China eyes WA abalone stake

Daniel MercerThe West Australian

Fisheries Minister Troy Buswell has indicated he may support Australia's first wild abalone fishery, saying he was "hopeful" WA could eventually have a thriving abalone aquaculture industry.

Augusta-based group Ocean Grown Abalone last week tested investor interest for its plans to expand a trial in which hatchery-bred green-lip abalone are grown on artificial reefs until they can be harvested and exported.

The pilot project, on a 40ha site in the pristine waters of Flinders Bay off Augusta, has been running successfully since 2011 and Ocean Grown wants to treble its size to tap the lucrative Chinese abalone market.

Amid opposition from some abalone divers over perceived disease risks associated with the farm plan and with the Fisheries Department mulling the expansion proposal, Mr Buswell was cautious when asked about the project.

However, he was adamant that WA should develop an aquaculture industry and said abalone farms had merit.

"I am wholly supportive of developing aquaculture in Western Australia," Mr Buswell said.

"In July, I approved the Department of Fisheries' abalone aquaculture policy which provides the industry and Government with guidelines and bio-security protocols for the regulation of abalone aquaculture in WA.

"As part of the due diligence process under the policy, all parties involved in the abalone industry had the opportunity to consider the proposal by Ocean Grown and to provide feedback to the Government.

"This process is currently under way and a decision will be made in due course.

"I am hopeful that in the coming years we will have a thriving abalone aquaculture industry in WA."

Ocean Grown managing director Brad Adams said initial efforts to tap investors for $8 million needed to bring the project online had gone well, with particular interest from Chinese groups.

"This project will provide significant economic benefits to the local regional community of Augusta, as well as enhance Western Australia's reputation for providing premium quality seafood," Mr Adams said.

Under the company's proposal, up to 100 tonnes of abalone would be produced a year.

In comparison, only about 200 tonnes of wild green-lip abalone are harvested off WA annually.

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