Executives from Brazilian meat processing giant JBS have been in Tasmania surveying its new seafood company Huon Aquaculture ahead of its takeover next Wednesday.

Key points:

  • JBS has been visiting Huon Aquaculture sites this week
  • The company is foreshadowing more investment in aquaculture
  • JBS CEO Brent Eastwood has reassured Huon staff that it will be business as usual

Already, the company’s Australian chief, Brent Eastwood has foreshadowed further investment in aquaculture in the country.

“This will be our first foray into aquaculture,” he said.

In Tasmania, JBS joins Tassal — Australia’s biggest atlantic salmon producer and the only publicly listed salmon company — and Petuna, which is owned by the New Zealand-based business Sealord Group.

Last month Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board green-lit a takeover plan by JBS. 

The takeover bid, announced in August, valued the company founded by Tasmanians Peter and Frances Bender at about $550 million, including debt. 

man in radio studio

JBS chief executive Brent Eastwood has spoken with ABC radio Hobart about the company’s plans for Huon Acquaculture.(ABC Rural: Fiona Breen)

No onshore salmon farming for Huon

Mr Eastwood has hosed down talk of moving salmon farming onshore, saying the company has not yet seen evidence “to back that up,” despite the farming technique being investigated as an alternative in other parts of the world.

“We’ll watch that carefully,” he said.

“We haven’t seen anything yet that means we shouldn’t be continuing what we’re doing. It’s a very sustainable business now, a clean business, even though there’s a lot of noise from certain areas.”

A map of Tasmania showing the location of 11 fish farm leases.

Huon Aquaculture runs 11 farm leases around Tasmania.(ABC News: Paul Strk)

JBS is among the world’s biggest meat processors, with operations that span the globe processing beef, chicken and pork. However, it was a novice in the seafood space.

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No major changes for Huon Aquaculture when new owners JBS take over the company next week
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“We are very new to the salmon industry. We are very impressed with the Huon set-up, the team, the strategy. We’ve done a lot of due diligence over the past few months and everything we’ve seen has further endorsed that it’s a great business and a great company, ” Mr Eastwood said

“We think there are areas in their business that we can add good expertise and help.

Huon Aquaculture will make up about 2 per cent of JBS’ global operations.

Business as usual for Huon

Speaking on ABC radio Hobart, Mr Eastwood reassured staff and suppliers that it was business as usual for Huon.

“We’ve spoken to many. We’ve given our strategy, our view and listened to what they have to say,” he said.

“They’ve had concerns, but they’ve been going through a sales process for quite some time which is very uncomfortable and challenging so they’re looking forward to a stable future with JBS.

“We buy companies, but we don’t sell.”

Mr Eastwood and John Berry — JBS’ head of corporate and regulatory affairs — also caught up with Huon’s stakeholders, including the Bob Brown Foundation, The Tasmanian Alliance for Marine Protection, and author and industry critic Richard Flanagan.

The Ronja Huon, the well boat vessel, used to bathe fish in freshwater, move fish between farms and transport them to harvest.

The Ronja Huon will play a large role in the JBS operation.(By Fiona Breen)

“We wanted to be open and transparent with everything we do. We requested those meetings. We wanted to listen to their concerns,” Mr Eastwood said.

“They were good meetings. They were obviously very passionate about what they believe, and we have no problem with that. We listened, and we will continue to listen to all stakeholders in Tasmania,”

JBS put on notice

Environmentalist Bob Brown said JBS “made a few commitments” but did not commit to “providing us with baseline studies for Huon Aquaculture.”

Mr Brown and the Tasmanian Alliance for Marine Protection urged JBS to support the Dennes Point Declaration, a document which supports an immediate transition out of the sea and into land-based farms.

man and two women looking at plans

Bob Brown, Bec Howarth and Christine Milne with the Bob Brown Foundation preparing to lobby JBS(ABC Rural: Fiona Breen)

“They said they were here to listen to us. We said we were here to listen to them. They had nothing to offer … but when it came to what their future plans were they had nothing to offer,” Mr Brown said.

JBS already operates in Tasmania with a meat processing plant at Longford in the north of the state.

Huon will now be taken off the stock exchange.

A man onboard a ship looking at pens of salmon in the ocean

The Ronja Huon vessel at Huon Aquaculture’s Storm Bay farm, preparing to drop off some fish at the site.(By Fiona Breen)

Posted , updated 

The world’s biggest meat processor says Huon Aquaculture is the start of its foray into seafood
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