Huon Aquaculture confirms escape of 120,000 Atlantic salmon from "fortress pen"

Dover, Tasmania, Australia-based Huon Aquaculture has confirmed the escape of approximately 120,000 Atlantic salmon from two of its “fortress pens” during a storm in May 2018.

The collapse of two net pens being used to house the salmon was attributed to high winds and waves knocking free an industrial fish feeder, which then “smashed open the enclosure,” according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

After the escape, Huon Aquaculture Managing Director and CEO Peter Bender said in a statement provided to SeafoodSource that the escape was an anomaly.

“Of course we are disappointed that any fish have escaped but it was an exceptional weather event and escapes are rare,” Bender said. “The storm peaked with waves of just over 11 meters, and the pens and the moorings all stayed exactly where they should during the storm event which demonstrates the long-term potential of high-energy farming,” 

Bender told SeafoodSource Huon is phasing out the feeder system that caused the damage “as we move to autonomous feed barges designed for extreme conditions.”

Huon’s “fortress pens” are 240 meters in circumference – among the biggest in the world. According to the company’s website, they are designed to “cope well with extreme weather, which means that debris caused by weather is minimized.”

However, the failure of two of the pens, combined with a previous escape in January 2018 of 20,000 kingfish from a farm located near Port Stephens in New South Wales, have raised questions about the company’s ability to keep its fish contained. The company has also been criticized for its reluctance to publicly disclose information about the escapes – it took more than three months for Huon to confirm the number of salmon that escaped in May. Huon’s annual report, published in August, listed a 10 percent drop in biological assets but did not mention either escape.

Tasmanian Environment Protection Authority Director Wes Ford called for the Australian salmon farming industry to be more transparent regarding their operations, per the ABC.

"I believe there should be greater transparency, I think, as does the industry, and as does the government," Ford told the ABC. Referring to the May escape, Ford said, "I can't see why the company hasn't provided an estimate. If the loss was that large, it should have been disclosed."

Ford said increased transparency is especially important considering Australia’s three major salmon-farming companies – Huon, Tassal, and Petuna – are planning to double their production in the coming decade.

In response, Huon’s Bender told SeafoodSource that the pioneering nature of their work meant occasional setbacks were difficult to avoid.

“No other company in Australia is farming in conditions like the ones we are,” he said. “We’re showing that it can be done and done successfully but like anything new, there will be challenges and we learn from those.”


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