Mid West aquaculture zone: Lack of customer lure leaves Geraldton finfish nursery in limbo

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Elise Van AkenGeraldton Guardian
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Fisheries Minister Don Punch and Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland releasing yellowtail kingfish at Cockburn Power Boats Club.
Camera IconFisheries Minister Don Punch and Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland releasing yellowtail kingfish at Cockburn Power Boats Club. Credit: Zach Relph/West Regional

A State Government fish nursery project that would create more than 1000 jobs in the region has been delayed and put under review because of a lack of operators committed to buying the fish.

The Government previously rejected two private tender proposals to build the marine finfish nursery off the coast of Geraldton, deciding to fund the $10 million facility itself, which was set to create 20 construction jobs.

State Government fast-tracks Geraldton Marine Finfish Nursery to help foster Mid West aquaculture industry

Department rejects fish nursery tenders

The nursery would supply juvenile yellowtail kingfish to outside buyers and kickstart activity in the Mid West aquaculture development zone, which was declared in 2017 and spans 3000ha.

Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development aquaculture manager Steve Nel said the global pandemic and “complexity in the design of the building” were behind the delay.

“The WA Government is funding the development of the Geraldton marine finfish nursery to help establish a large-scale yellowtail kingfish farming industry in the Mid West that could create up to 1400 jobs,” he said.

Fisheries minister Peter Tinley and labor canditate for Geraldton Lara Dolton.
Camera IconFisheries minister Peter Tinley and labor canditate for Geraldton Lara Dolton. Credit: Liam Beatty/gguFiGeraldton Guardian, Liam Beatty

“The impacts of COVID-19 on global aquaculture markets and commercial interests have required a review of aspects of the project, including delivery timelines.

“DPIRD is currently undertaking a definitive assessment of costs and options, which may include obtaining a commitment from companies with an interest in investing in commercial aquaculture operations in the area.”

Tasmania-based Huon Aquaculture passed environmental approvals in February, clearing the way for it to begin operations at the Abrolhos Islands, where it plans to establish a 2200ha fish farm.

Forner fisheries minister Peter Tinley visited Geraldton to make the announcement, saying construction of the nursery was on track and expected to be completed over the next year.

The project was announced in 2019 by his predecessor Dave Kelly, who was stripped of the portfolio after repeatedly coming under fire over his shark and crayfish policy misfires.

The earth shook for Neridup farmer Colin de Grussa. PHOTO: DANELLA BEVIS
Camera IconThe earth shook for Neridup farmer Colin de Grussa. PHOTO: DANELLA BEVIS Credit: Countryman

Shadow minister for fisheries Colin de Grussa said the Labor Government had stunted the growth of the industry by rejecting two private tenders to take on the project.

“Last year, the State Government rejected two private tender proposals to build this fish nursery and instead, chose to manage the project in-house – it was a worry for us back then, and now all we are seeing is broken promises,” he said.

“This city-centric Government, the Fisheries Minister and the Member for Geraldton need to prioritise delivering on its promises to the Mid West community.”

The current State fisheries minister, Don Punch, declined to comment.

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