HUON Aquaculture must be more transparent with the community and explain what steps it is taking to prevent another fish farm failure, according to frustrated community members.
Dolphin Swim Australia founder and chief executive Andrew Parker said he wanted answers following the Newcastle Herald revealing on Saturday the government had tried to withhold information about how Tasmania-based Huon Aquaculture’s failure to maintain and clean its fish farm “fortress pens” and a lack of support for inexperienced staff had been blamed for the mass predatory yellowtail kingfish escape in Port Stephens’ marine park in January.
The joint NSW government and Huon project is two years into a five year research trial.
“This is the worst use of a marine park resource I’ve seen,” Mr Parker said.
“I’m very concerned that the full story is not being told, just as most of the public would be.
“We all need to have access to accurate and comprehensive stakeholder reports.
“Only finding out through freedom of information requests breeds suspicion. It’s quite damaging to find out there’s been non disclosure. This is such a unique and biodiverse area. Anything that comes in that has the potential to be damaging needs to be open and transparent.”
Port Stephens MP Kate Washington said she’d written letters to the minister, raised the matter on the floor of Parliament, lodged questions on notice and filed notices of motion and “saw red” when she read the truth.
“We’ve had to push for every bit of information since January,” she said. “To learn there were issues with substandard maintenance was enormously disappointing.
“When we learn there are things happening that we have not been told, it raises questions about the transparency and motivations of the government as a partner in this venture. We don’t want an approach of making this a success at any cost.”
Ms Washington supported Mr Parker’s call for more consultation with fishermen, boaties, commercial operators and divers who could offer insights but she said “we need to be assured that what we’re being told is the truth, which is going to be very difficult from now on”.
“Through their own action they have lost their social licence,” she said. “The community deserves to know what is happening. There are no nets out there at the moment – are they being maintained, replaced, or is the intention to move it elsewhere, as everyone wants?”
Mr Parker said he had questions about how the pens would be cleaned and strengthened, the level of training for and experience of staff and what procedures had been developed since the escape. “What is this company and government going to do to ensure this never happens again?”