Jonathan Bilton - Albany Shellfish Hatchery
Accountants Phillip Mortimer and Sabina Moir caught up for a coffee with Jonathan Bilton, the current license holder and manager of the Albany Shellfish Hatchery.
How did it all begin?
After a push from the shellfish industry to investigate the viability of opening a hatchery in Western Australia along with the funding received from the State Government, the Albany Shellfish Hatchery was upgraded and re-developed from existing infrastructure and is a 24/7 fulltime operation. The hatchery site at Frenchman Bay was chosen for its access to exceptionally high-quality seawater from Albany’s King George Sound.
The state-of-the-art hatchery is supporting job growth and the development of commercial shellfish farming in Western Australia, as well as working towards supplying spat (juvenile seed stock) to aquaculture operations in other States. In particular, South Australia who were reliant on the supply of spat from Tasmania, a $26 million dollar industry that has now been shut down due to disease.
What is a typical day in the life of a Shellfish hatchery farmer?
As previously stated, it is a full on 24/7 operation that includes checking that ‘all systems go’ with regular maintenance, tank water changes and larvae cell counts. One of the biggest challenges of the entire operation is the hygiene factor – around 90% of the maintenance involves cleaning in order to control bacteria.
What types of shellfish are farmed at the Shellfish hatchery?
Milky oysters, Black Lip Rock Oyster, Mussels, Local rock oyster and Akoya Pearl Oysters.
What do you do in your downtime?
The hatchery takes up the majority of my time so I haven’t got that much downtime. I am not keen on fishing…
What is your favourite Shellfish dish?
Tempura – style Akoya or natural oysters straight from the water.
What are your thoughts on the Shellfish industry, is it sustainable?
The State Government Department who are funding the Hatchery’s operations for the next three years have been fabulous in their support. It is expected the hatchery will be fully self-funded within 10 years, once the industry has reached sufficient scale. There are ‘Big Players’ in northern Western Australia who are keen to start a thriving industry and therefore there will be demand for the Spat (Shellfish larvae) that have been farmed down in Albany. Industry leaders have reacted to the downturn in mining and are seeking new opportunities. Aquaculture is the world’s fastest growing food production sector so in a way, the planets have aligned for this industry’s future.
Spat (Shellfish larvae) is the greenest form of aquaculture that you can get and is relatively environmentally friendly. There are significant efficiencies in production - more efficient than beef!
Now you've had a behind the scenes look into all of the hard work and technology that goes into creating our local fresh and delicious seafood.
Since we caught up with Jonathan the Albany Hatchery has successfully sent 600,000 Milky Oyster spat to sites in the Kimberley, Pilbara and Abrolhos Islands. There are also three million Blacklip Rock Oyster spats waiting to supply a trial site in Shark Bay, pending final license and lease approvals.
Albany Shellfish Hatchery
Murray Rd, Frenchman Bay WA 6330