About aquaculture

Picture of a farmed barramundi on a restaurant plate

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 feeding, regular stocking 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. Global aquaculture production rose 527% for the period 1990-2018, and FAO reports that production was 114.5 million tonnes live weight in 2018, worth $USD263.6 billion at the farmgate. There has been a 122% increase in global food fish consumption between 1990-2018. Since 2016, aquaculture has been the main source of fish for human consumption, with total global capture fisheries production of 96.4 million tonnes in 2018. Farmed seafood production overtook world beef production in 2011.

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, nutra- and pharma- ceuticals, jewellery and ornamental purposes. Increasingly, aquaculture is being integrated into traditional agriculture production systems to value add water use and remediate water quality.

There is 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. Longlines (suspended cultivation) or post and rail infrastructure are used for shellfish in estuarine areas. Land based facilities culture 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.

Australian Aquaculture

In Australia, aquaculture has been practiced for approximately 40,000 years by Aboriginal peoples, who used sophisticated fish traps to capture and hold fish. The Aboriginal fish traps in Brewarrina NSW still exist today, and stand as testament to Aboriginal knowledge of engineering and fish migration. In Lake Condah, Victoria, there are also remains and archaeological evidence of an 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 locations. The industry is predominantly based in regional Australia and makes a significant and positive contribution to regional economies.

The Australian aquaculture industry has increased in volume by 10% in the last decade. The gross value of aquaculture production in 2017/18 was $1.42 billion and accounted for 44% 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. The most valuable fisheries species (wild-harvest and aquaculture) is the aquaculture of Atlantic Salmon worth $885 million 2017-18 (ABARES Australian fisheries and aquaculture statistics 2018 (PDF, 3.9 MB)).

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 1870s in the Georges River and is the state’s largest aquaculture sector. Trout and aquarium industries were key aquaculture industries in NSW, until the 1980s saw the advent of Tiger Prawn farms on the north coast and native fish hatcheries inland. By the 1990s, Silver Perch, Yabbies, Barramundi, Snapper and Blue Mussels were being cultivated.

In 2019-20 the gross value of the NSW aquaculture sector was over $90 million, accounting for 45% of total seafood production in the state.

Oyster aquaculture (Sydney Rock, Pacific and Native Oysters) is conducted in 31 estuaries along the NSW coast, utilising approximately 3,000 hectares of leases. Farmed Tiger Prawns, Murray Cod, Rainbow Trout, Silver Perch, Barramundi and Blue Mussels are key production species in NSW. There is also a well-developed freshwater finfish hatchery sector, worth more than $4 million annually.

Sustainable Industry Development

The NSW Government has used a whole of government approach to the development of the oyster, marine and land based industries in NSW to promote sustainable industry development. NSW Oyster Industry, Marine Waters and Land Based Sustainable Aquaculture Strategies detail a streamlined approval process, and advice on best aquaculture practice for species, 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.