With a land area of 2.6 million square kilometres and a coastline stretching almost 21,000km (including about 8000km of island coastline), it’s little wonder the agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture sectors are a driving force for infrastructure and construction projects across Western Australia.

From ventures supporting the live lobster trade to a research centre at the University of WA to an export processing plant for abalone in Augusta, the depth and breadth of projects stretches the length and width of the state.

The agriculture and food sector makes up 10 per cent of the state’s economy and employs more than 30,000 people, while the state’s seafood industry employs 10,000 workers and brings in more than $1 billion each year.

The Geraldton Fishermen’s Co-operative (GFC), the leading exporter of Western Rock lobster from WA with more than 60 per cent of the market, recently completed construction of a $20m export factory in Welshpool to reduce travel times and increase capacity for its valuable live cargo.

The facility, with an 80-tonne capacity, is the largest rock lobster holding tank in the country and will support the export of live lobsters mostly to China, where the spiny red sea creatures are revered for their colour and known as the ‘red dragon’.

Eight million lobsters — that’s 4000 tonnes — pass through each year, allowing better quality control of the premium product.

Matt Rutter, General Manager, Marketing and Business Development, says all facilities along the WA coast now deliver to Welshpool, slashing up to two hours off delivery times to overseas markets.

“We’re looking at China’s consumer market in particular, as well as servicing a more branded offering into China now that we can go direct with the free trade agreement,” he said.

WA’s rock lobster fishery produces about half of the country’s lobster production, with 90 per cent of the WA catch bound for China.

It has four facilities in China — two in Guangzhou and one in both Shanghai and Beijing — and is the first Australian business to hold and own live seafood in China.

The company averages an export of 11 tonnes a day over a year but during the peak time — around Chinese New Year — the co-op becomes one of the largest users of air space out of Perth.

“During Chinese New Year we can do 45 tonne a day of exports. We basically fill every plane out of Perth during that time,” Rutter says. 

While turnover for the Western Rock lobster was $303m for 2016/17, down from $420m the previous year, Rutter is confident there will be a turnaround in prices and they will reach new niche markets in China. Prices vary throughout the year depending on demand, but can hit as high as US$90 a kilo in peak times.

“With the free trade agreement, the projections are that direct sales into China are going to increase significantly,” Rutter says. We hope with that we’ll have a more efficient supply chain, costs will be reduced and we hope prices will be stronger.”

At UWA, the $62m Indian Ocean Marine Research Centre opened in August, bringing together more than 300 marine scientists, who among other things, will collaborate to increase knowledge of the commercial fishing industry.

One of the largest infrastructure projects set to roll out is by Perth-based ASX-listed Seafarms Group, which has plans to eventually produce 150,000 tonnes per annum of black tiger shrimp as part of Project Sea Dragon in WA’s vast Kimberley region.

With all major environmental approvals and an Indigenous Land Use Agreement now in place, Seafarms’ $2b project will see 1120ha of production ponds being built between April and October next year.

In total, 10,000ha of ponds over nine stages would be constructed around Legune Station, 110km north east of Kununurra.

It is expected to create 1700 on-going jobs, including 700 at Legune Station and 300 at a Darwin-based hatchery and breeding facility.

Seafarms hopes to drive export revenues of $195m in full production.

ICN Principal Supply Chain Consultant Daniel Holbrook says work packages are expected to be listed in Q4 or Q1 next year after final approvals are in place, although a number of businesses have already registered their interest. Visit the ICN gateway at gateway.icn.org.au.

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