The Northern Territory and federal governments are fast-tracking what could be one of the world’s largest prawn farms by granting it major project status.
If it is approved, the $1.45 billion Project Sea Dragon would expand Australia’s prawn production by 20 times to 100,000 tonnes per year.
It will be located on Lejeune Station near the NT and Western Australia border, with prawn processing done in Kununurra.
The farm, to be operated by Seafarms Group, is expected to employ 1600 people.
Chief Minister Adam Giles said the project is an example of how the NT economy could be diversified as northern Australia is developed, while also bringing industry to remote indigenous communities.
“It will make the NT the prawn capital of Australia but it will (also) put jobs out in locations close to communities,” he told reporters on Monday.
There was no legislative framework to get the project up in Western Australia or Queensland, Seafarms Group chairman Ian Trahar said.
However, in 2013 the NT government amended the Pastoral Land Use Act so one third of properties could be used for non-pastoral purposes.
Mr Trahar said the majority of prawns eaten by Australians come from Thailand, China and Vietnam, but those countries have had difficulties in expanding their industry.
“The Asian models haven’t been industrialised and have disease issues, affecting size and biosecurity,” he said.
“At Lejeune we’re starting with a clean sheet of paper, it’s all about biosecurity and producing much larger animals than we’re seeing come out of Asia.”
The prawns will be about 35g, or almost double the size of tiger prawns.
The first shipments expected to leave Australia by 2018, destined primarily for Asia.
Seafarms Group will source private investment for the project around September or October next year if it decides to go ahead.