Aquaculture is a major growth industry in South Australia, but a lack of accredited commercial divers is creating problems for operators.
Australia’s largest off-shore producer of farmed greenlip abalone, Australian Bight Abalone, employs 25 commercial divers to tend aquaculture leases near Elliston, on the Eyre Peninsula, but needs to double this number by the end of the year, company operations manager Bill Bascomb says.
Commercial divers are so sought-after in the tuna and abalone industry, newly accredited divers with limited experience can earn up to $50,000 in their first year, he says.
“Diving is an exciting, demanding, and adventurous career path,” Mr Bascomb says.
“Many divers only work between eight to 10 months of the year and can work throughout the aquaculture industry at remote locations across the globe.”
He says anyone who has completed a basic scuba course can apply for a commercial diving licence.
The divers are put through a series of tests to assess their suitability.
If they pass, they are then able to participate in a three-month course with an accredited commercial diving school.
Some divers are reluctant to enter commercial diving courses because of the cost.
“The commercial diving course is very intensive to complete and costs about $10,000,” Mr Bascomb says.
“However ABA is so reliant on commercial divers that we pay for their course, as well as some of their equipment, including a $1200 wetsuit and $2500 mask.”
With the Eyre Peninsula’s closest commercial dive school located at Burra, ABA plans to start its own accredited course early next year.
“ABA expects to be the largest producer of greenlip abalone in the world by 2016 and we can’t do this without sufficient numbers of commercial divers,” he says.
“We are currently in discussions with a dive-accreditation provider near Elliston and we intend to develop a commercial diving school that is specific to the abalone industry.”
ABA uses a patented abalone aquafarm system, which is effectively a series of floating reefs to create a secure ecosystem for the abalone, which feed on natural algae.
The Abalone Aquafarm system is generally recognised as the most environmentally friendly form of aquaculture in the world, Mr Bascomb says.