LOADS of fingerlings are in transit to their home for the next 13 to 14 months in sea pens off Hawks Nest.
The yellowtail kingfish – prized for Japanese-style sashimi in high-end restaurants – are under commercial assessment in a 65 hectare off-shore lease in Providence Bay.
Reared in tanks at the Port Stephens Fisheries Institute the fingerlings weigh 30 grams on average and measure 10 centimetres long. While they can grow to 20 kilograms or more in the wild they will be harvested at five kilograms toward the end of 2017.
The transfer to sea pens marks a major project-milestone.
About half of the 25,000 fish were transfered to a truck-based tanker on Monday morning. It went from the Taylors Beach facility to the Nelson Bay Marina where it was driven onto a barge and motored out through the heads past Cabbage Tree Island and on toward Broughton Island.
That first load was dispersed into the floating sea pen, anchored to the sea floor 35 metres deep, about 3pm.
The balance of the crop will be transferred via helicopter in 1000 litre caged-tanks on Tuesday morning.
Tasmania has long-produced salmon for domestic and international consumption in similar ways.
The federal government only last year invested $3 million to assist with new production methods for a white-fleshed alternative – that being yellowtail kingfish.
NSW Department of Primary Industries has worked in parallel to that program with Huon Aquaculture on the Port Stephens pilot.
Australian stock exchange-listed Huon is best known for its salmon production and is just as eager to develop the species for those who don’t like pink-fleshed fish.
United Nations figures show that worldwide fish consumption has doubled from 10 kilograms to 20kg in the past year while half of all fish now consumed comes from fish farms.
Yet 85 per cent of seafood consumed in NSW was exported from interstate or overseas.
Huon Aquaculture Group technical manager David Whyte oversaw the transfer from hatchery to sea pens yesterday.
“We got the fish in with no untoward reaction at all,” he said.
“The fish didn’t give us a round of applause but they were in and happily eating.
“That’s a good indication of how happy the are, that they had a feed is a really good sign.
“We’re looking forward to backing it up with the helicopter transfer tomorrow.”
NSW DPI and Huon have spent weeks in preparation for the transfer.
The pens were built in Newcastle and towed to the site where they’re now anchored to the sandy sea floor.
They’re built in such a way to resist predation from other sea life and even birds – the structure is topped with a bird net.
But a whale only narrowly managed to free itself from a line within the lease area last week.
The DPI said that it was inconsistent with the lines it had used and Upper Hunter MP Michael Johnsen said he was “very satisfied” that all the risks had been balanced.
“There’s been years of research into this particular project up to this point,” Mr Johnsen said, on behalf of Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair, who was unable to attend.
The project is expected to create 11 jobs with Huon and the NSW DPI in the next year.
Mr Johnsen said it could easily be more.
“The great thing about this project is that it is focused on domestic supply,” he said
“We’re regarded around the world for our quality agriculture and aquaculture produce.
“If we can produce significantly more than what’s anticipated then we could possibly export that surplus and that’s great for jobs.”
The pilot will last five years before it must become an independent commercial operation.
Each fish is expected to consume 10kg of food to reach market size which is a sixth of what a similar sized wild counterpart would need to consume.
How often the pens will need to be re-positioned to help natural processes clean the seafloor is also under trial.