|The Gippsland Region covers 40,000 square kilometres of south-eastern Australia and has a population of 220,000. The region comprises Bass Coast, Baw Baw, East Gippsland, South Gippsland and Wellington shires and Latrobe City. Industries in the area include agriculture, manufacturing, fishing, brown coal mining, quarrying, timber production and processing and tourism. In some shires unemployment ranges between 12 and 14 percent compared to 9.4 percent for the State (Victorian Electoral Commission). The region is keen to diversify its industry base away from the power generation sector, create more opportunities for employment and build stronger community.
Between late 1997 and mid 1998 a number of Government agencies and statutory bodies met to identify suitable sites for aquaculture development in Gippsland. Further to these meetings a two-part study by Dr Dominic O’Brien was commissioned to (a) identify key infrastructure requirements for aquaculture based on the five aquaculture systems defined in the OOR report, and (b) identify key sites for aquaculture in Gippsland. Fisheries Victoria intends to make this information available to prospective Aquaculturists.
The ECC recommendation for a Corner Inlet Marine National Park, existing marine parks in Gippsland and a coastal protection zone at Port Welshpool (RAMSAR and JAMBA wetlands) mean, under current interpretations of marine park, that 95 percent of Gippsland’s coastline may not accessible for aquaculture. Where a project includes a pipeline to access marine waters for land-based aquaculture, the Minister and both houses of parliament must approve the lease for that project (estimated to be a 12-month process). Thus, the most likely growth in aquaculture in Gippsland will be in the land-based, capital-intensive type of farm.
Aquaculture is shaping up to be an important industry sector for Gippsland and Gippsland is shaping up to take the lead in Vctorian aquaculture. Although in its infancy, the energy and commitment is there for a substantial, integrated regional industry, with promise of significant development and growth within the next couple of years. Gippsland’s abundant underground water resources – hot, saline and freshwater, and well established transport and manufacturing infrastructure are ideal for the development of aquaculture industry. The study by Dr. O’Brien is close to completion and indicated six or seven ideal sites for land-based aquaculture in Gippsland.
At February 2001 there were 17 active aquaculture licences in the Gippsland region, most for yabbies, native fish and rnamentals (source: Fisheries Victoria, licensing section) although most are experimental and not yet commercially operated (Anthony Forster pers com). The majority of Australia’s aquarium aquaculture production, valued at an estimated $1.5 million, is produced by one Victorian farmer based in Gippsland.
Oceanair Ltd. is soon to commence operation of a 2500 tonne hatchery and aquaculture feed facility in Wonthaggi. A sister-operation is in view for Traralgon, and negotiations with the Government are underway for a 300-hectare shellfish farm in Corner Inlet/ Nooramunga. Current and prospective aquaculture projects for the region are forecasted to generate up to 2500 jobs within the next five years. According to farmers a $3.5 million capital investment is where an abalone production facility starts to be capable of a good return on investment, meanwhile the Oceanair facilities envisaged for Wonthaggi and Traralgon will require an upfront capital investment of $35 million.
The East Gippsland Community College of TAFE run aquaculture courses for people seeking to enter the industry as employees or owner/mangers, and Nagle Secondary College offers certificates 1 and 3 in Seafood Industry (aquaculture).
Australia, with its vast coastline, clean environment and reputation for disease free aquaculture stock, is well placed to becoming a provider and exporter of clean, high quality; “green” farmed seafood products. Gippsland’s natural and human resources attributes are manifold and the region can trade on a clean, green image as well as the efficiency of its rural sector. The organic certification being pursued by Oceanair for its Wonthaggi facility puts it at the cutting edge and opens up further premium-prices, niche markets.
Currently (1996/97) Australia exports A$1085 million or 62 percent of its annual seafood production. Victoria exports over 4000 tonnes of live, chilled and processed seafood valued at A$122 million (1996/97) – Victoria doesn’t produce all of this seafood; it acts as a transport hub for seafood exports from other states. 80 percent of Victorian seafood exports are rock lobster and abalone. There are good market opportunities in Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong for farmed abalone, Barramundi, Murray Cod, trout, Atlantic salmon and cultured eels (Business Victoria).
The style of market development for Gippsland aquaculture products will depend on what is produced. For hatchery operators, produce is fingerlings which would be sold locally to grow-out farmers or to the State government to restock natural waterways (if native species). The Oceanair hatchery will be producing fingerlings for restocking of Asian marine waters as part of United Nations project.
Producers with grow-out facilities initially sell direct to restaurants, and then to Footscray (Melbourne) or Sydney wholesales fish markets. Once critical mass is reached, either by individual large farms or through species cooperatives, exports markets can be developed.
According to ABARE’s Australia’s Fisheries Statistics (2000) Australia’s major export markets for seafood are the United States (10 percent), China (7 percent) and Hong Kong (17 percent), Taiwan (11 percent) and Japan (30 percent). Live fish received the best prices in international markets – up to three times the price of chilled gilled-gutted, however the majority of local sales are of chilled fish. Export markets are already in place for canned abalone.
Given that quality and freshness are at a premium, Gippsland is well placed with established road transportation networks and registered airports at Traralgon, West Sale and Mallacoota. Aquaculture producers will benefit from the marketing nous of Austrade, and from the Gippsland Food Alliance which is an umbrella name for an informal cooperative of Gippsland shires and food producers established to present a regional marketing approach at food fairs in Sydney and Melbourne.