Kingfish Great Escape at Port Stephens

Remember this post about a Kingfish Farm in the pristine waters of Port Stephens right next to the best dive sites in the region?

Well now 20,000 of those farmed kingfish are on the loose

In some really shonky deal, the joint-owners NSW Department of Primary Industries and Huon Aquaculture, leveraged an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) – conducted 15 years earlier for a different purpose – to install up to 12 pens, 60 metres across, stocked with 20,000 fish each, smack bang in the middle of this important operational tourism area.

Putting a fish farm in the Port Stephens biodiversity hotspot without a proper Environmental Impact Assessment is criminal

Fortunately, just 5 months into the 18 month trial, there are just two pens, stocked with 20,000 kingfish. Well actually now there is only one, as last week, one of the sea pens, supposedly able to with stand a storm swell of 15m waves, was mangled allowing 20,000 Kingfish to escape.

“Fortress Pens” – don’t be fooled by the name!

A spokeswoman for Huon Aquaculture said the nearest wave buoy to the farm recorded wave heights over 11 metres when the “Fortress Pen” was damaged, but others questioned the accuracy of the recording. Weatherwatch senior meteorologist Don White said given the known weather conditions at the time he doubted there would have been 11-metre swell in the area. Dolphin Swim Australia chief executive Andrew Parker said Bureau of Meteorology data recorded six-metre swell in the area at the time of the incident.

Kingfish Great Escape 20,000 ravenous kingfish were released into the Port Stephens marine park as joint venture DPI-Huon Aquaculture sea pen fails in storm

But that’s all irrelevant right now as around 20,000 carnivorous and predatory kingfish – used to being fed automatically – are now having to fend for themselves in the marine environment around Port Stephens. Fortunately, the fish stock from which they have been spawned is from local parents – so there are no biosecurity implications. Just 20,000 very hungry predatory kingfish ravaging the local marine environment.

Fishos rush in to help

Fishos from all around the region helpfully rushed to the area to help deal with the outbreak. The escaped Kingfish appear to be attracted to the sound of outboard engines, (associating them with the arrival of food), so fishos have had no problem quickly pulling their bag limit of 5 in just a few minutes.

Apparently an estimate 3,000 itinerant kingfish have been ‘re-captured’ in this manner. That leaves just 17,000 to go.

Kingfish Great Escape 20,000 ravenous kingfish were released into the Port Stephens marine park as joint venture DPI-Huon Aquaculture sea pen fails in storm
That Fortress Pen now. Photo credit: Sam Norris

Spokespeople for both owners of the project are down-playing both the impact of the loss of $2,000,000’s worth of fish, and the impact of the remaining fish on the local marine environment.

Bottom line

A spokesperson from Huon concluded that: “We will continue to be upfront with the community and we will supply the report to stakeholders once completed.”

We look forward to reading it, and we’ll keep you posted. But the real question is: “Given the potential for this reality, how did the JV get the green light on this project without a current Environmental Impact Assessment appropriate to the magnitude of the project?

Some individual clearly signed this off. Who was that I wonder…?

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