Five charged in multimillion-dollar salmon theft scheme

Published on
January 21, 2021

Millions of dollars’ worth of salmon were allegedly stolen from a processing plant operated by Huon Aquaculture in Sydney, Australia.

According to reports, police have charged five people in the alleged theft of 250 metric tons of salmon reportedly amounting to AUD 4 million (USD 3.09 million, EUR 2.55 million) 

In a statement on 18 January, the company said it identified discrepancies in stock records at its Ingleburn processing plant starting in December 2020, with an estimated inventory value of AUD 2.1 million (USD 1.6 million, EUR 1.3 million). 

“The matter, identified under Huon’s existing compliance and risk management systems and processes, revealed the possibility of coordinated criminal conduct by employees at the plant,” the statement said. 

The company immediately alerted the police to ensure the probe. 

The theft has been occurring over a six-month period, according to an initial investigation by the company. 

The salmon stolen was allegedly graded as waste, then sold to other businesses.

The scheme was soon discovered after it was noticed that at least 800-kilograms-per-day in output was seen to be missing from the production at the Ingelburn plant. 

The factory staff identified to have been involved have been fired, and an investigation and court proceedings are ongoing.

Charges filed against the individuals range from stealing property to larceny, according to reports. 

“Huon confirms, that whilst sales for the period ending 31 December 2020 were unaffected, the book value of inventory and gross margins will be [AUD] 2.1 million lower than would otherwise be the case for that period,” the company said. It added that it is exploring avenues to recover some or all of the amount lost.

The company added that while investigations are ongoing, Huon will not comment further.

Earlier, the company said it is expected to cut its harvest program amid the COVID-19 pandemic, while expressing optimism that it will recover by FY 2021. The company predicts an increase of between 20 to 25 percent above its baseline harvest forecast of 30,000 metric tons for the year due to the carryover of fish from FY 2020.   

Huon has suffered a string of negative incidents that have affected its operations. In November 2020, between 50,000 to 52,000 salmon escaped from a damaged pen in D’Entrecasteaux Channel, Tasmania, Australia, in the early hours of 23 November, after a fire broke out at the firm’s Zuidpool-leased site. In early December 2020, Huon reported losing an additional 120,000 to 130,000 salmon due to a tear in a net in one of its net-pens moored at its Yellow Bluff lease in Storm Bay.

Huon Owner Peter Bender called the two incidents "hugely concerning." A subsequent investigation by the company found the tear was likely caused by a net-cleaning operation, but the company said it could not find a cause for the fire at the pen.

"It is always regrettable when fish are lost; every farmer wants to protect their livestock as well as the environment in which they farm," a Huon Aquaculture spokesperson said in a statement. "We are reassured this incident has a valid explanation. At the time of the incident, we were unclear as to the cause as information to hand did not readily identify a valid operational cause. Net cleaning is a complex task, with crew working with multiple pieces of equipment including generators, electrical and mechanical pressure pump systems, high- and low-voltage motors and associated parts. We have implemented a range of actions to strengthen our operational processes including the installation of ROV cameras on every net cleaning vessel and additional equipment training. Fire investigators have deemed the cause of the fire at a pen in the Lower Channel as inconclusive."

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