Aquaculture is the farming of fish, plants and other organisms that live in fresh or sea water.

For more information on aquaculture including how to get an aquaculture licence, access industry resources or how to set up aquaponics in your backyard visit the Northern Territory Government website.

Aquaculture policies

Policies for aquatic animal health, aquaculture, livestock and agriculture.

In all intensive farming systems, stock health is important to production. Aquatic animal disease can be a limiting factor to both commercial fisheries and aquaculture production. An effective disease management system generally includes measures to minimise the risk of disease entry, capability to diagnose disease and emergency preparedness.

The Berrimah Veterinary Laboratories of the Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade provide diagnostic, surveillance and pre-translocation health testing services to farmed aquatic animal species in the Northern Territory. The services also aim to maintain the ability to identify new diseases, determine effective treatment and control strategies for such diseases, and improve translocation protocols.

For example, the barramundi (Lates calcarifer) fingerling health testing program comprises histopathological assessment of general fish health supported by specific laboratory testing such as molecular testing for Nodavirus and bacterial culture for Streptococcus iniae. Likewise, histopathological assessment of health of pearl oysters (Pinctada maxima) also occurs. Pre-translocation health testing is part of the formal movement control policy of the department.

In addition to disease diagnostic and health testing programmes for farmed aquatic animal species, the department also conducts investigations into fish kills in wild fish populations. Most fish kills are natural events but if you witness large numbers of dead or dying fish you are urged to report it to the Fish Watch Hotline on 1800 891 136.

All Australian states and territories are signatories to the Australian Government policy on aquaculture. This policy states:

All Australian governments commit to working in partnership with the aquaculture industry to achieve maximum sustainable growth, whilst also meeting national and international expectations for environmental, social and economic performance.

Specifically, these commitments are:

  • the facilitation of effective, efficient, timely and transparent planning and approval processes
  • supporting continual improvement of ecologically sustainable aquaculture and to develop environmental performance standards
  • provide and encourage investment for growth
  • ensuring industry and community participation in aquaculture planning and management.

Further details of the policy can be found on the Australian Government's Department of Agriculture and Water Resources website.

The Northern Territory Government's commitments to triple bottom line outcomes, in the form of economic, social and environmental performance, are in agreement with the Commonwealth initiative of Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD). The premise of this initiative is that development can be promoted and undertaken so long as it is sustainable in terms of generational equity, environmental and social impacts, while maintaining sound economic performance.

Further, under Section 3A of the Federal Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 the principles of ESD are:

  • decision-making processes that effectively integrate both long-term and short-term economic, environmental, social and equitable considerations
  • if there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation
  • the principles of inter-generational equity - that the present generation should ensure that the health, diversity and productivity of the environment is maintained or enhanced for the benefit of future generations
  • the conservation of biological diversity and ecological integrity should be a fundamental consideration in decision-making
  • improved valuation, pricing and incentive mechanisms should be promoted.

With regard to the principles of the Commonwealth initiative of Ecologically Sustainable Development (see policy framework), the Northern Territory Fisheries Act 1988 and regulations, and considering the commitments made under the National Aquaculture Policy, a set of principles which form the basis for all operational policy development for the department's aquaculture branch have been developed. These are:

  • the department will support aquaculture development in line with other sectors in a manner consistent with its commitments to ESD principles, as set out in departmental legislation, regulations and policies.
  • the department will work with other Territory departments to coordinate policy development, integrate regulatory frameworks and improve service delivery.
  • the department will make every effort to understand the needs of the aquaculture industry and to respond in a manner that is solutions oriented and supportive of aquaculture development.
  • the department will communicate with Territorians and consider their views on issues of public concern in a fair and transparent manner, based on science and risk-management approaches.
  • the department will recognise the aspirations of indigenous people and will work with them to facilitate participation in aquaculture development.
  • recognising that aquaculture is a legitimate use of land, water and aquatic resources, the department will work to provide aquaculturists with predictable, equitable and timely access to resources.

The department is committed to creating policy conditions that increase both the public's confidence that aquaculture is being developed in a sustainable manner and the aquaculture industry's competitiveness in domestic and global markets.

The summary objectives of this policy framework are to:

  • shape the development of future departmental aquaculture policies and programs
  • guide the development of operational policies for the application of the department's regulatory responsibilities in relation to aquaculture
  • clearly convey to other government departments, the aquaculture industry, Indigenous groups and other stakeholders, the framework within which the department is committed to take action.

The Aquaculture unit provides a range of services to support industry. These include advice to investors, aquatic animal health (in collaboration with the Berrimah Veterinary Laboratory) and development of supporting policies. In assisting investors, a case management approach is used, facilitating interactions with a range of government organisations which regulate many aspects of aquaculture industry development.

Routine contact is maintained with the aquaculture licensees by aquaculture staff and advice is available on request, within the resources of the unit.

The Darwin Aquaculture Centre works closely with Charles Darwin University providing work experience for the aquaculture students. The Aquaculture Unit also works in collaboration with industry on matters of policy affecting the industry.

Operational aquaculture policies are researched and developed for the department on issues of strategic importance to the aquaculture industry. Wherever possible the policies are pro-active and attempt to provide guidance on issues by having a departmental policy position in place prior to negotiations with stakeholders.

The process of operational policy development begins with strategic planning and reviews of departmental business and operational plans. Policy development targets areas of concern where specific actions are anticipated. Draft policies are prepared in consultation with stakeholders on a wide range of issues with implications for fisheries resource management and aquaculture in the Northern Territory (NT). These draft policies are then subject to internal review followed by consultation with the Ministerial Advisory Council for Aquaculture in the NT. Following this process, there may be a process of public consultation and ultimately the policy is finalised with a signature from the director of Fisheries.

The following are operational policies relating to aquaculture:

  • general policy on aquaculture
  • specific translocations of barramundi in the NT
  • translocation policy for commercial aquaculture including risk assessments
  • policy for the translocation of live aquatic organisms into and within the NT for commercial aquaculture
  • sea cucumber policy
  • sea cucumber ranching guidelines
  • access to broodstock from the northern prawn fishery.

The full policy documents, including background information or reasons for the policies, can be requested from Fisheries. Contact 08 8999 2144.

Last updated: 20 September 2019

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