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Swedish herring delivered to Australian tuna farms

FIS, 11th December 2002

The cargo vessel Haru Verdy just delivered
6,000 tonnes of Swedish herring to Australian tuna farmers in Port Lincoln.

The herring are apparently particularly appetising to the captive southern bluefin tuna and allow the farmers to adjust the 5,000 tonnes of wild-caught fish to life in the pontoons.

The arrival of the "herring boat" has become regular occurrence with this latest delivery being the third organised by Adelaide-based company Agritrade and its director Christian Huntington.

The herring were caught in the Skagerrak Sea off the coast of Sweden over a two-month period by a fishing fleet using the "pair-trawl method."

The fish were shipped from the Swedish port of Wallhalmn.

"The herring have a very high nutritional value with very high fat content and protein content," Mr Huntington said.

"It's used in the first month after the tuna arrive when they are stressed."

The same fish, Clupea herengus, is used in marine parks as a favoured feed for captive marine mammals, he said.

Mr Huntington said the load would take five or six days to unload with herring going to most of the tuna companies.

This year's load was slightly smaller than last year's delivery, but Mr Huntington said this year a second ship would arrive in February with
several thousand tonnes of pilchards caught off the coast of North Africa and delivered from Spain.

These pilchards were also of a high quality and would be very palatable for the tuna, he said.

Organising the unloading was freight forwarding and logistics company Power House International, which hired about 70 local P&O Ports workers.

The herring are classified as a "specified species" by Biosecurity Australia because of concerns raised about the spread of fish disease viral haemorrhagic septicaemia or VHSV.

Restrictions from farmers prevent them from using the herring between 1 June and 30 November when the chances for the water temperatures being below 15 degrees are greatest, which are the conditions where the disease could spread to local stocks.

Restrictions on other imported baitfish such as pilchards and mackerel also are in place.

Companies storing and thawing imported bait have also been required to place quarantine signs around their properties, according to a Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service spokeswoman.

Tuna industry spokesman Brian Jeffriess said the restrictions on the use of important imported bait such as herring were damaging to the industry and efforts where being made to relax the restrictions because there could be instances during the upcoming season where no suitable bait would be available.

The quota for the pilchard catch in local South Australian waters just increased to 36,000 tonnnes, but even that would only meet about half the demand of the tuna farms, meaning imported fish would remain an important factor in the industry.

But Mr Huntington said the imported herring was not meant to replace the local supply of pilchards, but was a special niche product that the farmers required to ensure fish health and condition.

He also is the director of Baja Aqua Farms off the coast of Mexico where this year about 1,000 tonnes on tuna farmed by six different companies would be harvested.

"I agree that you should always try and use the local product but this is a different kind of feed that does not really compete," Mr Huntington said.

By Stan Gort