Indigenous aquaculture

Indigenous peoples in the Northern Territory (NT) have expressed a keen interest in participating in aquaculture.

Around the world aquaculture has proven to be one of the few developing industries that can provide economic and employment outcomes in rural and/remote areas. However, this is not to deny that remoteness poses difficulties, particularly remote coastal areas of the Territory with limited infrastructure and seasonal access.

Work is underway at the Darwin Aquaculture Centre (DAC), in partnership with a range of supporting agencies, to develop livelihood based enterprises for Aboriginal people. The species and farming systems targeted fit with Aboriginal peoples’ cultural and economic aspirations and capacities. Species currently under trial are trepang (sea cucumber), giant clams and tropical rock oysters.

Trepang (sea cucumber)

Sea cucumber, also known as trepang or bêche de mer, is a prized delicacy throughout the Asia-Pacific region. Trepang were historically harvested in the NT and traded with the Macassans dating as far back as the 1600s.

The DAC is working with private enterprise and other organisations including Indigenous communities to find and develop suitable trepang ranching sites in the NT.

Trepang juveniles, produced by Tasmanian Seafoods Pty Ltd, have been released on multiple occasions at South Goulburn Island in partnership with the Warruwi community, and deployment techniques have been refined. In 2015 the first commercial harvest was conducted by the Warruwi people in conjunction with Tasmanian Seafoods. Juvenile releases are planned for early next year and ongoing releases, harvests and site monitoring is planned to progress this industry at Warruwi and other remote communities.

Giant clams

Aquacultured clams can potentially be used for export, conservation programs, eco-tourism and sustainable traditional harvesting for cultural and nutritional practices.

Following an aquarium industry initiated research and development project, hatchery production of clams at the DAC was successful and indicated that this industry could offer a viable enterprise opportunity to Indigenous coastal communities.  The NT Fisheries department is currently investigating the potential for Indigenous communities to become involved in the ranching of aquacultured clams on country.

Indigenous communities including Goulburn Island, Nhulunbuy and Groote Eylandt are taking part in the pilot program, in a government/industry partnership.

Trials have been conducted to assess clam grow-out potential in sea-based cages. Outcomes suggest these grow-out cages are an economic and viable pathway compared to land-based tanks. 

DAC is currently conducting market research on the sale of fluted giant clams (Tridacna squamosa) to the international aquarium trade.  Larger clams unsuitable for international trade will populate reefs for Aboriginal subsistence and potentially enhance tourism activities on communities.

Tropical rock oysters

Tropical rock oysters have been historically harvested by remote indigenous communities for food and/or trade. For the past five years the Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries has been investigating the potential social and economic benefits of oyster farming with the Warruwi community on South Goulburn Island and the Pirlangimpi community on the Tiwi islands. The project aims to develop reliable breeding and grow-out techniques of the tropical blacklip oyster (Striostrea mytiloides) that are suitable for placement in remote communities. A primary aspect of this work is to train Aboriginal people in tropical oyster husbandry and assist with the establishment of small, Indigenous-owned oyster growing businesses.

A number of different farming systems have been trialed and hatchery techniques for reliable production of spat are progressing, with several thousand oysters already produced by the DAC. Certificate II aquaculture training, through Charles Darwin University, has been delivered to Goulburn Island community members who are involved in this project and a related project on sea cucumber ranching. A small number of farmed oysters at Pirlangimpi have been harvested and received an enthusiastic response from community elders.

Work is continuing towards developing a quality assurance scheme to enable commercial sale of oysters and business development support will continue, along with delivery of certificate level training in aquaculture. Hatchery production of oysters will be a large focus as this is a limiting factor toward project success.

Last updated: 27 March 2018