“The growing area of Flying Foam Passage is roughly the same size as Coffin Bay in South Australia. There is enormous potential to develop a significant industry in the Pilbara.”
John Hutton | Managing Director Maxima Pearling Company

Watch this short video about the oyster collection equipment installation in November >>

Pilbara Rock Oyster Research & Development Project

The Pilbara Rock Oyster Research and Development Project is the first step in developing a commercial oyster industry, which would create new local jobs and stimulate economic activity in the Pilbara. The project will establish a trial oyster farm at Flying Foam Passage on the Burrup Peninsula.

Rock oysters already grow naturally in abundance on the Pilbara coast, and studies have shown the Pilbara’s environmental conditions, freight networks and extensive coastline make it well-suited to rock oyster farming. This research will fill the knowledge gap to assist in attracting prospective aquaculture developers to the Pilbara.

About the project

The research and development project aims to grow locally sourced rock oysters under aquaculture conditions. The project will use modern oyster farming technology and aims to grow high quality rock oysters potentially suitable for domestic and international markets. The oysters will grow in baskets on an adjustable longline system attached to the seafloor. Rock oysters are filter feeders and improve the quality of the water that passes through the farm site.

The project will assess the following:

  • oyster species suitable to local conditions
  • growth to achieve market size
  • mortality rates and predation
  • seasonal conditioning for market
  • tidal height for optimal growth and hygiene
  • development of a shellfish quality assurance program
  • ensure food safety for human consumption

Outcomes of the project will be publicly released on completion to ensure the information is readily available to future prospective aquaculture developers. The final report will be used to promote the establishment of an aquaculture industry in the region by attracting private investors and commercial operators.

Latest news

29 March 2019: Oysters not rocked by Cyclone Veronica

21 June 2018: Pilbara trial bolstered by additional 120,000 oysters

24 November 2017: Oyster trial off to a swimming start

28 August 2017: Pilbara rock oyster research trial gets underway

20 March 2017: Pilbara oysters will be the most unique in Australia

15 February 2017: Oyster experts to visit the Pilbara

Project milestones

December 2016: Pilbara aquaculture study released
The Technical and economic viability of aquaculture within the marine and terrestrial environments of the Pilbara and Gascoyne regions study is released. The report found aquaculture is technically feasible in the Pilbara, and that rock oysters would be a good first candidate.

March 2017: Rock oyster investor forum
The Pilbara Development Commission invited three oyster industry experts to visit the area and provide their opinions on the potential for growing oysters in the region. They provided a positive assessment and supported trials being conducted to investigate the feasibility of growing rock oysters in the Pilbara.

May 2017: Project established
The Pilbara Development Commission committed funding to a 2-3 year research and development project in partnership with Maxima Pearling Company and the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation to investigate rock oyster aquaculture.

June 2017: External funding secured
The Fisheries Research and Development Corporation and the City of Karratha approve funding for the project to take the total project investment to more than $500,000

August 2017: Project initiation meeting
The first Project Steering Committee was held between the project partners. The meeting established governance arrangements, detailed budgets and an initial work program for the project.

September 2017: Research permit received
The first step of the project got underway with Maxima Pearling Company granted an aquaculture research permit for water in Flying Foam Passage.

October 2017: Pilbara-based environmental consultants appointed
The project has a strong focus on being a local project with locally sourced goods and services being the first option. The long-term aim is to build the wrap-around services for the industry in the region with less reliance on outside consultants. In October 2017 the local Karratha office of GHD was appointed as the environmental consultants for the project.

November 2017: Oyster spat collectors installed at trial site
The first equipment was deployed at the site. Marker buoys were installed to mark the edges of the lease area. Wild catch spat collectors were installed to collect oyster to be eventually used in grow-out trials. In addition, adult oyster in breeding condition were chipped of rocks and sent to the Albany Multi-Species Mollusc Hatchery to be spawned.

March 2018: Grow out equipment installed - phase 1
200 metres of inter-tidal (i.e. exposed at low tide) longline equipment was installed at the trial site. An estimated 7500 spat were harvested and placed in grow out baskets.

April 2018: Grow out equipment installed - phase 2
200 metres of sub-tidal (i.e. always in the water) longline equipment was installed at the trial site.

April 2018: First field trip to oyster growing regions
Maxima Pearling Company and Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation embarked on a week-long tour of east coast oyster producers supported by a $30,000 scholarship from the Premier's Agriculture and Aquaculture Entrepreneurship program. The purpose of the trip was to learn about oyster production and bring back techniques, knowledge and understanding that could be transferred to the fledgling Pilbara oyster industry.

June 2018: 120,000 hatchery oysters deployed at trial site
120,000 juvenile oysters measuring 5mm produced in the Albany Hatchery were returned to the Pilbara and placed in the baskets on the longlines. The oysters were split roughly 50/50 sub-tidal and inter-tidal.

October 2018: Tropical Rock Oyster Forum in Darwin
The Commission, Maxima Pearling Company and Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation attend a Tropical Rock Oyster Forum hosted by the NT Government in Darwin to discuss northern Australian developments in rock oyster aquaculture. Over 70 people from industry, government, regulators and Traditional Owner groups attended.

October 2018: Second Field Trip to oyster growing regions
Maxima Pearling Company and Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation embarked on their second field trip visiting Australia’s oysters growing regions. This visit was to South Australia and included meeting with regulatory and policy officials, researchers, equipment manufacturers and oysters farmers and their farms on Eyre Peninsula.

December 2018: Regional New Industries Fund
Maxima Pearling Company, in partnership with start-up companies in the Mid West, is successful in attracting $150,000 from the Regional New Industries Fund to support further R&D to support the development of the rock oyster industry.

March 2019: Cyclone Veronica
Cyclone Veronica passed directly over the trial site as a Category 1 system and caused no significant damage.

June 2019: Growth of Milky Oysters onsite for 12 months
The first cohort of Milky Oyster Spat from Albany hatchery have been onsite for 12 months. On average oysters grown from approximately 4mm to over 40mm in length.

June 2019: Second Batch Spat
Second batch of Oyster Spat, a mix of Pilbara Black Lipped Oysters and Milky Oysters, produced in the Albany Hatchery deployed on the Flying Foam Passage Site.

August 2019: WA Shellfish Quality Assurance Program
Water Quality and Environmental Monitoring program completed and the result shave been encouraging, particularly the absence of heavy metals. All data presented in Sanitary Survey Report to be submitted to Department of Health. If approved the Flying Foam Passage site will be categorised as a Shellfish Harvest Control Area under the WA Shellfish Quality Assurance Program which enables rock oysters grown in Flying Foam Passage to be sold for human consumption.

November 2019
The trial site is included in the Cooperative Research Centre for Northern Australia’s 3-year, $4.1 million project bringing together a consortium of project participants including the Northern Territory Department of Primary Industry and Resources (NTDPIR), the Western Australian Department of Primary Industry and Regional Development (DPIRD), industry leaders, researchers, and Indigenous stakeholders from Western Australia and the Northern Territory to develop the Tropical Rock Oyster industry in the north.

November 2019
Pilbara Black Lipped Oyster collected from wild spat collection performing very well.

Picture of oysters at 18 months:

January 2020
It has become clear there is a very substantial difference in the performance between Pilbara Black Lipped Oysters and Milky Oysters. Pilbara Black Lipped oysters grow quicker, have a better shell shape, and meat to shell weight ratio. Future research will now be concentrating on the Pilbara Black Lip Oyster.

Picture of Milky and Pilbara Black lip same age (6 months old):

February 2020
Cyclone Damien passed directly over the trial site as a Category 3 system, causing minimal damage.

Australia's aquaculture industry

The Australian aquaculture industry is worth $2.5 billion per year and directly employs more than 4,000 people. Western Australia has the biggest coastline in the country, yet has one of the smallest aquaculture industries, presenting a significant growth opportunity.

  • Global seafood consumption is expected to double by 2050
  • Australian aquaculture industry directly employs 4,000 people
  • Australian rock oyster industry is worth $100 million
  • 16.5 million dozen oysters were produced in Australia in 2007

Important information about the trial site

The Flying Foam Passage project site has an exemption to operate under the Fisheries Resource Management Act. Most of the equipment is not visible from the surface, so there is no major impact to boat users travelling through the channel. The site is a commercial operation and the public are reminded it is an offence under the Fisheries Resource Management Act to interfere with aquaculture equipment.

The Pilbara Rock Oyster Research and Development Project is a partnership between the Pilbara Development Commission, Fisheries Research Development Corporation on behalf of the Australian Government, City of Karratha, Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation and Maxima Pearling Company.

FRDC project reference: 2017-061 Pilbara rock oyster research and development program

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