Fish farming: a new project’s approval illustrates regulatory weaknesses

Yesterday the Commonwealth government gave environmental approval to Project Sea Dragon,  a $2 billion scheme involving prawn farming in the North.  According to reports it will increase the national prawn catch by 55 per cent and employ 1400 people in activities that deliver real worth involving willing customers.  Revenues of over $1.25 billion a year are expected.

This involves a welcome change from the negative value-adding that has been par for the course with subsidised wind farms, Snowy wasting energy on pumping water uphill, a madcap scheme to build a Brisbane to Melbourne rail line.

Fishing has been one of many major disappointments as an Australian commercial activity.  The Australian Environment Foundation has pointed out how Australia is a massive underperformer – we have just about the biggest coastline in the world yet we are a net importer of fish.

The fishing industry’s global wild catch appears to have approached its limits but farmed fishing is increasing rapidly.

Australia has not participated in this growth, as is evident from the following

In fact, Japan’s aquaculture production is 15 times larger than Australia’s and the EU’s is over 40 times larger.

While the approval of the Sea Dragon Project is welcome, the process it went through underlines the barriers that Australian governments place in the way of entrepreneurial activities.  As a result of these impediments there were no new land based aquaculture licences issued in Australia in the 10 years to 2012 and very few since then.

The Dragon Sea Project has been under contemplation for seven years.  It proceeded to seek “Pre-Feasibility Approval” from its sponsors which it completed in June 2012.

It started the formal Environmental approval process in December 2013 and was accorded Major Project status which is supposed to expedite approval. Yet, it has just now finally received it, four and a half years later.  The process involved liaison with 22 Commonwealth, State and Territory agencies and the approval involved strict controls to protect “including migratory birds, sawfish, the flatback turtle and river sharks”.  All these dead weight bureaucratic costs are in addition to the directly required costs of the firm in hiring lawyers, environmental consultants and lobbyists.

The Environment Minister, Josh Frydenberg, was previously Minister for Deregulation, a role that seems to have atrophied since the Turnbull regime.  Perhaps, in view of his previous zeal in cutting Red Tape, Minister Frydenberg’s elevation to the Environment portfolio expedited the approval but the time involved is a sad indictment of the income-suppressing nature of Australian regulatory processes.

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16 Responses to Fish farming: a new project’s approval illustrates regulatory weaknesses

  1. Bruce

    “Yes, Minister / Yes, Prime Minster” was meant to be a satirical comedy, NOT a series of ‘training films”.

    “Advance Australia Fair”?

    Yeah, RIGHT!

  2. teddy bear

    We wouldn’t want just anyone investing in Australia now would we, massive red tape ensures that our politicians are able to select only suitable businesses to invest here. Suitability is of course determined over many an expensive meal and a few gifts here and there help show a businesses commitment.

  3. Bruce of Newcastle

    The Greens are dead against fish farming and control of sea lions.
    So they have applied lawfare on mobs like Tassal, to force a cut in the Macquarie Harbour operations and to prevent expansion off the east coast of Tassie.

    The Greens should be locked up as environmental vandals, since the way to protect sea life and eliminate bycatch is to allow fish farming.

  4. Empire

    All these dead weight bureaucratic costs are in addition to the directly required costs of the firm in hiring lawyers, environmental consultants and lobbyists.

    A design feature? Who profits?

    Time for Project Nepos: construct and maintain a dynamic relationship map of all the tax eating agents of state and make it publicly available in an easy to use format.

  5. Tom

    I was part of a group looking to expand aquaculture in the Kimberley in the ’90s, but gave up when red tape and the lack of investment became insurmountable by 2000. I can only wish the developers of Sea Dragon the best of luck in their future plans.

  6. PoliticoNT

    Alan – I was on contract with the NT Department of Business during 2015 and had some oversight of Sea Dragon; the project sat under the Chief Minister’s Dept but we were often sent to fisheries related briefings and were expected to have a view of things. The head of CSIRO aquaculture (based in Brisbane) became a good contact and his advice was the NT’s aqua-environment is the best in the world for this kind of operation (although with Sea Dragon we’re talking a largely on-shore tidal area). The aqua-biology involved is exceptionally complex and previous prawn-farm developments in the Darwin region have gone tits up due this.

    There was an awful lot of Australian scientific firepower thrown at the project. The view from CSIRO was that this kind of farm should have long been developed in Queensland but that regional offices of Environment, and the Barrier Reef Authority acted as very effective obstructions, and over an almost two decade long period. Curiously CSIRO’s view was the obstruction was often in the form of a regionally-based APS6 level federal public servant. So we’re talking frustrating, small-minded, low-level bureaucracy at its worst.

    Take into account former NT Chief Minister Paul Henderson (pro-development) and his former departmental chief Mike Burgess (pro-development) have been the primary private sector contractors pushing Sea Dragon, working hand-in-hand with the heavily pro-development (former) Chief Minister Adam Giles. Without these three the development approval could have been a lot longer. (For the record I think ‘approval’ is an inappropriate word to describe the process as is. More an indulgent process of navel gazing exploration by so-called experts disconnected from the real world. At vast and unnecessary expense.) And don’t underestimate how sophisticated and experienced NT-based fisheries people are.

    Personally speaking I reckon the only reason the project’s gotten up because it’s out of sight therefore out of mind. No way the eco-fascists would have allowed this anywhere else.

  7. Rayvic

    The Greens and animal righters will be up in arms. So, they should not be told about it!

  8. PoliticoNT

    Time for Project Nepos: construct and maintain a dynamic relationship map of all the tax eating agents of state and make it publicly available in an easy to use format.

    Empire – I like it.

  9. I can only wish the developers of Sea Dragon the best of luck in their future plans.

    I see they intend building their own power station, so they’re not relying entirely on luck.
    I wonder how long before this becomes Standard Business Practice here in Oz.

  10. EvilElvis

    All these dead weight bureaucratic costs are in addition to the directly required costs of the firm in hiring lawyers, environmental consultants and lobbyists.

    A design feature? Who profits?

    Time for Project Nepos: construct and maintain a dynamic relationship map of all the tax eating agents of state and make it publicly available in an easy to use format.

    Agreed Empire.

    Also add the impost on projects of having to hire ‘business payed government staff’ in the form of environmental and safety advisory staff etc, who’s only job is maintaining regulatory compliance to legislation, nothing productive to the project.

  11. Tel

    Time for Project Nepos:

    That’s a great idea sir.

    Let’s talk about the kind of licensing and approval you will be needing, shall we? Have you done your privacy impact survey? Are you a certified fake news dealer yet? You will be needing that one.

  12. Rob MW

    An environmentaly approved Prawn with a Halal sticker on it and at the end of the day two legged sharks will eat all the profits.

  13. Rabz

    we have just about the biggest coastline in the world yet we are a net importer of fish

    Just like how we have the some of the largest energy reserves in the world and yet we have among the most expensive and unreliable power of any developed nation.

    For how much longer must this treasonous idiocy be allowed to persist? Until we’re all on the Venezuelan diet?

  14. Dr Fred Lenin

    The government imposts and obstacles in the way of new developments is counter productive . Where are the political perks going to come from ? When they retire from politics to spend more time with their families ,and take a part time job involving one lunchtime conference a month for an honorarium of $250,000 a year from a company that really prospered during their time in office . I suppose they will all end up on the dole , ,I nean who in their right mind would employ them ?

  15. .

    I was part of a group looking to expand aquaculture in the Kimberley in the ’90s, but gave up when red tape and the lack of investment became insurmountable by 2000. I can only wish the developers of Sea Dragon the best of luck in their future plans.

    Inland commercial fishing in NSW is similarly made unfeasible. It is a shame since the activity largely involves catching feral carp and European perch, which fetch decent prices in the Sydney and Melbourne markets.

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