LEAD­ING THE WORLD

All about the salmon in your WW fresh­box

Weight Watchers Magazine (Australia) - - Contents -

W“We are all about place,” says Frances Ben­der of Huon Aqua­cul­ture. This is not mar­ket­ing spin; it comes from the heart. The southern Tas­ma­nian wa­ters, where Frances and her hus­band Peter farm At­lantic salmon, run through the fam­ily’s DNA and are a ma­jor rea­son why their prod­ucts are so highly re­garded.

Huon Aqua­cul­ture’s salmon and trout are world-class not just be­cause of where they are farmed but also be­cause of the com­pany’s culture of in­no­va­tion. Frances thinks this all came about be­cause of its re­mote lo­ca­tion, far from re­lated in­dus­tries. They have had to be nim­ble. “We had to think dif­fer­ently be­cause we didn’t have any­one to help us,” ex­plains Frances. “We had to solve all our own prob­lems.” Huon now ex­ports its tech­nol­ogy and knowl­edge to Nor­way and other ma­jor salmon-farm­ing coun­tries.

But be­fore the in­no­va­tion and tech­nol­ogy, this was a more sim­ple story – about be­ing in the right place at the right time. Orig­i­nally a cat­tle and sheep prop­erty, the Ben­der farm bound­ary in­cluded fore­shore close to where a 1980s re­search project was in­ves­ti­gat­ing the vi­a­bil­ity of salmon farm­ing in Tas­ma­nia. With no prior ex­pe­ri­ence, and with the in­dus­try still to prove its vi­a­bil­ity, the

We’re ac­tu­ally lead­ing the world.

Ben­ders made a leap of faith. Ini­tially, they saw it as a chance to di­ver­sify their farm­ing busi­ness.

“We knew noth­ing,” ex­plains Frances. “It was a ver­ti­cal learn­ing curve from the be­gin­ning and still is.” It turned out the cool, rough wa­ters off southern Tas­ma­nia were per­fectly suited for farm­ing salmon, and the in­dus­try grew quickly. When Peter and Frances bought out other fam­ily mem­bers in 1994, Huon Aqua­cul­ture har­vested 400 tonnes of salmon an­nu­ally. Now, the com­pany, which Peter, Frances and their chil­dren still ma­jor­ity own, is listed on the ASX, em­ploys more than 550 peo­ple and has an an­nual har­vest closer to 20,000 tonnes.

The busi­ness has nearly 100 pens, in­clud­ing 30 in Mac­quarie Har­bour. This vast semi-en­closed wa­ter­way on the wild west coast is the start­ing point for Gor­don River cruises into the Unesco-listed World Her­itage Area.

Although both farms are on the fringes of the World Her­itage Area, they are very dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ments for aqua­cul­ture. The southern wa­ters, blasted by strong westerly Roar­ing 40s winds, are rougher, which salmon pre­fer. Mac­quarie Har­bour is calmer, with a brack­ish fresh­wa­ter layer above its salty lower lev­els, which trout en­joy. Th­ese are also some of the clean­est wa­ter­ways in the world for fish farm­ing.

Huon Aqua­cul­ture is renowned world­wide for its in­no­va­tions. The com­pany re­cently patented Peter Ben­der’s dou­ble-net­ted “fortress pens”, the world’s largest salmon pens, with a cir­cum­fer­ence of 240m and a fully en­closed non­slip walk­way. The dou­ble net­ting pro­tects salmon from seal and bird at­tacks, and the walk­way has cut em­ployee in­juries by 90 per cent.

Frances is es­pe­cially proud of their new 75m well-boat, the Ron­jahuon, which moves the smolt (ju­ve­nile fish) from the shore to the pens. The smolt ar­rive in tankers from Huon Aqua­cul­ture’s in­land hatch­eries when they’re about 12 months old, weigh­ing 100g-200g.

The Ron­jahuon trans­fers them to the pens where they ma­ture into adult fish. This takes up to two years, by which time they weigh, on av­er­age, 5kg each and are ready to be har­vested.

The Ron­jahuon also has a unique so­lu­tion for bathing fish in fresh water – this must be done about 10 times dur­ing the two years they are in the sea to pro­tect them from amoe­bic gill dis­ease. Since us­ing the Ron­jahuon in this process, Huon Aqua­cul­ture has halved the amount of fresh water it uses, which is an en­vi­ron­men­tal plus. “Peo­ple from other salmon- farm­ing coun­tries are watch­ing us,” says Frances. “We’re ac­tu­ally lead­ing the world.”

How­ever, chal­lenges re­main, in­clud­ing the is­sue of warm­ing sea tem­per­a­tures. The com­pany re­cently be­gan mov­ing more pens from in­shore wa­ter­ways to oceanic wa­ters – about 4km off Bruny Is­land – made pos­si­ble by im­proved tech­nol­ogy.

This means its pens are in some of the rough­est water in the world for aqua­cul­ture. Rough, cool water is good for the salmon. It also means there will be no fur­ther ex­pan­sion in the Huon River es­tu­ary and d’en­tre­casteaux Chan­nel. Re­duc­ing the im­pact of salmon farm­ing in th­ese wa­ter­ways will have a knock-on ben­e­fit for recre­ational fish­ing.

For Frances and Peter, who met in the Huon Val­ley, raised their chil­dren there and still live in Huonville, their pas­sion for the re­gion is as strong as their pas­sion for what they call “the world’s most-loved salmon”. #

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