Barra farm hooks into fourth win
DAINTREE Saltwater Barramundi Fish Farms has maintained its position as the benchmark in the aquaculture industry, taking out the top awards at the Sydney Royal Spring Fine Food Show for the fourth year in a row.
The farm at Wonga Beach again took gold in Plate Size Barramundi, Large Whole Fish Barramundi and was also named Champion Exhibit.
Plans are now well advanced for the company to embark on a two-stage development program.
The present day success had modest beginnings when Jeff McCloy bought the farm,which had never been fully operational, in 2002, with the first man employed Mark Hober, who remains with the company to this day as manager.
The first order of business was to clean up the farm, with ponds cleaned, infrastructure put in and power put on.
There were no drainage pits, and little plumbing, making it extremely hard to maintain water quality.
It was also a time for experimentation that involved significant trial and error, with just three of the 13 ponds initially stocked.
‘‘I didn’t have a background in aquaculture, I was a diesel mechanic,’’ Mr Hober said.
‘‘There’s been plenty of self education over the years, gaining knowledge from industy groups, through reading, as well as personal experience.’’
As the producer mastered the process, the fish were grown to marketable size and sent to Newcastle to be processed.
All 13 ponds were soon in production, and the company began to make its mark in the industry.
In 2010 the company was purchased by Pavel Prokopec, which saw Mr Hober named as a director of the privately owned company, as well as its manager.
The farm is now stocked with 80,000 barramundi of various stages of maturity, with production averaging between 1700 and 1800 kg a week, although in the week before Easter sees around four tonnes harvested.
They also take delivery of around 10,000 fingerlings every four to eight weeks to maintain stock levels.
‘‘The key ingredient to producing such high quality fish is water quality, and we’ve continued to invest heavily in new technology and electronic monitoring which minimes the risk,’’ Mr Hober said.
‘‘Distributors such as the Cairns-based ISP Seafoods speak highly of the product.
‘‘As one of the major distributors of fresh and frozen fish to the food service trade, we have to ensure the quality and consistancy of the product, and with Daintree Saltwater barramundi we have complete confidence in the product,’’ ISP’s Shawn McAlamney said.
The farm’s product is predominantly sold in Cairns, Brisbane, Newcastle and Sydney.
With the company now running at capacity from its 13 ponds, expansion plans are crucial to its growth.
A consultant has been employed by the company to assess what conditions they have to comply with and aid in the drawing up the application that is now well advanced.
The current ponds cover just three hectares of the 49 hectare parcel of land.
Mr Hober believes the current site is suitable for a further 10 to 15 hectares of production and remediation ponds.
‘‘We’re encouraged by the new state government’s streamlining of the application process, and the removal of a significant amount of red tape,’’ Mr Hober said.
‘‘There has already been one all of government meeting, with another expected in the next few weeks.
‘‘We’ll then immediately put in an application for a further four ponds in stage one, and also preliminary approvals for a further 10 hectares in a stage two development.’’
The company’s also diversified over the past two years.
‘‘We also recognised that we needed a second income stream, and that an unused asset was passing us every day on the road to the Daintree,’’ Mr Hober said.
‘‘We were regularly asked by tourists if they could fish, and we had to say no.’’
To turn that around, the successful Hook-a Barra was established 18 months ago, offering tourists and locals alike a chance to catch their own barramundi.
BARRA FARM WINNERS:
Nada Reichl, Leo Mulkearns, Scott Watkinson and Mark Hober