THE controversial Huon Yellowtail Kingfish Project is back in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
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The recent massive seas saw 20,000 fish escape into the waters off Hawks Nest after a sea cage was badly damaged.
Since their great escape, only 3,000 fish have been recaptured, leaving 17,000 predatory yellowtail kingfish now hunting in the Marine Park waters off Port Stephens and beyond.
Since the project began 18 months ago, authorities from the joint NSW government and Tasmania-based Huon Aquaculture project, have maintained that the ‘fortress pens’ could withstand ‘high energy, exposed sites, storm swells and gale force winds’.
Spokesman for Huon said, “The Company is well prepared for such an event and has initiated its Escapee Recapture Protocol to recapture fish.”
The plan involved luring the fish back with more pellets.
Conservation groups and local tourism operators have been against the five year project since its inception claiming it would threaten the pristine marine park’s delicate ecosystem.
“Imagine thousands of Yellowtail Kingfish escaping from aquaculture pen(s) in the recent storm and the NSW Government assuring us they will be caught and returned to pen(s),” local conservationist Ronnie Wilson said.
Port Stephens MP Kate Washington said it was not appropriate for the fish-farm operators to police themselves.
“There should be independent oversight of the whole trial and an independent investigation into the recent failure,” Ms Washington said, “With the Department of Primary Industries and Huon both heavily invested in this project, it’s hard to know where the truth lies.”
While Huon called on local fisherman to stay away from the area, the lure was just too great.
Over the past week recreational and commercial fishermen flocked to the area following reports the fish were churning the seas seven kilometres off Hawks Nest.
Kingfish sell for up to $32 per kilogram and some fisherman claim they didn’t even need bait to attract the yellowtail, “I’ve never seen anything like it in more than 40 years of fishing,” Jeff Thompson said.
About 2 tonnes of the fish made its way into commercial outlets before authorities placed a ban on fishing the area.
By: Margie TIERNEY