Port Stephens kingfish farm lures shark pack in feeding frenzy

THE water around the controversial Port Stephens’ fish farm is alive with dozens of large sharks that have moved in for a feeding frenzy amid concern more kingfish have escaped.

Recreational fishermen described how they watched in awe as kingfish fell victim to a pack of as many as 10 bull sharks in the waters off Hawks Nest last week.

The sharks - some more than three-metres long – rushed the kingfish schools as they chased bait thrown in the water by fishers.

SHARK TALE: What was left of a kingfish hauled in by recreational fishers after it was attacked by a bull shark last week. Sharks seen breaching near the sea pens.

SHARK TALE: What was left of a kingfish hauled in by recreational fishers after it was attacked by a bull shark last week. Sharks seen breaching near the sea pens.

Melbourne’s Rob Verzin, visiting Port Stephens for an annual fishing trip, described the scene as “like nothing I’ve ever seen in 40 years of fishing”. Mr Verzin said a pack of 10 large bull sharks were “cruising the water” and using his boat as cover before smashing through schools of kingfish.

“If you hooked onto a kingfish you had to go hard just to get it near the boat so the sharks didn’t take them,” he said. “You wouldn’t dream of falling into the water out there, you’d be dead for sure. It was fairly scary to see.”

Port Stephens recreational fisher Jamie Culver said Great Whites, Bronze Whalers, bull sharks and a large tiger shark had been spotted in the area.

Mr Culver visited the site on Sunday and said there were “large sharks congregating” around the fish farm pens and “lots of wild fish”.

“If you fell in there is absolutely no way you would survive out there, there's literally hundreds of sharks hanging around those pens now,” he said.

“I spoke to a few divers who jumped in and they said they jumped out in the same movement. I’ve never see that many sharks in my life and i’m on the water all the time.”

About 20,000 adult kingfish escaped a sea cage, known as a “fortress pen”, from the jointly run Huon Aquaculture and NSW government fish farm in rough seas in January.

The yellowtail kingfish farm is 18 months into a five-year research trial.

A spokeswoman for Huon declined to reveal if there had been another loss of stock from the farm.

“Huon does not provide commercially sensitive information regarding stocking rates and losses except when there is a major event such as that experienced in January,” she said.

She confirmed there had been an increase in sharks at the site and that the company’s Port Stephens operation manager resigned in mid-February, but said Huon was “committed” to the project.

Marine Parks Association chairman and tourism operator Frank Future said dolphins had moved out of the area, scared off by the sharks.

Mr Future said the last time his tour boats were unable to find dolphins near the farm was in September, but they couldn’t find them one day last week and three consecutive days the week before.

“We don’t usually have misses, but it’s like a free seafood smorgasbord out there for the sharks and the dolphins have taken off,” he said.

A Department of Primary Industries spokeswoman said Huon had not reported another loss at the farm.