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Saturday, April 23, 2016

First abalone ranch in WA

Growing abalone in a natural environment in the pristine waters of Flinders Bay near Augusta in Western Australia is now a reality.
It's not aquaculture, it's called 'ranching' because nature produces the sea snail all by itself.

It's the brainchild of Brad Adams, a former abalone diver and marine scientist.  He's the man responsible for hatchery-bred abalone grown to maturity on artificial reefs (concrete blocks) that are now being harvested in a world first 'sea ranching' enterprising.

As we know, there is a huge demand for green-lipped abalone in Asia, especially China.

"It really started when I was a wild catch diver, I was seeing lots of areas out there where everything was right - the oceanic environment was right, the sea grass beds, there was good food there" Mr Adams said.

"And whenever you found a rock, it would be loaded with abalone and over time, we thought why not just put a rock down there, put an abalone on it and see what happens, and that's how the business started."

The abalone are being grown on 900 kilo concrete blocks designed to become part of the marine environment and support up to 400 abalone each.  They call them "abitats" and it took them three years of research to get them just right.

"Building them and transporting them by barge to the Flinders Bay lease was the only real set-up cost" Mr Adams said.

"There's really not much else to do because nature takes care of it all for you....we are completely reliant on nature to provide that pristine environment which allows the abalone to grow naturally."

About 11 tonnes will be harvested this year and sold as snap-frozen single serve units for the restaurant trade but there is a huge untapped market for live abalone to China and the price will hopefully be the same as wild abalone because they are ocean-grown and only eat seaweed.

"We are not aquaculture, we're ranching because once they're in the water, they look after themselves."

WA's Dept of Fisheries Agriculture Manager Steve Nel said protecting the marine environment was crucial.  "The key biosecurity elements we look at are making sure that disease isn't introduced into the area." 

Mr Adams has two brothers who are wild catch abalone divers and he is confident that transferring juvenile abalone from the hatchery farm at Bremer Bay to the ranch will have no impact on the wild abalone industry.

He has begun trials for a second ranch at Esperance and the company hopes to start a third lease at Port Lincoln in South Australia.