Victorian barramundi farm gets federal government grant, construction likely next year

Barramundi in a tank.

The warm waters of northern Australia, which are ideal for barramundi, are set to be artificially replicated in the shadow of a paper mill in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley.

Opal Australian Paper and its project partner, Mainstream Aquaculture, have received a $30 million federal government grant to progress plans for a $125 million indoor barramundi farm.

The project plans to use excess heat from the Maryvale Mill near Morwell to warm water to about 30 degrees Celsius for the barramundi to grow in.

Opal aquaculture project lead Craig Bosch said the company hoped to begin construction, pending approvals, early next year.

“We currently run a lot of cooling towers to cool water from our turbines, so rather than running those cooling towers we’ll just put in a number of heat exchangers and we’ll transfer that across to heat the freshwater coming in for the fish,” Mr Bosch said.

An impression of the proposed Aquaculture project at Maryvale Mill.
The proposed Latrobe Aquaculture project is on the same site as the Maryvale Mill.(Supplied: MainStream Aquaculture)

Replacing imported fish

It is not the first time barramundi has been grown in Gippsland, but this time the fish will not be accessible to the average angler.

The 3,700 tonnes of barramundi grown at the farm each year is destined for the local market to replace imported white flesh fish.

A handful of Barramundi fingerlingsA handful of Barramundi fingerlings
Barramundi fingerlings will be grown at the Maryvale site.(Supplied: MainStream Aquaculture)

“With the supply chain disruptions caused throughout COVID, it’s highlighted the immediate need to ramp up domestic production of white flesh fish to replace the 100,000 tonnes a year that’s currently imported,” Mr Bosch said.

The Maryvale site will have the capacity to scale up to 11,000 tonnes.

Two grants in two weeks

Voices of the Valley president Wendy Farmer has questioned why the federal government has given nearly $80 million in grants to projects at the site in less than two weeks.

The $30 million announced this week comes hot on the heels of a $48 million grant for an energy from waste project.

“It just seems surprising that one [company] has received all this money when there are so many others in Latrobe Valley that are needing support to go further,” Ms Farmer said.

A paper mill viewed through a fence.A paper mill viewed through a fence.
Heat from the Maryvale Mill will be used to warm water for the barramundi.(ABC Gippsland: Kerrin Thomas)

Gippsland MP Darren Chester said there was often criticism when large sums of money were given to the private sector but the mill was one of the region’s biggest private employers.

“There’s always a risk when you have state or federal governments supporting the private sector, people will say the project would have happened anyway,” Mr Chester said.

“But what we find is that sometimes this investment of public funds to create jobs in the economy and diversify the regional economy helps to bring forward investments that may have occurred at some later point in time.”

Mr Chester said the commitment was “fully funded and has been provided to the Department of Finance as part of the budget process”.

He said the funding may depend on which party formed the next federal government.

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