Small fry big busi­ness

Mov­ing gi­ant fish tanks is a tricky busi­ness, writes James Stan­ford

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Big Wheels -

CART­ING live cat­tle and sheep is one thing, but shift­ing live fish is a much more com­pli­cated mat­ter.

Just ask Nick Pe­trascu at Dil­lons Trans­port in Tas­ma­nia, whose com­pany runs three trucks that move live At­lantic salmon for pre­mium fish pro­ducer Tas­sal.

The fish are car­ried in what amounts to gi­ant fish tanks that run technology a bit more ad­vanced than your gold­fish bowl.

The salmon are bred at hatch­eries around the state, in­clud­ing a new $20 mil­lion plant in the Huon Val­ley that can pro­duce 400 mil­lion baby salmon a year.

When they have grown to about 140g the fish are ready to leave the nurs­ery and are moved to the ocean. To stop them swim­ming away, the fish are held in pens.

Here, they grow to full size be­fore be­ing har­vested.

The crew at Dil­lons move the young fish from the hatch­eries to the sea pens.

Dil­lons does it with a cus­tom trailer with six fi­bre­glass tanks, each filled with 3000 litres of wa­ter.

The com­pany and salmon pro­ducer Tas­sal have just in­vested in a state-of-the-art set-up based on a Fleet­saver Skel, nor­mally used to cart ship­ping con­tain­ers. The Aus­tralian-made Freighter prod­uct ap­pealed to Nick be­cause of its qual­ity paint and gal­vanised com­po­nents. He fit­ted it with about $30,000 worth of stain­less steel.

So why does Nick worry so much about us­ing cor­ro­sion-re­sis­tant ma­te­ri­als? The salmon are carted in salt wa­ter and some of it over­flows, so Dil­lons has to sand­blast his other two flat-top trail­ers and re­paint them af­ter ev­ery sea­son.

The Skel trailer is equipped with a wire­less au­to­matic sys­tem which senses the oxy­gen level of each tank and ad­justs it ac­cord­ingly.

The driv­ers also pull up and check the sys­tems ev­ery half-hour and can change the oxy­gen lev­els man­u­ally if re­quired.

‘‘If the oxy­gen level gets down too low, they’re bug­gered,’’ Nick says. ‘‘You have to be on the ball.’’

This level of care is un­der­stand- able given the sen­si­tiv­ity of the fish and the fact that each load is worth about $250,000.

They need to be de­liv­ered to the sea pens in per­fect con­di­tion and Tas­sal is happy for Dil­lons to take as long as it needs to get the job done prop­erly. Nick says the salmon don’t ap­pear to mind the drive.

‘‘I think they en­joy the mo­tion of the wa­ter,’’ he says.

Here’s some trivia: in­side the tank they all swim in a right-hand ro­ta­tion and in the north­ern hemi­sphere they swim around to the left. It’s like the way the wa­ter swirls in a toi­let depend­ing on which hemi­sphere you are in.

So what’s it like to drive with a trailer full of wa­ter and fish?

Un­like most trail­ers car­ry­ing a large amount of liq­uid there are no baf­fles to stop the wa­ter from shift­ing around and mak­ing the load un­sta­ble, but hav­ing the dif­fer­ent com­part­ments helps.

‘‘If you had one big tank it would be a real night­mare, but it’s not bad when you di­vide it up into six,’’ Nick says.

‘‘You can just drive nor­mally. They travel well be­cause the tanks are full. If you let the wa­ter get down any more than 8-10cm from the top it would change al­to­gether. You would get a lot of surge.’’

A small gap at the top of the tank al­lows the fish breath (car­bon diox­ide) to be re­leased.

Dil­lons pull the trailer with a new Ken­worth T402. It has cross­locks to give it grip on gravel and the icy roads Tas­ma­nian truck­ers can come across.

‘‘The way we drive trucks over here is com­pletely dif­fer­ent to the main­land. If you are not go­ing up­hill you are go­ing down­hill and if you are not do­ing that you are go­ing round a corner. You wouldn’t have a truck with any­thing less than an 18-speed (gear­box) and cross-locks,’’ he says.

‘‘Some­times you need all four drive wheels locked and driv­ing.’’

Live cargo: this hi-tech Dil­lons truck hauls baby salmon in six fi­bre­glass tanks, each filled with 3000 litres of wa­ter.

Cli­mate con­trol: sen­sors monitor and reg­u­late the tanks’ oxy­gen lev­els and tem­per­a­tures.

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