The owners of Western Australia’s only yellowtail kingfish aquaculture operation have culled their broodstock and will not produce any more fish after learning the state government was working with Andrew Forrest’s Harvest Road Oceans on a proposed land-based finfish aquaculture precinct.
- Indian Ocean Fresh Australia has culled the majority of its yellowtail kingfish
- The company had spent more than a decade farming and developing aquaculture practices for the fish
- The decision was made after a market-led proposal by Andrew Forrest backed Harvest Road to develop a land-based yellowtail kingfish aquaculture precinct
Indian Ocean Fresh Australia has been developing aquaculture processes and commercially producing fish off the Geraldton coast since 2016.
Owner Erica Starling made the decision to cull 30 breeding animals after learning the state government was at stage two of a market-led proposal (MLP) to establish a land-based yellowtail kingfish aquaculture precinct with another company.
‘Made me lose faith’
Ms Starling said as the only kingfish commercial aquaculture operator in West Australia, she found out about the proposal by accident.
“It’s been very sobering, confronting, disappointing and a hurtful experience to find out about this proposal. I didn’t even know market-led proposals were a thing,” she said.
“It has made me lose faith in the [state] government and the department that’s managing this, and I’ve realised that all the work we’ve been doing is basically going to help those that come after us.
“A commercial company can do whatever they wish to do. That is not my beef. My beef is government transparency.”
Market-led proposals are a vehicle for private companies to make unique unsolicited pitches to work with the WA government on big projects.
The proposal is for the state government to construct and operate a hatchery that will supply one or more privately operated land-based grow-out facilities for yellowtail kingfish.
COVID-19 forces pause
In a statement to the ABC, the Department of Finance said Harvest Road Oceans had been invited to progress to stage two of the MLP process but did not meet the criteria for exclusive negotiation.
The state will now invite expressions of interest for this or a similar proposal.
In the process Harvey Road Oceans Pty. Ltd. will be granted a 20 per cent first-mover advantage in open and transparent market testing that will take place.
Ms Starling is waiting for further information on the market-led proposal before deciding if she will consider making an expression of interest.
Twelve months ago, Indian Ocean Fresh Australia paused operations due to COVID-19 disruptions and a global oversupply.
At that time, the company’s 10-year-old breeding fish were retained in tanks leased from and collocated with the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development in order for fish farming to resume when the state’s planned Geraldton-based finfish nursery became operational in 2021.
Nursery plans are now under review.
Work on land-based aquaculture
As well as developing processes and commercially growing fish in Geraldton waters, Indian Ocean Fresh Australia has considered land-based aquaculture.
“In January 2020, we actually commenced discussions with the department to trial some land-based aquaculture in Geraldton port,” she said.
“But parallel to that, we were already running some tank trials in Geraldton on land, of baby fish, and we grew them out and we had obtained data.”
Ms Starling expressed great sadness in the decision to harvest the fish the company had spent more than 10 years and $300,000 raising.
“This is like putting your pets down and it is awful, some of them are very large they have been with us for a very long time you get to know these fish,” she said.
“But they met a respectful end. There was certainly no pain no fear. Some of them have been harvested as we would do our commercial fish as well and they will be going to some very select restaurants in Perth, and I hope that some consumers really get to enjoy them.”
In a statement, Harvest Road described the Integrated Finfish Aquaculture Precinct as an exciting opportunity to support the further development of a new and sustainable industry for Western Australia, one that could support the creation of new jobs and opportunities in regional areas.
The company said a key element of the proposal was the development of a modern finfish hatchery – a strategic asset that would support and benefit current and prospective finfish aquaculture operators in WA.