Calls for independent review of Port Stephens’ fish farm after 20,000 kingfish hit marine park

Posted on 12/17/2018

CONTROVERSIAL: One of the Huon Aquaculture fish farm sea cages in Port Stephens’ marine park designed to hold 20,000 kingfish. Picture: Alex DruceTHE failure of a fish farm “fortresspen” that saw 20,000 kingfish escape intothe Port Stephens’marine park has led to calls for an independent review of the controversial project.

Concern has been raised about self-regulation of the trial research projectthat is a joint venture between the NSW government andTasmanian-based Huon Aquaculture.

Port Stephens MP Kate Washington said it was not appropriate for the fish-farm operatorsto police themselves.

“There should be independent oversight of the whole trial and an independentinvestigation into the recent failure,” Ms Washingtonsaid. “With the Department of Primary Industries and Huon both heavily invested in this project, it’s hard to know where the truth lies.”

In its first year, theproject employedten full-time Department of Primary Industries’staffand eight full-time and two part-time Huon Aquaculture staff.

BOUNTY: Juvenile kingfish in one of the sea pens off Port Stephens in August. Picture: Alex Druce.

The Newcastle Herald reported on Thursday that the future of the project, which is 18 months into a five-year research trial, is under a cloud following the loss of one-thirdof its yellowtail kingfish stock with aretail value of morethan $2 million.

Thereare fears thousands of “ravenous” kingfish, that escaped the farm seven kilometres off Hawks Nest on January 19 when a sea cage was damaged in rough seas,will devastate the marine park’s wild fish population.

Up to 17,000 predatory yellowtail kingfish, used to being fed automatically, are now hunting in the park, with commercial and recreational fishers cashing in.

According to the project’s annual environmental management report,external skin and gill flukes were detected on the kingfish in March, April, May, July and August. The worm-like parasites, commonly found on wild fish, were treated with hydrogen peroxide mixed in the pens.

Marine Parks’ Association chairman and whale watching tour operator Frank Future said he wasn’t against the fish farm, just its location.

“Regulators have said we can’t put a dive site in the habitat protection zone, but they can put a fish farm in,” he said. “Here wehave a government agency in bed with private enterprise, so the question has to be asked who is going to sit in judgement on them.”

MANGLED: The “fortress pen” that was damaged in rough seas on January 19.

Huon is conducting an investigation into the recent failure and the findings will be reported to the Department of Planning and Environment. A DPI spokesman saida “summary of the findings” wouldbe made available to the public. He said environmental monitoring of the project was being independently undertaken by theUniversity of Newcastle.

The trailstill has two pens stocked with 40,000 kingfish due for harvestthis month.

A ban on fishing in the area is in place to November 7.

DESTROYED: A file picture of one of the “fortress pen” sea cages located seven kilometres off the coast of Hawks Nest used to hold 20,000 kingfish each as part of an aquaculture research trail. Picture: Sam Norris

Newcastle Herald