The Port Stephens Fisheries Institute is set to undergo a $5.8 million expansion and upgrade, ensuring the Taylors Beach facility remains at the forefront in marine research and excellence.
The growth of the multi-disciplinary centre has seen a spike in the number of staff from 85 in 2014 to approximately 160 today. Although the Port Stephens site also hosts staff from other agencies such as Local Land Services, Crown Lands and Water and Food Authority.
The Fisheries' research leader and institute director Wayne O'Connor said that the multi-million upgrade would focus on three key areas.
"The first stage includes the upgrade of the mollusc hatchery, a building which is estimated to be 30 years old, the second involves rebuilding the fish nutrition centre and the third involves major improvements to the fish hatchery," he said.
"A further development expected to be completed before the end of the year consists of demolishing the existing wharf and rebuilding the structure with an aluminium walkway and floating pontoon."
Mr O'Connor said that in line with the institute's growth there had been efforts to increase public awareness of the Fisheries site, located off Taylors Beach Road, to promote more community education and involvement.
"We have previously held open days and regularly run tours for special interest groups in order to better inform the public of the work and projects we undertake," he added.
"During the August Love Sea Food festival, Fisheries hosted a number of community tours of the facility, including a special tour for Port Stephens chefs, who were very engaged and were able to get a first-hand view of the production of farmed fish from the hatchery to the plate."
As a research centre, the institute is constantly developing trials by looking into the potential threats, sustainability and biodiversity of farmed species both on land and at sea.
An offshore trial of yellow tail kingfish with farming giant Huon Aquaculture resulted in a many benefits, despite the company's decision to wind down operations earlier than expected.
The NSW Government also recently announced it would invest $50 million across 11 regions, including Port Stephens, as part the state's primary industries research and innovation portfolio to help bolster on-farm productivity and protect the $15 billion sector from devastating pests and diseases.
The investment will fund equipment such as new glasshouses, exotic disease diagnostic instruments, networks of on-farm sensor and data technology across DPI institutes, aquaculture and fish breeding research material and plant pathology facilities.
Ian Lyall, program leader aquaculture, said that the three-year experiment for the kingfish species had proved that farming offshore was both "viable and sustainable", without significantly impacting or damaging the marine environment.
"The trial showed that it was viable to airlift fish from the hatchery to sea pens in Port Stephens, in addition to being able to grow 5kg fish in 12 months. We also learned about diet development and nutrition, while providing independent assessors from University of Newcastle to monitor water and sea floor conditions," he said.
Huon CEO Peter Bender also labelled the trial as a success. "We were able to learn how to farm high-quality yellowtail kingfish in warm water in a highly exposed site," he said.