Aquaculture: The Blue Revolution

By Johnson, Katherine | Ecos, Spring 1997 | Go to article overview

Aquaculture: The Blue Revolution


Johnson, Katherine, Ecos


A blue revolution is sweeping Australia. From the tropical north to the temperate south, more aquatic species than ever before are spending their lives -- from egg to adult -- in ponds on the land and in coastal enclosures.

The reason is aquaculture. Primary producers are backing this burgeoning industry, encouraged by the clean water, large climatic range and scientific knowledge Australia has to offer.

Already more than 60 species of fish, shellfish and aquatic plants are being farmed, generating more than $400 million annually. Aquaculture, one of Australia's fastest growing primary industries, already supplies one fifth of the total value of Australia's fisheries production, and it seems our hunger for seafood just keeps growing.

In the past three years, aquaculture production in Australia has increased by 46% in tonnage and 80% in value. The dramatic increase in value is the result of a concentration on high-value species such as Atlantic salmon (Tasmania), Southern Bluefin Tuna (South Australia), oysters (Tasmania and NSW) and prawns (NSW, Northern Territory and Queensland). Emerging industries include barramundi, silver perch and abalone.

But it's not just Australia that is experiencing this boom. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation reported the total world aquaculture production in 1994 reached 25.5 million tonnes valued at US$39.8 billion: an increase in tonnage of nearly 12% on the previous year. It is predicted aquaculture will meet at least 40% of the global demand for seafood in the next 15 years.

CSIRO aquaculture specialist Dr Peter Rothlisberg says the key to the success of aquaculture worldwide will be the adoption of sustainable farming practices. Importantly, aquaculture needs to occur alongside other coastal uses, with minimal environmental impact.

There is also a need to produce disease-free, superior animals, improved feeds, and value-added products such as pharmaceuticals.

In all these areas, Australian scientific research is providing answers, and in many cases generating novel techniques and technologies, that ire giving the nation's aquaculture industry a competitive edge.

In CSIRO alone there are seven divisions involved in aquaculture research. Much of this is being carried out through the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Aquaculture with funding from the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation.

Controlled development

Clean and Green: these words describe the reputation of Australia's aquaculture industry, and are perhaps its greatest market advantage. It is a reputation that cannot be compromised, Rothlisberg says.

Geographically we have had a headstart. Clean water and low farm density in relation to coastline are critical for a high standard of aquaculture product. Japan produces 3000 times more aquaculture product for a given area of coastline than Australia. Low farm density also reduces the potential impact of aquaculture farms on each other and on the surrounding environment.

Rothlisberg says sustainable farming practices are essential if the current rate of development is to continue while maintaining environmental quality. It is a fact that local governments and aquaculturalists are acutely aware of.

Uncontrolled aquaculture development overseas, together with unsustainable farming practices, have resulted in poor water quality, disease and, not surprisingly, severe losses in production.

`We have a completely different situation. Because Australian aquaculture is relatively new and community awareness of environmental issues is high, the industry here is subject to close scrutiny,' Rothlisberg says.

In Australia, aquaculture farms arc licensed under strict state laws, which cover operations such as water supply and waste water and prevent uncontrolled or extensive development.

In addition, Australia leads the world in researching sustainable aquaculture practices, from farm site-selection to effluent management and disease prevention. …

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