Townsville’s James Cook University is the epicentre of burgeoning aquaculture research to develop innovative solutions and potential projects that are expected to make the industry boom. The Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia (CRCNA) is establishing Townsville as a hub of innovation, worldwide research, and growth, with aquaculture production in the Northern Australia expected to increase in the next decade and become a $1.34 billion industry.
“This CRCNA project is an exciting opportunity for North Queensland as there has never been an extensive review of the potential of aquaculture in the North, as an industry to grow,” explains JCU Professor Dean Jerry.
“This project identified key challenges and opportunities facing the Northern Australian aquaculture sector and explored potential solutions through a list of recommendations.”
The project engaged over 400 industry representatives and identified recommendations such as bolstering biosecurity and investing in more infrastructure for key aquaculture development hubs.
“We now have a strong body of evidence to support decision-making processes, and we derived our recommendations from focus groups, surveys and past industry experiences to highlight what needs to change to ensure success moving forward,” Dean said.
Alongside facilitating more infrastructure development and biosecurity support, the Northern Aquaculture Industry Vision 2028 was also developed in collaboration with Traditional Owners, highlighting the integral role custodians play in the future development of the industry.
“To date there has been very little engagement of Traditional Owners in the Northern Australian Aquaculture industry,” he continues.
“The project highlighted an opportunity to be able to partner independently and develop enterprises that can provide economic development for indigenous communities so they can play an important part in the industry’s development.”
James Cook University is currently the only university in Australia that offers students the opportunity to major in Aquaculture Sciences. Since the university is also the main tertiary aquaculture research institution in the country, Dean explains how it was inevitable that JCU would lead this project.
“We already had strong industry partnerships with a lot of network knowledge relations already in place prior to the commencement of the project,” he says.
“It definitely does reinforce JCU as a major national and global R&D contributor to the aquaculture industry and showcases Townsville as the place to be for this type of research.
“This project consolidates JCU and Townsville as the major provider of aquaculture expertise to the North and also internationally as a research and training provider to the broader Asian Pacific region.”
The industry is predicted to produce another 2000 jobs in the North by 2030, and while it is organically growing, Dean notes how there are still impediments, such as skilled labour shortages, that need to be addressed in order to meet this future employment opportunity for the North.
“Building the skills has to come at all levels,” he continues.
“It’s about providing professional development pathways and having vocational opportunities available everywhere – at the TAFE level, at the tertiary level and making students at school aware of aquaculture as an industry and the multitude of growing opportunities and positions it has available.”
As for what’s on the cards next for the industry?
“We are now working with companies to help them implement world-standard genomic focused selection programs so they can breed animals that are going to be more productive and resilient for aquaculture,” Dean explains.
“We want to keep undertaking projects such as these that help the industry grow and continue to establish Townsville as the place to be for marine sciences.”
By Georgie Desailly for BDmag