Aquaculture Down Under: Exploring and Admiring Australian Aquaculture

aquaculture down under
Pearl farm from the air

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest blog post by GAA Member Tim Lucas. In 2019, Tim launched the Aquaculture Down Under project which he recently completed with his family. You can read about his travels and experiences in-depth on the Facebook page. At the time of this blog post’s publishing, Tim’s home country of Australia is being ravaged by wildfires. He said, “Pretty much the whole east coast of Australia has had fires and we have been breathing in plenty of smoke. Just another reason to look more closely at growing food in the ocean.” If you are interested in supporting a fundraiser for the Australian wildfires, you can visit the WIRES Wildlife Rescue Fundraiser.

My Background

I completed a PhD in tropical abalone genetics focusing on growth rate and disease, then worked as a biologist mostly with prawns and scallops before becoming a policy officer.  I currently work on aquatic animal health for the Queensland Government. I was lucky enough to be given leave without pay for a year to travel around Australia with my family.  I thought I would use this opportunity to connect with what I love and see with my own eyes some of the aquaculture businesses and the people that I have been studying, working with (and admiring) for two decades.

Tim chatting with an oyster farmer
My Project

Aquaculture Down Under is my once-in-a-lifetime chance to have a look at the people, places and stories that make Australian aquaculture great. I know that this industry has been really challenging in so many ways and the success stories today are full of lessons about innovation and perseverance. At the same time I am trying to work out what needs to happen to unleash the enormous potential. I hope that I will be able to find ways to help grow aquaculture in the future.

My favorite part was having a day out with the tuna ranching divers in Port Lincoln, South Australia.  It looked like such a fun way to earn a living, but I know there are some scary predators that hang out around these tuna pens and there would be some days where you would really earn you money!

The trip has also given me some great perspective and inspiration for the industry I work with. In Queensland we are blessed with plenty of rainfall and a real diversity of ecosystems. That provides a diverse range of opportunities for aquaculture and some challenges too. The prawn farmers have been through some difficult times with white spot disease recently but I know there are some incredible minds and it has been great to see how they have responded to this challenge.

Abalone farm from the air

In my travels so far I have picked up a couple of points I’m interested in:

  1. There is so much diversity and each farm has different challenges, but the common ones seem to be training/labor, high capital costs, difficulty/cost of gaining approval and meeting regulatory requirements.
  2. Can/should we do more to support women in aquaculture? (I would say yes from my experience so far but we are slowly heading in the right direction).
  3. I think that the people and especially the leaders in this industry are passionate about the aquatic environment and providing sustainable future for us all.  Educating the public and gaining social license is challenging but really important.
  4. The aquaculture industry in Australia is (understandably) focused on high value products.  Is there also a role to play in food security to complement our land-based agriculture?
A selfie inside a tuna pen
What I hope to achieve

So perhaps education is my mission now even if it’s just to educate my friends on Facebook? The work could also be used to stimulate ideas, attract investment or for industry training. I think aquaculture holds so much promise for the future of our society but people can be afraid of change and focused on the negatives. To me, the more people know about it, the less they will be afraid and the more they will understand that aquaculture is the best way forward to feed our planet sustainably and we are getting better at it all the time. I want the average reader to understand that this is not rape and pillage, this is pioneering. Aquaculture requires a lot of technical knowledge, some risk-taking and continued learning to provide jobs and feed people with something healthy, delicious and sustainable. But the possibilities are amazing, especially in a country like Australia where land-based agriculture can be limited by drought (not to mention fire). And I think the thought of this potential for the future is why I love it.

Thanks for being a member, Tim!