The company behind an ambitious plan to create one of the world's biggest prawn farms is focusing on a site in the Kimberley as it seeks investors for the first stage of the $1 billion project.
Overall Project Sea Dragon would cover 10,000ha and could straddle the Northern Territory border under plans to produce 100,000 tonnes of black tiger prawns a year for export to Asia.
The Ian Trahar-controlled CO2 Group, through wholly-owned subsidiary Western Australian Resources Limited, has earmarked $6 million on pre-feasibility studies and recruited key players in the development of the prawn farming industry in Saudi Arabia to its management team.
WARL managing director Rob Bell said the project would be based onshore but close to the coast because it needed a supply of salt water. Access to power and a port would be key factors in choosing a final location.
Mr Bell said the multi-layered project, which involved a feed mill, hatchery, high-tech breeding centre, growing ponds, processing plant and logistics operations, would be spread out to minimise the risk from some form of disease or contamination affecting the stock. He said the project could eventually involve about 1000 full-time workers, including many marine scientists and laboratory technicians to manage the high-tech farming venture.
In a presentation to investment houses, WARL said the first stage was expected to involve about 3000ha with capital expenditure of $400 million and expected annual revenue at full production of $400 million a year.
Mr Bell said WARL saw a potential tie-in with Chinese-backed Kimberley Agricultural Investments' plans to build a high-tech sugar mill with cogeneration capacity near Kununurra. KAI is also keen to extend its footprint across the border into the NT. "It's fair to say we can see some co-operation there, particularly on power," Mr Bell said.
"There is also talk about an abattoir setting up over the border with the potential for us to utilise by-products in our feed. There are potential synergies and it is relatively early days but government seems eager to make some of our industries come together."
Mr Bell stressed the project was not dependent on other industries and likened it to a mining development because of power, engineering and scientific requirements.
"Like a mine site our basic economic modelling is on a standard diesel-fired power station on-site," he said.
Mr Bell said the stigma attached to investment in aquaculture in Australia was unjustified in the case of prawn farming, which had a proved track record and made up 15 per cent of the value of all internationally traded fishery products.