part of ‘investment-ready’ aquaculture zones being developed to fast track new investment. Executive officer at the Pearl Producers Association, Aaron Irving, says changes to WA legislation are also expected to open pearl leases to the production of other species. “At a policy level, small changes like this can really advance development,” he says.

At national level, the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources is developing a national aquaculture strategy to coordinate aquaculture development, which has increased in value from $806 million in 2006 to $1.186 billion in 2015.

The development of this national strategy follows the release of its National Aquaculture Statement in 2014 by then Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture Senator Richard Colbeck at the World Aquaculture Conference in Adelaide. The strategy is being drafted and is expected to be finalised in 2017.

The FRDC also sees the potential in aquaculture. Developing new and emerging aquaculture opportunities is one of three national priority areas for research the FRDC will lead on, as identified in its RD&E Plan 2015-20. It has established a subprogram of experts and a budget to lead investment in research areas to help the commercialisation of new or emerging aquaculture species (FISH June 2016). 

Australian aquaculture production: actual and projected production
Species 2006-07
 Fish  36,101 65,758
 Crustaceans  3,583      
 Molluscs  17,912 21,500
 Seaweed        5,000
 Total  57,596 94,858

Source: FRDC and ABARES


Comparison of actual and projected aquaculture production
Projection 1
 Looking forward  2021-2022
Projection 2
 Salmon and Trout
 25,253  40,000 48,614
 Growth has continued with improved production from existing areas. This is
expected to continue at similar rates and may accelerate if additional farming
areas, likely to be offshore, are established.
 7,486  13,000 8,418
 Tuna growth predicted in 2008 was based on a strategy to ranch fish for longer,
growing them to a larger size, which would increase overall tonnage. This did not
eventuate. No major increase likely other than from slight increases in quotas,
allowing more fish to be ranched.
 Sliver Perch
 322  361  314  Silver Perch likely to continue at similar levels.  350
 Barramundi  2,590  7,000  3,772
 Barramundi is likely to see more growth in production in the next few years due
to new farms and expanded area on existing farms. Growth in production after
industry consolidation and improved farming efficiency has already seen good
growth, with preliminary estimates putting 2016 production at about 6000 tonnes
 Yellowtail Kingfish
   5,000  1,200  Trials in Western Australia and New South Wales with more favourable growing
conditions are expected to increase commercial production in 3-5 years. CleanSeas
Tuna in South Australia also plans to increase its current 1200 tonnes production.
 Other ( including Kingfish)
 450  396 484
 Includes: Murray Cod, Cobia, Tropical Groupers.
NSW in particular has seen significant growth in Murray Cod production. Cobia
and Tropical Groupers may see some growth in coming years with potential new
entrants and investment in RD&E through the new and emerging aquaculture
 36,101 65,758
 3,284 7,000
 With new approvals recently granted there is likely to be good growth over the next
few years in Queensland. Potential for significant growth with Project Sea Dragon
in Northern Territory.
 Yabbies  110    34    40
 89  600  64    70
 100    45    45
 Total  3,583  7,600 5,425
 Edible oysters
 14,299  15,000 12,689
 Edible oyster production has gone backwards. Recent disease issues may see
further declines. However, investment in R&D to build resilience and disease
resistance should see the industry rebuild to recover to pre-disease production
 Pearl oysters
       Research and product development for a commercial pearl meat product is
underway in Western Australia.
 Blue Mussels
 3,145  5,000  3,678  There is development underway and the industry is expected to reach the original
projection of 5000 tonnes within the next five years.
 Abalone and other
 468  1,500  849  Current development in the abalone industry is likely to see good growth towards
the original target in the coming five years.
 17,912 21,500
 17,216    20,500
       Emerging as an option in co-production with other aquaculture.  5,000
 57,596  94,858  85,443    117,105

More information

Joshua Fielding,
02 6285 0421