Member for Mulgrave Curtis Pitt has called on Fisheries Minister John McVeigh and Cairns MP Gavin King to explain why the government is closing down the successful Animal Science’s Tropical Marine Fin Fish program at the Northern Fisheries Centre in Portsmith.

Mr Pitt said staff last week received letters advising that their employment will end 30 September 2013.

“The State Government is effectively walking away from aquaculture in North Queensland,” Mr Pitt said.

“The only remaining aquaculture projects in the state will be at Bribie Island.

“Yet again this blinkered State Government cannot see beyond the greater Brisbane area.”

Mr Pitt said the Tropical Fin Fish program was operated on a fee for service basis and was a great asset to the aquaculture industry in Queensland.

“In the past four months the Northern Fisheries Centre has sent out 120,000 grouper fingerlings to fish farms and supply Barramundi and Prawn farms with live feeds and starter cultures which is essential for their production runs,” Mr Pitt said.

“I have concerns for the viability of the dozens of local aquaculture businesses that have sourced their stock from the Northern Fisheries Centre – what will happen to them?

“This is a growing industry and market – grouper form the basis of the Live Reef Fish Food trade across South East Asia and islands of the Indo-Pacific with a regional trade in excess of $800 million.

“Currently, Australia contributes live coral trout and is the largest single source of coral trout. The culture of other grouper species could provide the opportunity to diversify and grow Australia’s role in the trade.”

Mr Pitt said the Brisbane centric LNP government does not have a good track record supporting the agriculture and fisheries sector.

“They have closed down research stations including Walkamin on the Tablelands and the Townsville veterinary labs, and March this year they closed the Cairns Rock Lobster program with resulting job losses,” he said.

“The announcement to close the centre follows a $100,000 upgrade of heat pumps for temperature controlling the water in the tanks; upgrading and fixing the electrical supply to the new tank farm and additional tanks for upgrading the nursery facility.

“The taxpayer will still be paying for this facility even after it closes – the land is owned by the Port Authority and the buildings owned by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

“The department still has ten or so years of depreciation to pay on the buildings and they will have to pay for the care, maintenance and security of the centre.

“Minister McVeigh needs to reconsider this poor decision to close the centre – and again the people of Cairns need to ask why their local member, Gavin King has been silent.”