Aquaculture: Wild catch shrinks, so it’s now pen to pan

The local fish or seafood on your dinner plate is now more likely to be farmed than caught in the wild. Last year the value of aquaculture sold in Victoria surpassed that of wild catch commercial operations for the first time and now accounts for 52 per cent of all local fish and seafood sales.

The growth in aquaculture sales has been as rapid as the decline in the Victorian wild catch. In 2011, the commercial value of the wild catch peaked at more than $100 million while aquaculture sales were less than $20 million.

But in 2016-17 aquaculture was valued at more than $48 million, with about half of that exported, while the wild catch slumped to about $45 million.

Farmed abalone.

Victorian Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford hailed the success of the aquaculture industry, which she said was producing high quality seafood and fish for Victorians to enjoy and for export.

“We understand the potential of aquaculture to contribute to the growing local and international demand for seafood,” Ms Pulford said.

According to the Government, the fall in the wild catch is linked to the fall in prices for abalone.

“The 2001 peak was due to very favourable export market demand, mainly for abalone,” Dallas D’Silva of the Victorian Fisheries Authority said.

“The beach price for abalone was relatively high and this pushed the gross value of the product to more than $70 million.”

But Seafood Industry Victoria executive director John­athon Davey believes Government policies are to blame for the demise of the commercial fishing figures.

Red tape, regulatory burden, the closure of fisheries and the ban on transferring some fishing licences had seen Victorian commercial fishing licences crash by 226 since 2009, he said.

He said as much as 85 per cent of seafood consumed in Victoria was now imported.

“Consumers are the ones missing out on quality local produce,” Mr Davey said.

But the growth in aquaculture sales is likely to continue.

There are three farm expansions (already operational) that will contribute for the first time to the 2017-18 production figures.

Farmed abalone was the largest aquaculture sector, valued at $17.7 million followed by trout at $14.7 million, native fish including barramundi and Murray cod at $10.1 million and mussels at $4.3 million.

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