Aquaculture is the farming of aquatic organisms, including fish, molluscs, crustaceans and aquatic plants”. Farming implies some form of intervention in the rearing process to enhance production, such as regular stocking, feeding and protection from predators. Farming also implies individual or corporate ownership of the stock being cultivated (Food and Agriculture Organisation - FAO).
Aquaculture has been undertaken in a number of countries for centuries and has grown rapidly worldwide in the last 50 years. FAO reports that world aquaculture production increased substantially since 1950 from one million tonnes production to 52.5 million tonnes in 2008. This rate of increase is three times greater than that for world meat production. In 2008, 46% of the seafood consumed worldwide was produced by aquaculture. Projections by FAO estimate that in order to maintain the current level of per capita seafood consumption, worldwide aquaculture production will need to reach 82 million tonnes by 2050.
Aquaculture produces a wide variety of animal and plant species including finfish, crustaceans, molluscs, echinoderms, polychaetes, as well as seaweeds and other aquatic plants. These products can be used for human or stock consumption, chemical extraction, pharmaceuticals, jewellery and ornamental purposes.
There are a variety of aquaculture production systems used to culture aquaculture species. The choice of systems depends upon the physiological requirements of the species (e.g. space, water quality and nutrition), the site (e.g. offshore, estuarine or land based) and operational criteria (e.g. proximity to services and markets). For marine aquaculture floating sea cages with suspended nets are typically used to culture finfish in sheltered inshore areas. Longlines (suspending cultivation) or post and rail infrastructure are used for shellfish in estuarine areas. Land based facilities culture of finfish, crustaceans, algae and ornamental species in earthen and lined ponds, tanks and aquaria. The fundamental aspect of any suitable aquaculture development is a reliable supply of good water quality.
In Australia, aquaculture has been practiced for approximately 40,000 years by Aboriginal communities who used sophisticated fish traps to capture and hold fish. The Aboriginal fish traps in the Brewarrina region of NSW still exist today and stand as a testament to Aboriginal knowledge of engineering and fish migration. In Victoria there are also remains and archaeological evidence in the Lake Condah region of a settled Aboriginal community farming eels for food and trade in what is considered to be the earliest and possibly largest land based aquaculture venture in Australia.
The Australian aquaculture industry occurs in marine, estuarine and freshwater systems. The industry is predominantly based in regional Australia and makes a significant and positive contribution to regional economies.
Although the Australian aquaculture industry is a relatively new industry, it has grown in volume at an average rate of around 12% per annum since 1992–93. The gross value of aquaculture production in 2009-10 was $871 million and accounted for 40% of the gross value of fisheries production. The majority of this value came from production systems producing high value species such as salmonids, tuna, prawns and oysters.
Aquaculture in NSW
In the 19th century Acclimatisation Societies undertook aquaculture to produce fish species for stocking rivers and streams. The NSW oyster industry has a history dating back to the 1870’s in the Georges River and is now the States largest aquaculture sector. Trout and aquarium industries were key aquaculture industries in NSW until the 1980’s saw the advent of tiger prawn farms on the north coast and native fish hatcheries in inland NSW. By the 1990’s silver perch, yabbies, barramundi, snapper and blue mussels were being cultivated.
In 2009–10 the gross value of NSW fisheries production was $132.9 million, of which the wild-catch sector accounted for $80.5 million. The aquaculture sector, which was valued at $52.4 million, accounted for 39% of total seafood production.
Oyster aquaculture was worth $40 million and is conducted in 31 estuaries along the NSW coast utilising approximately 3,000 hectares of leases. Farmed tiger prawns (166 tonnes), silver perch (194 tonnes) and rainbow trout (149 tonnes) were produced during 2009/10. There's also a well-developed freshwater finfish hatchery sector, worth more than $2 million annually.
Sustainable Industry Development
The NSW Government has used a whole of government approach to the development of the oyster and land based industries in NSW to promote sustainable industry development. NSW Oyster and Land Based Sustainable Aquaculture Strategies detail a streamlined approval process and advice on best aquaculture practice for species and site selection, design and operation. Research undertaken on aquaculture production assists with industry development and supports the development of policy and management practices for future developments in NSW.