Fish farm ‘sunk by council’
A $2 MILLION investment in a Hervey Bay aquaculture farm, hailed by scientists as world class, is closing down in a long war of words and threatened legal actions with the Fraser Coast council.
Malcolm Taylor has been harvesting fish in closed systems for 30 years, 15 of them in the Bay.
Yesterday he said “eminent scientists” had described his Murray cod farm that produced 40 tons annually as the most cost-effective recirculation aquaculture system in the world.
Now he’s packing up. “I’ll be gone by March and never want to deal with this council on a business venture again.”
Meanwhile his aquaculture industry neighbour, Ross Meaclem, who gave up a $1 million annual fish export trade in Cairns to start up in the Bay in the same council business precinct, has already moved out, describing the council’s attitude and behaviour over almost four years as “sad, pathetic”.
“We would have been employing 19 people there by now.”
And both men were invited by the council to set up their businesses.
Mr Taylor said yesterday that he was originally approached by the Hervey Bay City Council in 2003 and invited to set up an intensive aquaculture business on council land at Urangan so he could be used as the catalyst to start up an eight hectare aquaculture precinct, which would make Hervey Bay the capital of aquaculture in Australia.
“The actual final agreement with them was struck in March 2005.
“They told me they would pump fresh saltwater from the Urangan Pier to my business. Two years later this hadn’t happened.
“They told me that I could buy the land for $150,000 plus GST once they sorted out individual titles for the block and neighbouring blocks. But last year they raised the price to buy the 1.6 hectare block of land to $800,000.
“They told me I would have water and sewerage connected. It didn’t happen for two years.
“Aquaculture businessman Ross Meaclem landed up next door and he built his infrastructure but at this date he has no power and water and no proper access road, so he can’t operate at all. So he’s gone.”
“Council invited me to set up business there too,” Mr Meaclem said yesterday. “That was about four years ago. I invested $400,000 and I built my infrastructure but have never been able to work out of it. I even had a government grant, which they took back because I couldn’t get started because of council’s breaking its promises. I haven’t been able to export for four years.”
“In 2004 I put in a formal council application to run my aquaculture business,” Mr Taylor said. “To this day I have not received a formal response to that application in spite of many calls, emails and personal visits, including to the newly amalgamated council.
“They just kept saying it’ll be alright, don’t worry. I had to therefore operate without the appropriate permits and after six years we’ve still received no advice in respect of this application. Even the Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries contacted the council to get a copy of our application and they too were ignored.
“It’s now obvious nothing was ever processed.”
Mr Taylor said he needed the council to sell him the land for the original $150,000 asking price because with security of tenure he would have been able to raise funds for more capital works, thus being able to employ more than the four who operated the business until the end of 2005.
“I had to mothball the business and since then I’ve been trying to reach a settlement with the council, trying to negotiate an amicable agreement, considering our original contract. I’ve even applied under Freedom of Information for correspondence relating to my case but the council has refused me.”
Fraser Coast council CEO Andrew Brien wrote to Mr Taylor on July 1 last year, saying “... we now think it is time to refer this matter back to the lawyers”.
“I’m seeking legal advice,” Mr Meaclem said. “The sad aspect of all this is people like Malcolm Taylor don’t come back. About six years ago the council created so many problems here for a prawn production business that they took off to Proserpine, where they are now the largest producer in Australia, putting out 90 tons a year.”
Mr Taylor said he sympathised with the Susan River fish farmer Peter Penrose, who is still deciding whether to pull the pin after warring with the council.
“That’s exactly what I’ve been through.”