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Depths of despair as 20,000 'ravenous' kingfish hit Port Stephens marine park

Fishers reported the kingfish in "plague proportions" off Broughton Island

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robert99 robert99 Sweden Posts: 1360
1 1 Feb 2018
(It's like a bad horror move, "What could possibly go wrong?")

There are fears thousands of "ravenous" kingfish that escaped a state government jointly-run fish farm off Port Stephens will devastate the marine park's wild fish population.

Up to 17,000 predatory yellowtail kingfish, used to being fed automatically, are now hunting in the marine park waters after 20,000 escaped last week from a fish-farm sea cage, described as a "fortress pen", that was destroyed in rough seas. About 3000 fish have been recaptured.

The future of the controversial joint NSW government and Tasmania-based Huon Aquaculture project, which is 18 months into a five-year research trial, is under a cloud following the loss of almost half its stock with a retail value of more than $2 million.

Conservation groups and local tourism operators described the multimillion dollar project as a "disaster" threatening the pristine marine park's delicate ecosystem.

Marine Parks' Association chairman and whale watching tour operator Frank Future said fisheries staff "repeatedly assured" the community the pens could handle waves up to 15 metres.

According to Huon, the "fortress pens" were designed to withstand "high energy, exposed sites, frequently receiving storms swells and gale-force winds".

"The pen that had the release was mangled and now we have thousands of mature kingfish released into the wild, nothing will be safe from them," Mr Future said.

"They are voracious feeders and from what I understand they are ravenous. Once they realise they won't get any food in the form of pellets they'll be eating anything they can find. I don't want to think about the impact on wild species."

The commercial-scale kingfish trial at Providence Bay - the result of an existing offshore research lease being boosted to 62 hectares - includes five pens, each about 60 metres across, two that were stocked with 20,000 fish each. There is capacity for 12 sea pens in the trial.

Word of the bounty spread quickly prior to the long weekend, via social media, pricking the ears of recreational and commercial fishers who flocked to the area.

With the kingfish - selling for up to $32 per kilogram - churning up the waters seven kilometres off Hawks Nest, fishers set to work scooping them from the sea in any way they could.

Recreational fisherman Jeff Thompson was on his way to Broughton Island on Saturday, January 20, the morning after the pen was damaged, when kingfish started gathering around his boat.

Mr Thompson said he respected the bag limit of five and the fish he caught were all legal size, between 70 and 75 centimetres.

"I've never seen anything like it in more than 40 years of fishing," he said.

"I think it was the sound of the motor that attracted them and anything you threw at them they took, even just a bare hook.

"There's no doubt 20,000 kingfish would have a big impact on the ecology of the area, I think it's better if people catch them and get them out of the area. The next day there were dozens of boats out there."