WITH traditional commercial fishing methods under increasing environmental pressure, aquaculture is playing a growing role in supplying a range of marine product to both domestic and export markets.
Unfortunately, ocean farming has its challenges, as shown by the loss of thousands of yellowtail kingfish from a fish farm in the waters off Hawks Nest, thanks to the heavy swell that hit the region last month.
Concerns have been raised about the escape of the kingfish, with fears they may somehow overwhelm other species in the area. From another angle, it may be that the penned animals – reared from their first meal on an artificial diet – have little idea how to feed themselves in the wild, in which case the major impact could be a slow death for the fish themselves. Questions have inevitably been raised about the construction of the fish pens, which are described by their operator, Tasmania’s Huon Aquaculture, as “revolutionary’.
While the enclosures may have been designed and built to withstand rough seas and winds, they evidently failed during the recent swell, which was by no means the biggest in recent years, even if it was unusually long-lasting. We put a lot of faith in engineering, but history is littered with human endeavours that failed to withstand the power of the ocean.
Should Huon – which is operating the pens as a trial in conjunction with the NSW government – face environmental sanctions over this mishap? It’s an interesting question. Yellowtail kingfish are widely spread and found naturally on the Australian east coast, so it’s not as though a new species is being accidentally introduced to our waters. An example of that was the mysterious appearance of the Pacific oyster in Port Stephens, forcing the state to legalise production of this once-noxious species. While there might be a short-term battle for food – as noted earlier – any impact is unlikely to be long-lasting.
In the end, it’s a question of balance. Marine parks preserve nature, but limiting commercial fishing means Australian consumers relying increasingly on imported stocks, affecting environments elsewhere. If we wish to avoid this – and still eat seafood – we have little option but to accept the realities of aquaculture, an industry that is still in its young and learning phase, and so likely to suffer mishaps from time to time.