Starting an aquaculture operation in Western Australia

Page last updated: Friday, 21 January 2022 - 11:41am

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Aquaculture is one of Australia’s fastest growing primary industries.

Recent improvements in technology, increased production capacity and more secure markets have resulted in greater opportunities in inland aquaculture.

Starting your own aquaculture operation can be very exciting, but before you invest significant time and money make sure you do your research.

When starting your own aquaculture operation avoid costly mistakes by considering all the biological (e.g. species selection, fish husbandry, biosecurity and fish health), environmental (e.g. climate and site), logistical (e.g. access, infrastructure, food and water requirements) and economic aspects of the project early in the planning process.

Site selection

Selecting the right site for your aquaculture operation can mean the difference between success and failure. Key issues you need to consider include an adequate and consistent water supply, suitable soil (if using ponds) and appropriate infrastructure.


An adequate supply of suitable quality water is critical for any aquaculture operation. Both the quality and quantity of the available water will determine which species can be grown at the site. Water temperature is an important factor and can be influenced by air temperature, wind and humidity.

The quality of water is usually defined by its ionic composition, or the concentration of various dissolved substances. The clarity or turbidity of the water can also vary substantially.

To develop an understanding of the available water at your site, there are a number of parameters you should test for. These include:

  • annual temperature range
  • pH
  • conductivity
  • cations and anions
  • salinity
  • heavy metals and pesticides
  • turbidity.

Testing the water can also help you identify any challenges and therefore the management techniques that may be required to ensure your aquaculture operation is successful.

Careful thought also needs to be given as to how water supply will be maintained and, if necessary, how discharge water will be treated.

A licence may be required to access water, including the creation of a bore or soak, stream diversions or if the area lies within a declared catchment or water reserve area. For more information contact the Department of Water.


A site-specific survey should be carried out to determine the suitability of the surface and subsurface soil for pond construction, compaction and seepage and site topography.

It is also recommended that you test the soil for pesticide residue, particularly in areas that were once used for agriculture.


An aquaculture operation is likely to require the following infrastructure:

  • ponds constructed by a qualified earthmover experienced in aquaculture
  • water supply, discharge and treatment systems
  • power supply
  • support poles for overhead pond covers
  • processing facility, cool storage and feed silos
  • workshop
  • accommodation.

Choosing the right system

You will also need to consider what production system you will use. This will be influenced by the type of species you choose and how water supply will be maintained.

Options include:

  • Raceway and tank systems – require a continual supply of clean water but have the potential to produce relatively high quantities of fish per unit area.
  • Ponds – require the least amount of water as loss is usually from evaporation only. Production volumes are generally lower.
  • Recirculating systems – only require small amounts of water but good water quality must be maintained through the use of specialised physical and biological filtration systems.

Choosing the right species

When choosing which fish species to produce, consider the compatibility of the biological requirements of the fish with the characteristics of the site. Your choice of species will affect your operating costs and sale price; hence the overall success of the operation.

Example species for small to medium inland aquaculture operations



Barramundi (Lates calcarifer)

Native to northern Australia. Can be grown in marine and fresh water systems. Yield well in high density, recirculating system operations. Hardy, fast-growing. Requires translocation approval.

Bream (Acanthopagrus butcheri)

Native to south-western Australia. Can survive changes from fresh to hypersaline water.

Marron (Cherax cainii)

Two species. Only Cherax cainii (smooth marron) is suitable for aquaculture. Requires a constant water supply.

Rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)

Non-native. Well suited to inland aquaculture but pose a translocation risk in areas where they have not been introduced. Requires translocation approval.

Ornamental fish

Non-native – tropical and sub-tropical fish (e.g. koi, carps, etc.). Highly tolerant of a wide range of environmental factors.

Silver perch (Bidyanus bidyanus)

Non-native. Freshwater fish found in south-eastern Australia. Requires translocation approval.

Yabbies (Cherax albidus)

Freshwater crustaceans. Well suited for growing in farm dams. Yabby aquaculture is not permitted west of Albany Highway. Must be sourced within WA.


All commercial aquaculture activities require a licence from the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD). In some instances approval from other state government agencies (e.g. Department of Environment Regulation (DER) and Department of Water (DoW)) for proposals on private land may also be required.

Aquaculture licence

The Fish Resources Management Act 1994 states that if a person intends to keep, breed or culture fish for commercial purposes, an aquaculture licence is required.

Once the appropriate approvals from other agencies have been obtained, an ‘Application for an aquaculture licence’ form should be completed together with details of the relevant species to be cultured and method of culture. The completed form and relevant application fee must be submitted to DPIRD.

Management and environmental monitoring plan

Management and environmental monitoring plans (MEMP) are required as part of an aquaculture licence application to put in place measures to manage the potential environmental impacts of an aquaculture operation. Details of what is required are available on the DPIRD website. In most cases, a biosecurity plan will also be required.

Translocation and quarantine

Any live, non-native fish species imported into Western Australia requires translocation approval or authority from DPIRD. This process is used to manage the potential spread of non-native fish into local waterways.

Translocation approval is issued for species considered to be lower risk or for which there are existing management plans. For fish that do not meet the criteria for a translocation approval, a translocation authority, which involves a more detailed assessment process, may be required.

Health and disease

Regularly monitor your fish stock for any signs of ill health. It is recommended that you have disease and mitigation strategies in place to ensure the timely and effective treatment of parasites, pathogens and diseases.

Parasites are part of any normal, healthy aquatic ecosystem. However, high concentrations of fish have the potential for increased parasite activity, causing fish health and management problems. Common pathogens affecting a number of WA fish species include Viral Nervous Necrosis (VNN), Big Belly Disease and Iridovirus.

Outbreaks in aquaculture facilities are generally the result of poor nutrition and management and/or unsatisfactory water quality.

If you are considering importing fish, including brood stock, make sure you adhere to the following health certification and quarantine processes to reduce the risk of introducing disease: test fish health before importation and obtain a health certificate from an accredited body.

Keep newly imported stock in quarantine.

Wherever possible, brood stock should be sourced from accredited hatcheries or breeding facilities. Separate adult and juvenile brood stock as soon as possible.

Account for all imported fish stock (dead or alive) intended for aquaculture to minimise the risk of disease spread (and escape) into adjacent natural waterways.

Any unusual deaths or the sudden unexpected death of a large quantity of fish can be considered a ‘fish kill’. Fish kills must be reported within 24 hours to to FishWatch on 1800 815 507.

Before starting your own aquaculture operation make sure you do your research.

Consider all the environmental, logistical and economic aspects of the project early in the planning process, to ensure your new aquaculture venture is a success.