EPA critical of controversial fish farm’s impact on Port Stephens’ marine park

Posted on 12/17/2018

EPA critical of controversial fish farm’s impact on Port Stephens’ marine park TRIAL: Department of Primary Industries aquaculture policy officer Graeme Bowley at the fish farm off Port Stephens in August. Picture: Alex Druce

CONTROVERSIAL: One of five “fortress pens” used to farm kingfish seven kilometres off the coast in Port Stephens’ marine park. Picture: Alex Druce

Sea pen that was damaged in rough seas on January 19.

Kingfish caught by Jeff Thompson and his sons after they escaped a sea cage on January 19. Picture: @team_scratchie (Instagram)

Jeff Thompson with some of the escaped kingfish. Picture: @team_scratchie (Instagram)

TweetFacebookResearch trial kingfish farm off Port Stephens. Pitures: Alex Druce and team_scratchie (Instagarm)THE state’s peak environmental watchdog raised concernsabout the potential for a trial NSW government fish farm todamage Port Stephens’ marine park almost two years ago.

Pressure is mounting onPrimary Industries Minister Niall Blair torelocate the joint NSW government and Tasmanian-based Huon Aquaculture research trial after 20,000 kingfish escaped a “fortress pen” into the habitat protection zonein rough seas earlier this month. Huon has blamed the failure on barnacle build-up on the sea cage nets.

There are fears the voraciouseaters will impactthe marine park’s wild fish population. Vocal critics have long-held the view thatthe farm should not have been approvedin the main thoroughfare of migrating humpback whales.

In 2016, theNSW Environment Protection Authority and the Office of Environment and Heritage raised concerns about the project, which is 18 months into a five-year research trial.

The government departments were among 13 agencies, community groups and tourism operatorsthatlodged written submissions to theDepartment of Planning and Environment that was assessing the validityof the project that took over the lease from anotherlarge-scale fish farm operation in the same area. Itfolded in 2004 after storms damaged its pens andthousands of snapperescaped.

In a letter accompanying itssubmission, the EPA described the aquaculture project as“experimental” and questioned its impact on the marine park.“The EPA considers the modification proposal does not entirely establish that there will not be significant environmental impact,” it stated.

Commercial fishers said if the sea cages could not withstand the stormthat resulted in the kingfish escape on January 19, they should be moved. “It was a decent east coast low, but far from the worst we’ve seen and there will be plenty more before the year is out,” one said.

Port Stephens MP Kate Washington said while she supported the fish farm, it was definitely in the wrong location.

A spokeswoman for Mr Blair said the location for the trial was “carefully chosen” based on a range of criteria.

“However this is the first time yellowtail kingfish have been cultured in sea cages off the east coast of NSW,” she said.

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