BUNDABERG could be missing out on a $300 million industry that would only require a fraction of the cost to set up, according to marine experts.
Dr Clive Keenan, a respected marine biologist who has worked for the Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries and in the private sector, says aquaculture could rival Bundaberg's horticulture industry, which is worth about $450 million, if given the right government support.
"There is tremendous opportunity available in this region for aquaculture,"; Dr Keenan said.
"It could have the same value to Bundaberg as Bundaberg Sugar.";
But Dr Keenan said aquaculture was not given the same consideration as Queensland's other major industries.
"Back in the old days, the government partnered with the sugar industry to build the (Bundaberg) sugar terminal,"; Dr Keenan said.
"They had a very large lease for just $1 a year.";
Dr Keenan, a director of Coral Coast Mariculture, has been critical of Bundaberg Port after being forced to sell the business thanks to getting caught in a tangle of red tape while trying to set up a soft-shell crab business there in 2005.
Member for Burnett Rob Messenger, who has been involved in Dr Keenan's discussions with the State Government and new port owners Gladstone Ports Corporation, said it was disappointing the business had problems with securing a lease.
"Dr Keenan is passionate about aquaculture and mariculture. He would dearly love to set up the industry here,"; Mr Messenger said.
He said being just out of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority area meant the region was not subject to an extra layer of approval conditions, and the climate conditions were perfect.
"A $300 million industry is a real possibility,"; the MP said.
Mr Messenger said there was a systemic problem of inflexibility in government-owned corporations, such as the state's ports.
"There is a hell of a lot of red tape that potential investors need to fight through,"; he said.
"The next 10 years will be the most exciting time in history for Bundaberg and Burnett and aquaculture can play a huge role, and we need to get on to it.";
Dr Keenan agreed the government needed to support the development of aquaculture projects and it was already taking some positive steps forward - one of them being the draft Great Sandy Regional Marine Aquaculture Plan due to be finalised by the end of this year. The plan, which highlights five areas in the Burnett region, establishes guidelines for sustainable marine aquaculture development and streamlines assessment procedures.
"People around the world want Australian seafood because it is grown in nice clean water, it is good quality and it tastes good,"; he said.
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