Biosecurity risk management in the NSW aquaculture industry

Aquaculture in New South Wales (NSW) is a growing industry. It is made up of over 400 permit holders, representing a mixture of intensive and extensive land and water-based businesses and hatcheries operating in fresh, estuarine and marine waters.

The NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) is actively working with the industry, the community and other agencies to ensure aquaculture develops in a sustainable manner – both environmentally, economically and socially. A key part of this engagement is to promote biosecurity preparedness and resilience so that aquaculture farmers can plan for, respond and recover from emergency biosecurity events. 

To achieve these outcomes, DPI recognised a need to have an evidence-informed understanding of the NSW aquaculture industries they are targeting. DPI therefore engaged BehaviourWorks Australia to conduct a study guided by the following objectives:

  1. Explore how NSW aquaculture farmers understand and prioritise biosecurity risk management.
  2. Identify the actions that farmers have implemented in relation to biosecurity risk management.
  3. Explore the drivers and barriers that influence biosecurity risk management.
  4. Identify opportunities for DPI to support and engage farmers on biosecurity risk management.
The challenge:
Exploring the influences, actions and needs of NSW aquaculture farmers in relation to biosecurity risk preparedness and resilience
NSW Department of Primary Industries
2021 - 2022

What did we do?

We used a mix-methods approach to collect insights from NSW aquaculture farmers, including:

  • Interviews to gain an in-depth understanding of selected biosecurity topics, influences and experiences; and,
  • A survey that was distributed to a broader sample of aquaculture farmers.

After collecting and analysing insights from NSW aquaculture farmers, a results workshop with representatives from DPI and the research team was held to discuss the key project findings and implications of the research.

What did we find?

Importance and confidence in biosecurity risk management

Most farmers rated biosecurity risk management as very important to their business decision-making. However, many felt they had more control over the “preparation” side of biosecurity risk management compared to the “resilience” side, which requires other farmers, stakeholders and government authorities to be working together.

Results from the survey revealed that less than half of respondents felt prepared to avoid or respond to biosecurity events. Many also feared the business consequences of contacting DPI when these events arise.

Biosecurity risk management actions

The most frequently mentioned actions taken by farmers involved, (i) strict procedures for sourcing and moving stock, (ii) regular inspections, testing and data collection, (iii) contacting DPI with biosecurity concerns and questions, (iv) on-site visitor and staff management, and (v) various maintenances to ensure stock remain healthy

Less frequently mentioned actions included developing a biosecurity plan (only half of the research participants had a plan), establishing quarantine sites in case there is an outbreak, regular equipment cleaning (or having dedicated equipment for specific sites), and pest/vermin control.


Most farmers connected biosecurity risk management actions to reducing risks to the business. Other strong motivations included reducing impacts to the environment and human health, and protecting other farmers and local communities from aquatic disease incursions.

Enablers and barriers

Key enablers included (i) the size of the business (e.g., being large enough to have some financial capacity to implement biosecurity best practices and being able to quarantine sites during a disease outbreak), (ii) having multiple sources of income, (iii) positive interactions/support from DPI, (iv) existing knowledge of aquatic biosecurity, and (v) having access to disease checked/resistant stock.

Key barriers included (i) small business size, (ii) less supportive interactions with DPI, (iii) a lack of hatcheries and transport protocols, (iv) the behaviour of other farmers and waterway users, (v) a lack of supporting resources for developing biosecurity plans, and (vi) external events (floods and bushfires) that can impact water quality and stock health.

Future support

Future industry engagement activities mentioned by farmers included (i) Checklists and tips to remind farmers of their obligations, (ii) reduce the fear among farmers about the potential consequences of contacting DPI, (iii) provide greater access to biosecurity science/research, and (iv) improvements to stakeholder consultation and extension activities.

Beyond these industry engagement activities, other sources of support included (i) financial assistance following disease incursions, (ii) more testing and research, (iii) access and development of disease-resistant/hatchery stock, (iv) greater biosecurity compliance enforcement, (v) expanded engagement with other waterway stakeholders, (vi) protocols for stock transport, and (vii) resources to support the development of biosecurity plans.

Final thoughts

Most of the farmers who participated in this research study described a positive future for the NSW aquaculture industry. With growing demand and prices, there are opportunities for both expansion and diversification. But farmers were also acutely aware (at least those who participated in this study) of the importance of proper biosecurity risk management to securing this future. Based on the insights described in this report, current feelings related to being prepared and having control over biosecurity matters reveal opportunities for improvement that farmers, DPI, and other stakeholders can work together to achieve.

Read the full report on Biosecurity Risk Preparedness and Resilience in the NSW Aquaculture Industry, below:

Cover photo credit: Sharmaine Cunningham, Narrabri Fish Farm

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