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Food and beverage stories

Huon opens new $30m hatchery

Edition 178 Frances and Peter Bender

Huon Aquaculture officially opened a new $30 million hatchery at Judbury in November in the wake of an unprecedented national TV attack on the salmon industry.

Brand Tasmania made its position clear in response to the ABC's Four Corners program on 31 October.

"Brand Tasmania stands by the sustainable production of salmon in Tasmania," the Chairman of the Brand Tasmania Council, Michael Grainger, said in a statement.

"The salmon industry has been a contributor for three decades to this State's reputation as a reliable, sustainable supplier of food of the finest quality."

At the hatchery opening, Huon Aquaculture's Chief Executive and Managing Director, Peter Bender, said the facility was the culmination of a $200 million strategy launched in 2013.

The hatchery is licenced to produce up to 400 tonnes of smolt a year, or approximately two million fish.

"We had a vision for the future of fish farming and chartered a course to achieve it in just three years,” Mr Bender said. “We were there when the industry started 30 years ago and we want to be here for at least the next 30.”

More than 100 local companies worked on the project during the 10-month construction phase.

Officially launching the hatchery, the Premier, Will Hodgman, said Tasmanians could be proud of the State’s world-class salmon industry.

“[The Government] will continue to work with the salmon industry to support sustainable, responsible and accountable growth, and local jobs,” he said.

The Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry also publicly reconfirmed its support for the industry after its Board received an independent scientific briefing.

CEO Michael Bailey said: “This is an industry that is managed well, has evolved, is innovating and is growing economically ... It has had a significant impact on regional employment and produces food that the nation and the world needs.

“Hopefully this industry will be judged through scientific evidence rather than being used as a headline grabber.”

A Senate inquiry last year had determined that the industry was adequately regulated and that claims made against its environmental performance were unsubstantiated.

However, Four Corners questioned the effectiveness of existing industry regulations and the management of effluent from salmon pens.

It focused on operations in Macquarie Harbour without reporting that the regulation of the industry there had recently been adjusted.

Subsequently, the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) reduced the cap on stocking in the harbour from 21,500 tonnes to 14,000 tonnes, while noting that the existing stock level was well below the old cap, at about 16,000 tonnes.

Four Corners also highlighted the use of agricultural by-products which were brought into use to partly replace protein from wild-caught fish in feed pellets.

Hobart science teacher, Peter Wilson, wrote an opinion piece for The Mercury pointing out that the televised allegations had scanty scientific back-up.

"Four Corners seemed to take the industry to task for outlining the recipe of fishmeal given to farmed fish and yet to me it sounded much like a sensible use for waste products from other industry," Mr Wilson wrote.

"I do not understand how this seemed so shameful."

Roger Montgomery from Montgomery Investment Management told The Mercury that concerns raised about colouring agents in food pellets would have limited impact on the Tasmanian producers.

"The majority of consumers are buying many, many other foods that are artificially flavoured and artificially coloured.

"The fact that salmon has a synthetic colouring is not going to move the [share price] dial all that much."

Following the initial telecast, Tassal shares dropped 9c or 2.34 per cent to $3.76 as 1.1 million shares were traded on 1 November.

Huon Aquaculture shares rose 17 cents initially to $3.80.

A month later, Tassal shares were trading at $3.90 and Huon shares were at $3.65.

Tasmania's third major salmon producer, Petuna, is not listed.

Late in November, a Tassal application to establish 28 salmon pens in Okehampton Bay was approved by Glamorgan Spring Bay Council.

Mayor Michael Kent said the proposal — which includes a 200m jetty — would create much-needed jobs in nearby Triabunna. The Tasmanian Planning Commission will now consider the proposal.

Footnote: Huon Aquaculture has received an AA rating by the British Retail Consortium for both its new Huon Smokehouse and its Product Innovation Centre at Parramatta Creek, Tasmania. It is the first food Australian producer to earn the accreditation. The consortium certification is regarded as a global benchmark for best practice, quality and food safety. It is used by more than 23,000 suppliers in 123 countries to ensure customers about their food-safety programs and supply-chain management.

Image courtesy of The Mercury

29 November 2016, Edition 178

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