Friday, May 3, 2013

Farming fish as demand goes up but supply is down

A proposal to establish an aquaculture zone off Western Australia's Mid West coast is attracting criticism from environmentalists.

A dwindling supply and rising costs of wild fish are facing consumers and farmed product is one option.

In 2011, funding was allocated to creating WA's first zones, one in the Kimberley and the other in the Mid West, for ocean fish farms to meet the growing demand for finfish like Pink Snapper.

The Department of Fisheries says after an extensive site selection process, the Kimberly zone at Cone Bay is close to completion and the Mid West zone is due to be established by 2014.

The department's John Eyres says there are a number of factors which will determine the final location for the Mid West.

"We would like to avoid prime fishing ground and we also need to be relatively close to a major population centre," he said.

"Aquaculture always needs some form of shelter from the elements, we would like to be within the leeward side of an island or reef and we would also like to avoid coral, seagrass and any fauna breeding sites."

The zones are essentially designed to streamline the approval processes for aquaculture investors from the current average of about four years to around six months.


The Aquaculture Council of Western Australia's chairman Justin Clarke says that would be an instant time saver for operators who often struggle to set up fish farms in the state.

"The approvals process in Western Australia is a massive disincentive to start aquaculture," he said.

"There are people who have looked at it and moved to another jurisdiction just because it's been too hard to go down that path."

Mr Clarke says there are a number of technical studies, impact assessments and public reviews that are required to establish a fish farm.

"That can costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and for a start-up organisation, that's obviously not something you'd like to be doing at the very beginning of your business, before you've even put a single animal into the water," he said.

The ACWA chairman says the zones would reduce a significant number of those costs.

There are three proposed sites in the Mid West; one in deep waters off Port Gregory, north of Geraldton, and two off the Abrolhos Islands.

The fisheries department has set aside 32,000 hectares within the wave shadow of the Abrolhos and 2,500 hectares at Port Gregory.

Geraldton-based commercial rock lobster fisherman, Terry Mouchemore, attended a consultation meeting held by the department.

He says he would prefer the zone to be located at the Port Gregory site for a couple of reasons.

"It [would] make operations easier for proponents of aquaculture ventures given that it had proximity to the mainland, so their logistical needs would be much easier met," he said.

"Secondly, it would serve the purpose of breathing new life back into the dying fishing town at Port Gregory."

The Conservation Council of WA's Tim Nicol says any operations near the Abrolhos Islands would not be appropriate.

"It's an A-class reserve," he said.

"The marine environment surrounding that is particularly special, it's one of the most important marine areas along the West Coast of Western Australia.

"Given the potential impact in terms of nutrients, antibiotics, diseases from aquaculture pens, the Abrolhos would absolutely be an inappropriate place for aquaculture.

"It's really too important to be turning it into a farm."

Nutrient pollution

John Eyres says there will be numerous studies and assessments conducted before a final location is selected.

He accepts that one of the well-known impacts of aquaculture is nutrient pollution.

"This project seeks to deal with that problem by having a comprehensive, hydro-dynamic and ecosystem modelling that will show how waste products from fish settle and how the environmental flushing of an area will deal with that," he said.

"This will allow us to set the number of aquaculture operators and the size and production to a particular limit to minimise any risk to the environment."

Mr Nicol says aquaculture needs to be approached very carefully if it is to achieve positive long-term sustainable results.

"Aquaculture will play an increasingly important role in the future but we need to be very careful how we do it otherwise we're going to create more problems than we solve," he said.

"You're smothering a large area so it could be a long time before it recovers and it may not return to being the same.

"There is a risk of irreversible damage."

ACWA's chairman Justin Clarke says it is in the best interest of the aquaculture industry to operate in a sustainable manner.

"Like agriculture, it's approached generally as a business so with regard to health to the environment," he said.

"It's very important to fish farmers that the environment is healthy so that the animals in turn are healthy.

"You don't want them to be exposed to an environment that is degraded and thus risk the health of your domesticated animals."

The Department of Fisheries says the long-term goal of attracting industry to develop in West Australian aquaculture zones it to secure a share of the growing seafood market worldwide and to supply selected domestic markets.

Mr Clarke says Australia is a massive net importer of fish.

He says expanding aquaculture and establishing the zones is one way of ensuring more local produce is supplied to WA.

"To be given the option to purchase fish that are good quality West Australian seafood, where the origin is clearly traceable, is considered a great plus by restaurateurs and retailers," he said.

"We're seeing the industry grow all around the world and we have the opportunity for it to be a well run and well managed industry in this state.

"Assuming that WA follows trends around the world, more and more of the seafood eaten by people will come from WA aquaculture."

The fisheries department is yet to be granted approval from the Environmental Protection Authority to establish the zones.

Source: ABC News

Photo courtesy of Richard Dorrell via Wikimedia Commons