Barra farm hooks into fourth win

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - Rod Kil­ner

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.

Pic­ture: ROD KIL­NER

BARRA FARM WIN­NERS:

Nada Re­ichl, Leo Mulkearns, Scott Watkinson and Mark Hober

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