Australia: Australia’s aquaculture sector needs “real capital” if it is to help meet rapidly growing global demand for fish, says an industry veteran.
David Williams, the former chairman of aquaculture group Tassal and founder of specialist food and agriculture investment bank Kidder Williams, says aquaculture is “the most exciting agricultural industry because of the proliferation of new species, growing areas and technologies”.
But he says the sector lacks scale, with a few large producers, such as Tassal, producing mainly salmon and prawns.
“What is needed is someone who takes a big-picture view and puts real capital into it,” says Williams, who recently advised Seafarm on its sale to Western Australian Resources/CO2 Group.
He thinks the sector is “significantly undercapitalised and ripe for growth over the next three to five years”.
Williams’s comments come as a Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) report has outlined the global state of aquaculture, painting an astonishing picture of the sector’s growth, while warning against overfishing and potential fish price increases.
Rising prices, dwindling stocks
The FAO says a rise in global aquaculture is needed as historically high fish prices are tipped to rise further and wild fisheries production is placed under strain by China’s protein-hungry, burgeoning middle class.
Fish now accounts for 17 per cent of global protein consumption. The FAO, which is holding its annual fisheries committee meeting in Rome, says global fish production, worth $US130 billion ($138 billion), has continued to outpace population growth. It predicts that aquaculture will account for 62 per cent of eaten fish by 2030 as “catches from wild fisheries level off and demand from an emerging global middle class substantially increases”.
In contrast, Australian wild-fish production is declining from a combination of factors. These include government policies to rebuild fish stocks, lower catch levels and a higher Australian dollar that discourages exports.
In 2011-12, overall fish production was 1 per cent lower than in 2001-02, despite a substantial increase in farmed production volume and value.
Despite this, Williams says the aquaculture industry “is alive and well and in good health”.
He estimates there could be up to 500 farms of various sizes dotted around Australia and says the Australian domestic market has enough demand to keep the aquaculture industry growing for at least the next 10 years, without even considering global protein demand.
Global prices for both caught and farmed fish reached record highs in October last year and remain at historically high levels. Some growth has been driven by China, which – as well as being the world’s biggest fish exporter – has now become the third-largest importer behind the US and Japan.
The FAO report notes consumption in the developed world has increased as nutritional and health benefits from fish are more widely known.
The growth in aquaculture looks set to continue as the proportion of sustainably caught wild fish fell to 70.2 per cent from 90 per cent in the mid-1970s.
Since 1960, world per capita fish consumption has increased to 19.2 kilograms a person from 9.9 kilograms in 1960. The total annual catch has increased to 158 million tonnes a year from 34.5 million tonnes.
Over that period, the wild fisheries catch has increased by two-thirds, but aquaculture has grown to produce 66.6 million tonnes of edible fish annually, from a low base of 1.6 million tonnes. As a result, almost half of all fish eaten is farmed.