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Wednesday, 29 November 2000
Page: 20113

Senator EGGLESTON (1:25 PM) —Aquaculture is a major industry internationally, and the last 10 years have witnessed a rapid expansion of the aquaculture industry in Australia. In 1997, worldwide aquaculture production reached 34.1 million metric tonnes and had a value of $46.5 billion. In 1997, Australia's aquaculture production had a value of $445 million. Its present value is estimated at $600 million. Aquaculture production accounts for approximately one-quarter of the value of the Australian fishery production. Australia's share of the international market is small and, therefore, clearly there is scope for a major expansion of the Australian industry. At the National Aquaculture Workshop held in August last year, the aquaculture industry committed itself to achieving an annual production value of $2.5 billion by the year 2010.

Western Australia has a long coastline and diverse environments suitable for aquaculture, and aquaculture is certainly a major dimension in the Western Australian fishing industry. Western Australia has an aquaculture industry that is already well established and accounts for something like 40 per cent of the total aquaculture production in Australia. In Western Australia the aquaculture industry covers pearls, oysters, marine algae, mussels, yabbies, marron, fin fishboth marine and freshwater, including barramundi, black bream, trout, pink snapper and silver perch—goldfish and koi carp, ornamental fishboth native and non-nativemolluscs and other crustaceans, including mud crabs, which I am sure everybody knows are very large and quite delicious to eat.

The most significant and well-established sections of the industry in WA are pearl oysters, mussels, yabbies, marron and marine algae. However, all of the other sectors of the aquaculture industry are minnows in comparison with the pearl oyster industry, with this sector having a production value alone in 1998 of approximately $182 million. Western Australia is the world's top producer of silver white, south sea pearls derived from the pinkatarda maxima oyster.

The pearling industry in Western Australia is centred in the Kimberley, particularly in the town of Broome where commercial pearling began in the mid-1800s as a source of both pearls and mother-of-pearl shell, which at that time was used to produce buttons and ornaments around the world. During the 1880s the pearl industry spread along the north-west coast and by 1910 there were some 400 luggers and 3,500 people directly employed in the industry. As many people know, most of the divers in Broome were Japanese, and Broome became the largest pearling centre in the world. The industry was hit hard by the advent of the synthetic button and the Second World War when the Japanese divers either returned home or were interned. Many of the luggers were destroyed when Broome was bombed by the Japanese during World War II.

After the war only around 15 boats were in operation, employing only 200 people. It was not until the advent of cultured pearls in the 1950s that the industry revived. Today Broome is renowned the world over as a market for top quality pearls. Western Australian pearls can be found adorning jewellery in all points of the globe.

Today there are 16 pearling companies operating in Broome, all of which are required to have a licence, and the industry is regulated by the Western Australian Pearling Act. This act ensures the industry's sustaina-bility and helps maintain a stable price for the products of the industry. Each licensee has been allocated a strict quota of shells which they can harvest annually. This quota is around 572,000 shells, with a minimum size of 120 millimetres. The shells are collected from specially designated collection zones.

In addition to the collection of wild pearl oysters, the licensees are permitted to establish hatcheries so the companies can produce their own pearl oysters. Each of these oysters is then impregnated with a small plastic seed with an instrument rather like an orthopaedic arthroscope. From that plastic seed, a pearl is grown. These pearl shells are hung in cages under the ocean and divers go down every second day or so to turn the shells so that they are cleaned and the growth of the pearl in them is as round as possible. It takes about two years for the cultured pearls to reach a size and quality suitable for harvesting. Nothing is wasted, with excellent prices paid for the oyster shell, the meat and the pearl itself. Most of the pearls are sold to Japan, with significant inroads also having been made into the United States, Hong Kong and European markets.

The Paspaley pearling company, which is the largest pearling company in Australia, has been an industry pioneer and its techniques in producing pearls have been adopted by other companies both in Australia and in other parts of the world. Paspaley has about 12 farms dotted along more than 1,000 miles of the northern Australian coastline, not only in the north of Western Australia but also in the Northern Territory. The largest pearl farm in the Paspaley group was established in 1956 at Kuri Bay, north of Broome in WA, and it was the first pearl farm of its type in Australia. The Kim-berley's natural resources and infrastructure are such that it is ideally suited to further aquaculture developments not only in the case of pearls but also in many other ways. In addition, the close proximity of the Kimberley coastline to Asia means that it is well placed to supply the world's biggest aquatic food marketplace.

To assist in the development of new aquacultural industries, the Western Australian government and the Kimberley Development Commission have formulated an aquaculture development plan and an aquaculture development group. A key component of this strategy is the Broome Tropical Aquaculture Park. It has the facilities needed for aquaculture production, and companies are able to develop leasehold areas within the park. The park caters for hatchery style production and it is hoped that it will facilitate and encourage the development of culture technology for a wide variety of marine, brackish water and freshwater species and provide seed stock which can be grown at other sites.

A pearl oyster hatchery has already been established in the park, as well as a barramundi hatchery, producing both larvae and juveniles. A multispecies hatchery will soon be established. The species that will be cultured will ultimately depend upon commercial demand but may also include trochus and giant clams. The park incorporates a TAFE aquaculture centre, which offers relevant skills oriented courses and has culture sheds, a hatchery and a science laboratory, so that students can gain hands-on experience. The federal government has contributed over a million dollars towards the construction of the new centre.

Numerous sites throughout the Kimberley have been identified as being suitable for the culturing of a large range of fin fish and shellfish species in both marine and freshwater environments. There is already a barramundi cage farming operation on Lake Argyle. Other species considered suitable for production include Argyle bream, native aquarium fish and catfish. Feasibility studies undertaken by the state government suggest that Lake Argyle could support a freshwater fin fish aquaculture industry with an annual yield of around 2,000 tonnes. An aquaculture development plan has been developed for the Gascoyne, which is much further south down the Western Australian coast and is based on Carnarvon. At present, there is a pearl hatchery at Oyster Creek as well as grow-out operations in Shark Bay and Exmouth. There is also a prawn farm at Herron Point which, when fully operational, will consist of 100 ponds and employ around 60 people. Potential aquaculture species in the Gascoyne include oysters, scallops and various kinds of fin fish. Aquaculture pro-duction in the Pilbara consists largely of pearl oyster production, including a pearl oyster hatchery. Most of the sites are in the waters of the Dampier Archipelago off Karratha and the Monte-bello/Lowendal region, which are islands off the north-west coast. There are also several sites at Port Hedland and Point Samson. A number of species, including redclaw algae, which is used for beta-carotene production—which a good friend of mine, Peter Hinchcliffe, is involved in in Dampier—and aquarium fish are farmed using land based systems.

A further benefit from the development of aquaculture is tourism. It attracts tourists who are interested in seeing a fish farm and how the fish are grown and in taking home some easily obtained product, which they can claim they caught off the north-west coast rather than saying that they bought them over the counter at a shop in an aquaculture production farm. Aquaculture also presents an opportunity for farmers and pastoralists to supplement their income. The yabby is a good example of this. Farmers in the wheat belt of Western Australia have already established yabby farms in the clay dams on their farms. At present, yabby production in the wheat belt ranges from 100 to 300 tonnes annually. These yabbies are a valued export to Europe and Asia, and demand is expected to increase. The Western Australian Outback Ocean Project, where 25,000 rainbow trout fingerlings were released into saltwater dams and lakes on 100 farms across the wheat belt, has demonstrated that rainbow trout may be a viable option for farmers in the wheat belt. If an industry could be developed, it would be worth up to $70 million annually.

Most importantly, aquaculture represents an opportunity for indigenous people to develop their own enterprises and therefore fundamentally improve the economic wellbeing of their communities. In view of this, the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry is funding a consultancy study to develop a national policy and management framework for accelerating the involvement of indigenous communities in aquaculture. Aborigines are already involved in aquaculture activities in the north of Western Australia. The multispecies hatchery at the Broome Tropical Aquaculture Park is a project of the Kimberley Aquaculture Aboriginal Corporation and has been very successful. Aquaculture is a new industry with a very bright future. It is contributing very strongly to the economy of the north of Western Australia. I think it has a very exciting future.