WA fisheries and aquaculture value grows: ABARES report

fishing boat
WA’s fisheries and aquaculture industries are the nation’s second largest, according to a recent ABARES report. DPIRD is committed to assisting these industries to grow and prosper

Western Australian fisheries and aquaculture production continues to grow, making it the second largest in Australia.

According to the recently published Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) Australian fisheries and aquaculture statistics 2017 report, Tasmania had the largest gross value of production (31%), followed by WA (20%) and South Australia (16%).

In 2016/17 the gross value of WA fishery and aquaculture production increased by 5% to $620 million, while the production volume increased by 12% to 23,818 tonnes.

Fisheries production in WA is dominated by wild-catch fisheries, principally rock lobster production, comprising 78% of the total value over the 10 years to 2016/17.

Wild catch

WA’s wild-catch fisheries increased in value by 5% in 2016/17 to $530 million, with rock lobster production contributing to 76% of the total value worth $401 million, up by 2%, reflecting an increase in production value.

The commercial rock lobster fishery operates between Shark Bay and Cape Leeuwin, using baited traps (pots) by more than 200 vessels, under a quota management system.

The value of scallop production more than tripled to a value of $15 million, as the industry increased production following recovery from the impacts of a heat wave in 2011/12.

WA’s two main scallop fisheries, based in Shark Bay and the Abrolhos Islands, were hit by the marine heatwave in 2010/11, which substantially impacted both stocks, and resulted in a decision in 2012 to temporarily close both of these scallop fisheries.

The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) worked closely with industry to help it adapt to the new environmental and economic conditions, undertaking regular surveys, developing a recovery plan and providing financial support through the deferment of licence fees during years when the fisheries were closed.

The Shark Bay fishery re-opened in late 2015 and quotas more than doubled during the 2016/17 financial year as stocks recovered, while the Abrolhos fishery re-opened during 2017 for the first time in five years.


The gross value of WA aquaculture production increased by 1% in 2016/17 to $90 million.

Finfish production, largely barramundi, more than doubled during the period to $13 million, due to improved production capability and increasing inventory stocks.

WA’s main barramundi aquaculture operation is located in the Kimberley, with smaller land-based enterprises found throughout the agricultural region.

The department has undertaken extensive research to support the development of the industry in the past and continues to provide juvenile seed stock to industry from its Fremantle hatchery.

The ABARES report also notes the value of pearl production declined by 10% to $70 million in 2016/17, which is consistent with yearly fluctuations in the figures recorded by the department from data provided voluntarily by industry operators.

Catch in the pearl oyster fishery is primarily managed via an annual quota system, which sets a maximum number of wild stock pearl oysters that can be caught each year by the 15 licence holders.

Wild catch industry development

DPIRD continues to support the development of the WA wild catch production through ongoing monitoring and assessments of fish resources and the broader ecosystem, to inform the development of sustainable management systems for the commercial and recreational fisheries. 

WA is a world-leader in sustainable fisheries management, with ‘gold standard’ sustainable fisheries management certification from the international Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

The State now has eight MSC certified fisheries – Western rock lobster, wild-caught abalone, Exmouth Gulf prawn, Shark Bay prawn, Peel Harvey Estuary commercial and recreational blue swimmer crab, Peel Harvey sea mullet, Australian west coast deep sea crab and the West Coast Silver lipped pearl fishery.

Aquaculture industry development

DPIRD is supporting the development of sustainable marine aquaculture in WA through several initiatives, including the transfer of the Fremantle finfish hatchery to the department and the establishment of the Albany Shellfish Hatchery.

In 2018, a $1 million upgrade of the Aquatic Animal Health Laboratory was announced, to explore options for a marine finfish nursery and the declaration of two regional aquaculture zones for marine finfish.

Aquaculture development zones have been established in the Kimberley and Mid West to provide ‘investment ready’ platforms, where the State Government has secured strategic environmental approvals, thereby saving investors considerable set-up costs.

Each zone is supported by a Management Framework to guide ecologically sustainable development.

These zones have generated opportunities for new and existing aquaculture operations (fish farms) to expand, which will produce increased economic benefits to the local community via job creation and regional economic diversification.

Since the zones were declared, the operator in the Kimberley has been significantly expanding production and the Mid West zone has now been fully allocated.

At full capacity, the two zones could produce over 60,000 tonnes of fish annually, worth more than $600 million, creating about 5,000 jobs.

Further details about WA’s aquaculture development zones operate is available here

For more information about how DPIRD’s supports WA’s commercial fishing industry and fisheries management activities click here