NQ Rock Lobster Farm Seals Its Future

A pioneering tropical rock lobster farm north of Townsville is now on solid ground with its 1000-job plan, after gaining land security from the Queensland government.

Tropical Rock Lobster Panulirus ornatus. Credit

Resources Minister Scott Stewart recently announced the government had granted the company freehold ownership of its site, underpinning the company’s expansion plans for the former prawn farm at Toomulla Beach.

The company is working in partnership with the University of Tasmania (UTAS) and plans to develop a world-first $500 million industry, creating up to 1000 local jobs over the next decade.

Resources Minister Scott Stewart said freehold ownership, rather than the previous lease, meant Ornatas could now secure investors to expand production and its workforce.

“This is a real leap forward for a project that will create jobs in the North, replace imported seafood and take pressure off wild populations of lobster,” Mr Stewart said.

“Importantly, it’s already employing young graduates from James Cook University and offers exciting opportunity for a new industry in the North using cutting-edge technology which is important for our economic recovery from COVID-19.”

“Ornatas’ project will be the world’s first land-based tropical rock lobster farm and represents another milestone towards Queensland becoming the aquaculture capital of the world.”

QUEENSLAND Resources Minister, Scott Stewart

The project was first announced during a Regional Parliament sitting in 2019 in Townsville.

Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries Mark Furner said Queensland’s investment in aquaculture was putting the state at the forefront of the world’s fastest growing food industry.

“This is why we set our goal of making Queensland the aquaculture capital of the world, so we can attract millions of dollars’ worth of investment and create jobs for hundreds more Queenslanders,” Mr Furner said.

“Having the world’s first sustainable tropical rock lobster land-based growout facility here shows we’re well on our way to meeting this goal.”

Member for Mundingburra, Les Walker ,said it was exciting to see innovative projects like this based in Townsville.

“There is huge potential for growing aquaculture in Townsville which will create more jobs and opportunities in the future,” Mr Walker said.

Member for Thuringowa, Aaron Harper, said securing the long-term future of the facility at Toomulla showed the Palaszczuk Government’s commitment to regional jobs.

“As a government we know aquaculture is a growing industry and that’s why we’re investing in its future,” Mr Harper said.

Ornatas chief executive officer, Scott Parkinson, said he expected the first farmed tropical rock lobsters to be available to Australian consumers and the lucrative Asian market by late 2022.

“Ornatas has invested more than $25 million into commercialising lobster breeding, knowledge and grow-out technology developed by UTAS, to help develop this emerging industry.”

Ornatas chief executive officer, Scott Parkinson

“Our plan is to produce about 150 tonnes of this delicacy over the next five years, expanding to about 1000 tonnes by 2030.

The 270-hectare former prawn farm is currently producing its second batch of juvenile tropical rock lobsters from its state-of-the-art lobster hatchery in Townsville.

Mr Parkinson said the next stage would be trials in ponds which are under construction and sea-raft grow-out systems to grow the juveniles to a marketable size for sale before they’re then harvested and sold to premium seafood markets in Australia and Asia.

Panulirus ornatus – Tropical rock lobster. ©  CSIRO, Robert Kerton