LEADING THE WORLD
All about the salmon in your WW freshbox
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”. #