Aquaculture inquiry to hear about NT biosecurity concerns

By Melissa Coade

Sunday July 25, 2021

Nightcliff Jetty, Darwin. (Clint/Adobe)

Biosecurity challenges for the Northern Territory’s aquaculture sector, as well as issues about environmental management and current regulatory frameworks, will be examined by a parliamentary committee from Monday.

A parliamentary agriculture and water resources committee will visit Darwin and other surrounding parts of the NT as part of its ongoing inquiry into the domestic aquaculture sector. 

Committee chair Rick Wilson said the inquiry, which would conduct hearings and site visits as part of its trip, would hear from the NT government and local businesses including Humpty Doo Barramundi and the Paspaley Group.

“These hearings will contribute significantly to the existing body of evidence for this inquiry,” Wilson said. 

“The committee looks forward to discussing opportunities for the expansion of the aquaculture sector in northern Australia.”

The NT boasts the largest barramundi farm in Australia and has a strong cultured pearl harvesting industry. 

In 2019/20 the NT’s aquaculture production value hit $47.5 million and the government named it a priority industry in its recently published territory economic reconstruction report.

A submission to the inquiry by the NT department of industry, tourism and trade said that the territory also had aspirations to host the world’s largest black tiger prawn farms through a program known as ‘Project Sea Dragon’.

According to the submission, NT producers are also working with Aboriginal communities to develop infrastructure for the sea ranching of sea cucumbers, and facilities to farm tropical blacklip oysters.

“Currently most commercial [aquaculture] farms are located within the Darwin region which can be attributed to reasonable access to essential services, staffing and transport as well as logistical efficiencies,”  the department said.

“Operators in remote regions are either targeting niche, high value markets or are at sufficient scale to overcome the economic challenges of operating in a remote region.”

The department noted that biosecurity was identified as one of the industry’s highest priorities in a situational analysis of local aquaculture by the Cooperative Research Centre of Northern Australia. The analysis identified risks of imported raw marine products and the detection of white spot syndrome to local industry. 

“Preventing the introduction of diseases through appropriate screening and management [..]of imports is essential to the sustainability and development of the Australian aquaculture industry,” the department said. 

Through the inquiry, the parliamentary committee has been tasked with identifying opportunities and barriers to expand Australia’s aquaculture sector (whose growth flattened in 2002), and has already held four hearings in the ACT since May. 

According to Mr Wilson, Australian aquaculture is competitively positioned to access high value domestic and overseas markets. This demand is driven by Australia’s internationally recognised seafood quality and standards and ‘increasing consumer demand for Australian native species’, he said when he announced the inquiry in April.

“We look forward to hearing from aquaculture enterprises about their experiences running successful ventures,” Wilson said.

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