Western Australia's second large-scale aquaculture zone, which is set to create up to 1,400 jobs, has received environmental approval from the State Government.
The 3,000ha aquaculture development zone, within the archipelago of the Abrolhos Islands off the coast of Geraldton, follows the establishment of yellowtail farming in the area.
Floating sea cages will be used to grow marine finfish such as pink snapper, which occur naturally in the region, in what the Government has described as strict environmental conditions.
Fisheries Minister Dave Kelly said he expected the zone, which would be formally opened next month, would reduce red tape for operators entering the industry.
"One of the key aspects of the Government putting in a development zone is there's already environmental approvals," he said.
"So someone who comes in, sticks their hand up and applies for a licence in this zone, they'll be able to do it knowing there's already an environmental approval for this area.
"That's one piece of the regulatory jigsaw they won't have to comply with."
The zone is set to be monitored by Fisheries through the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, with set limits on tonnes of fish to be cultured and stocking densities.
Industry welcomes approval after 'high level of scrutiny'
Indian Ocean Fresh Australia has been commercially farming yellowtail kingfish in the waters off Geraldton for more than a year.
The company had spent almost a decade working with the Mid West Development Commission to determine the commercial viability of the area.
Managing director Erica Starling said she was looking forward to the zone being declared officially.
"This has been a long process with the highest level of scrutiny," she said.
"We have had surveys on the areas for many years and some of the ground has been covered several times.
"It is good to have clarity on the environmental approvals, but the Minister still needs to declare the zone."
Huge potential in region
The then-Department of Fisheries lodged the proposal for the Abrolhos zone in April 2013, based on the model of the Kimberley Aquaculture Zone that began production in 2014.
Midwest Development Commission chairman Todd West said the announcement gave some certainty to the industry.
"Aquaculture has huge potential in the mid-west. It was picked up in our marine precinct study as the industry that can help drive that marine precinct area down in the fisherman's wharf and help develop that as well," he said.
"It just opens up a huge amount of other industry players to come to the mid-west and create a large amount of jobs which the region needs," he said.
In April the Environmental Protection Authority gave the project a green light, outlining seven conditions to ensure the environment was maintained.
Conditions included a plan for environmental monitoring and management, as well as a plan for the Department of Fisheries in handling marine animals, specifically sea lions and seabirds.
Conservation council to keep eye on zone
Conservation Council of WA director Piers Verstegen said while the council was satisfied with the process to date, it would keep a close eye on the management of the zone to ensure conditions were upheld.
"I guess it's just a matter of wait and see to find out whether these conditions are going to be met and complied with, but we're certainly going to be keeping a close watch on it," he said.
"There are some impacts on the marine environment that aquaculture has which need to be carefully managed."