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Australian-Indonesian project to improve aquaculture in coastal environments

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11 December 2006

Australian and Indonesian scientists are developing ways to address environmental concerns regarding the Asia-Pacific cage fish industry.

The project, led by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), is a joint collaboration between eight Australian and Indonesian agencies. The goal of the program is to produce guidelines for building sustainable cage fish farms in Indonesia (the world's 2ndlargest aquaculture producer), Australia and other tropical regions.

Project leader and AIMS research scientist Dr David McKinnon says that despite a substantial amount of information on the environmental effects of cage culture in Europe and North America, very little is known about the impacts of cage aquaculture in the tropics.

"Poorly managed fish farms can result in pollution, epidemics and fish escapes, which can impact the environment.

"Sea cage culture in Indonesia is growing at an alarming rate without the management tools and environmental research necessary for sustainable development.

"If the industry continues to expand at this rate, continued and untreated environmental impacts could cause the collapse of the trade as well as large-scale impacts in surrounding waters."

Dr McKinnon and his team of five other AIMS scientists are attempting to circumvent an environmental disaster in Indonesia while simultaneously improving the aquaculture industry in tropical Australia.

"We are trying to prevent problems before they occur by implementing best-practice techniques to reduce the likelihood of serious environmental damage.

"By studying the impacts of a number of large, operational facilities, we can help both Indonesians and Australians to develop environmentally sustainable seacage aquaculture."

Despite the potential for accidents, Dr McKinnon believes that responsibly managed aquaculture offers the best means for sustainable development of Australia's seafood industry.

Aquaculture is less destructive than fishing or trawling where waste of non-target species (called by-catch) can exceed more than 100 times the amount of the targeted species. Aquaculture facilities are also more productive and efficient than wild harvest, says McKinnon.

In Indonesia, seacage aquaculture is widely practiced at the community level. In contrast, there is currently only one fish cage farm in tropical Australia. From a small lease in the Hinchinbrook Channel, the North Queensland facility (called Bluewater Barramundi) produces more fish than the entire east coast wild barramundi fishery. Dr McKinnon hopes this project will increase awareness of cage fish farming in Australia.

"There is a general perception in Australia that aquaculture is detrimental to the environment. We are finding, though, that the impacts of these facilities can be relatively minimal and if properly managed many of the associated risks may be minimised or removed completely.

"In Indonesia, seacages are producing large quantities of coral trout, barramundi cod and other high value grouper species. These systems are a cost-effective and could provide significant benefits for Australia."

According to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Nearly 0% of all fish farm production takes place in the developing world.

Dr McKinnon's work is funded by the Australian Centre of International Agriculture Research and scheduled to continue until 2008.

Media contacts:

Dr Dave McKinnon, AIMS Research Scientist

Telephone : 07 4753 4292, Mobile : 0418 890 850

Email :

Wendy Ellery, AIMS Media Liaison

Telephone : 07 4753 4409 Mobile : 0418 729 265

Email :