Australia’s chance to be a big fish in global aquaculture

Australia’s chance to be a big fish in global aquaculture

Published 13 June 2014 13:57, Updated 13 June 2014 14:40

Luke Malpass

Global aquaculture is needed as historically high fish prices are tipped to rise further and wild fisheries production is placed under strain.  Photo: Bloomberg

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.


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.




About bambooinnovator
KB Kee is the Managing Editor of the Moat Report Asia (, a research service focused exclusively on highlighting undervalued wide-moat businesses in Asia; subscribers from North America, Europe, the Oceania and Asia include professional value investors with over $20 billion in asset under management in equities, some of the world’s biggest secretive global hedge fund giants, and savvy private individual investors who are lifelong learners in the art of value investing. KB has been rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as an analyst in Asian capital markets. He was head of research and fund manager at a Singapore-based value investment firm. As a member of the investment committee, he helped the firm’s Asia-focused equity funds significantly outperform the benchmark index. He was previously the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. KB has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy, value investing, macroeconomic and industry trends, and detecting accounting frauds in Singapore, HK and China. KB was a faculty (accounting) at SMU teaching accounting courses. KB is currently the Chief Investment Officer at an ASX-listed investment holdings company since September 2015, helping to manage the listed Asian equities investments in the Hidden Champions Fund. Disclaimer: This article is for discussion purposes only and does not constitute an offer, recommendation or solicitation to buy or sell any investments, securities, futures or options. All articles in the website reflect the personal opinions of the writer.

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