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Pilbara oysters will be the most unique in Australia

Mar 20, 2017

Experts in aquaculture and industry development were in Karratha last week to discuss the opportunities for edible oyster farming off the Pilbara’s extensive coastline.

A full day tour of potential aquaculture sites on the Dampier Archipelago, and a free evening information session were held on March 16 in Karratha. These were both initiatives of the Pilbara Development Commission (Commission), and highlighted the development opportunities of the industry in the region to key stakeholders and investors.

Commission Chief Executive Officer Terry Hill said the unique combination of environmental and economic conditions in the Pilbara presents an exciting opportunity to build a sustainable edible oyster industry in the region.

“The Pilbara’s extensive and relatively population free coastline and inland areas offer suitable locations for aquaculture. Aquaculture is a major transformational opportunity for the region, supporting job creation and export potential”, Mr Hill said.

Hexcyl Systems Managing Director and oyster grower Garry Seidl from South Australia said there was huge potential for aquaculture in the region.

“As far as I know no edible oysters have come out of the Pilbara yet, so the first oyster out of the Pilbara will be a very unique oyster in Australia. You need to decide what premium you want to put on that. What I have seen today, the potential to create a product that is absolutely unique is there,” Mr Seidl said.
Mr Seidl called for government and industry to work collaboratively together to ensure the success of the development of the industry.

“It’s really critical to maintain food safety and quality standards in the oyster industry to demonstrate the premium nature of the product. It’s not that onerous, and other states have programs you can adopt,” Mr Seidl said.

Wayne O’Connor, a preeminent oyster researcher with 30 years of oyster research and development experience, said as well as opportunities there are challenges to consider such as water quality and toxicity issues, diseases and other concerns that need to be considered prior to developing the industry in the Pilbara.

“You need to careful of the cyclone season, and that’s why some sites identified can’t be used, and you need to be selective to choose areas that don’t have too much movement, however it all can be managed with technology”, Mr O’Connor said.

“Doing it smartly there are ways to make it very commercially viable, you need to start with putting oysters in the water. Its tens of thousands of dollars not hundreds to start. A lot of groups and organisations are putting large sums of money into research and development. There is a lot of research out there to support investors and oyster farmers in the region”, Mr O’Connor said.

Former New South Wales oyster farmer John Collison, has over 30 years’ experience and currently investigating Blacklip Oysters in the Whitsunday Islands, Queensland said that it is a brilliant industry to be in, and is beneficial to the environment.

“Oysters are good for the environment. Oysters design their own area, river and sea grass will start growing, turtles will come in, and prawns will come and eat the grass. Bacteria in the sea eat oyster waste and turn it into nitrogen gas which feeds the trees, it is a cycle. It is the best thing for the environment”, Mr Collison said.

Swanson Reed Principal, David Greatwich talked about the research and development tax incentives that are offered to Australia companies, and how investors in the region can fund aquaculture development opportunities.

“It encourages innovation. It is not a grant, it is a piece of tax legislation. When you make losses as many companies do in the first years, you can use the research and development tax incentives when you start making profit to reduce tax payable”, Mr Greatwich said.

Commission Manager of Strategy Justin Fromm said the Commission are calling for expressions of interest from industry partners.

“We are looking for investors to work with to initiate the project and to get oysters in the water as soon as possible”, Mr Fromm said.

To view recently released reports on aquaculture by the Commission and Western Australia Department of Fisheries click here.

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