Two Kimberley icons - barramundi and bulls - are the focus of moves to add hundreds of millions of dollars in reef and beef income to the WA economy.
The State Government signalled its desire to be a big fish in aquaculture yesterday when it unveiled a 2000ha zone for sea cage farming in a remote Kimberley bay.
It also revealed plans to add to the value of WA's cattle industry by about $130 million over the next five years through a northern beef development hub in Broome.
Creating the Kimberley Aquaculture Development Zone at Cone Bay will streamline approvals for fish farms to produce 20,000 tonnes of finfish a year.
An existing farm within the site producing Cone Bay Barramundi - described by WestWeekend food editor Rob Broadfield as the best he’s eaten - is already boosting stocks in its network of 14 cages which can each hold up to 40,000 fish.
The WA company behind the farm, Marine Produce Australia, has approval to lift barramundi production from 2000t a year to 7000t a year on the 699ha it has under lease.
Other fish being considered for farms in the KADZ, which sits in the Buccaneer Archipelago about 215km north-east of Broome, include thredfin salmon (or king salmon), cobia (black kingfish) and triple tail (jumping cod).
Government officials believe they are about 18 months away from opening a similar-sized aquaculture zone in the Abrolhos suitable for farming yellowtail king fish and other species.
Creating the zones is regarded as a big step toward emulating Tasmania where the value of the local aquaculture industry is on track to hit $1 billion by 2030.
The Environmental Protection Authority gave a green to a big increase in fish farming at Cone Bay in February and Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Ken Baston said yesterday that studies showed annual production of 20,000t would have little impact.
Speaking from the deck of Department of Fisheries patrol boat PV Walcott in Cone Bay yesterday, Mr Baston declared WA open for domestic and overseas investment in aquaculture.
He said a recent visit to Tasmania where the Huon Aquaculture Company produces 16,000t of salmon a year and employs 500 people highlighted the untapped potential in WA.
Mr Baston said he would use a trip to China early next month to promote WA aquaculture to investors.
The Department of Fisheries will manage the KADZ and is expected to finalise the policy for granting leases early next year.
MPA managing director Desiree Allen said the company had been treading water up until now because of restrictions on production and would benefit from a new era in WA aquaculture.
“We are pretty much aquaculture in WA and hopefully this opens the open for others,” she said.
“We don’t really want someone to come in and start growing 13,000t of barra in direct competition - hopefully they are more imaginative than that - but we really want WA aquaculture to be big and it should be big.
“Australia wants to eat more fish, we just don’t have enough to eat. We import over 70 per cent of our seafood. That is absurd. We have the waters, we have the capability to do this and to produce good quality fish.”
Dr Allen said MPA, chaired by prominent local businessman Miles Kennedy and part owned by former Fremantle full forward John Hutton, was trying to raise capital for expansion. It is expected to take years to build up to annual production of 7000t.
The WA Fishing Industry Council and the Aquaculture Council WA welcomed moves to cut red tape and provide greater certainty for the industry.
ACWA chairman Geoff Glazier said aquaculture would become increasingly important to food security and the WA economy.
"World wild-catch production has reached a natural plateau and investment in aquaculture needs to grow rapidly to ensure an increased seafood supply," he said.