Aquaculture in Australia traces its history back at least 8000 years, to a time when indigenous people in Western Victoria constructed ponds and traps to cultivate eels. There is also evidence of the Quandamooka People returning oyster shell material to Moreton Bay estuaries to promote the settlement of oyster spat – an early form of oyster farming. In colonial times, the first aquaculture ventures involved the cultivation of oysters and the attempts to introduce exotic species such as trout and salmon.
However, attempts to raise fin fish for the table in farmed environments did not begin until the middle of the 20th century. The first venture was an experimental fish farm on Moreton Island in Queensland in 1951. A natural lagoon was sealed and stocked with tens of thousands of mullet by the CSIRO. The scientists also professed an interest in raising whiting in a similar fashion. The outcome of the venture is not recorded.
Tasmania has been at the forefront of aquaculture in Australia, with the first trial trout farm established in 1964. In the 1980s, there were experiments with raising rainbow trout in sea pens and in the 1980s the first salmon farming ventures began. The first commercially farmed Tasmanian Atlantic Salmon were harvested in 1986. A report on the Tasmanian aquaculture and fisheries industries showed that in 2018/19 salmon aquaculture contributed a total of $650 million to the Tasmanian economy, which included $230 million from fish production, and $419 million from businesses and households spending money in other parts of the economy supported by salmon production.
Fish farming in South Australia began in the early 1990s. In that state, the Southern bluefin tuna is the most frequently farmed, followed by the Yellowtail kingfish. Together, Tasmania and South Australia account for around three-quarters of Australia’s aquaculture production. Today, a wide range of marine and freshwater fish, shellfish and molluscs are farmed in Australia. The aquaculture industry is regulated by the Federal Government and is represented by the National Aquaculture Council.
The industry is not without controversy. Conservationists point to the deleterious effects fish farms can have on marine ecosystems, through pollution and the over-harvesting of small species to provide food for the penned fish.