A South Australian seafood producer has overcome the final hurdle for its planned kingfish farm at Fitzgerald Bay in the upper Spencer Gulf.

Key points:

  • Clean Seas Seafood is establishing a kingfish farm off Point Lowly
  • The council has now granted access to the Point Lowly marina
  • Locals fear environmental consequences, and damage to the marina 

The Whyalla City Council has voted to allow Clean Seas Seafood to use the marina at Point Lowly, north-east of the city, subject to a long list of conditions.

While Clean Seas already had state government approval to begin farming fish in Fitzgerald Bay, it needed the council to sign off on access to the marina.

The company’s CEO, Rob Gratton, said he was pleased the council had not bowed to pressure from some community members.

“We think that’s a good first step for the council and the local community to see the benefits of aquaculture, and for us to … demonstrate to the community how we want to use that piece of infrastructure,” Mr Gratton said.

A helicopter shot of a kingfish farm in a bay with hills in background.

Clean Seas would like to build a farm at Fitzgerald Bay similar to its farm further south on the Eyre Peninsula.(

Supplied: Clean Seas

)

Many locals vocally opposed the plan, with 600 adding their names to a petition against letting Clean Seas access the marina.

Nick Antonio, a Whyalla resident and campaigner against the kingfish farm, said the company’s last foray into aquaculture in Fitzgerald Bay a decade ago damaged the ecosystem.

Spencer Gulf contamination fears

Chef Ben Way cuts up a kingfish

Chef Ben Way with a kingfish harvested from a trial farm at Port Stephens in NSW.(

ABC News: Sean Murphy

)

The debate about Clean Seas’ use of the Point Lowly marina became a proxy for a fight about whether the kingfish farm should go ahead at all.

“I cannot [understand] how they can be licensed to farm 4,245 tonnes of fish in a gulf that [is only flushed out] every 18 months,” Mr Antonio said. 

“I cannot figure out how they are licensed to do that especially when we’ve got the giant Australian cuttlefish [here] … [it’s] going to be detrimental.”

The company said it would carefully monitor nitrogen discharge into the gulf.

“A huge part of what we do to achieve our sustainability and environmental credentials and also to keep the cost down is to be very careful with feed going in,” Mr Gratton said. 

Across the water a fiery sky illuminates everything - a line of hills is seen in the distance with an industrial chimney.

The Spencer Gulf is only flushed out very slowly, leading to concern about nitrogen build-up.(

Supplied: Ann Jones

)

Mr Gratton said there was no evidence to suggest the farm would affect the annual aggregation of giant Australian cuttlefish, which drew thousands of tourists to Whyalla.

However, Eddie Hughes, the Labor MP for Giles, said history showed some concern was warranted.

“We know that … BHP used to discharge ammonia into False Bay, and we know that had a major impact on seagrass beds in False Bay,” Mr Hughes said.

“The sort of volume of nitrogen in Fitzgerald Bay, if they got up to 4,000 tonnes of kingfish, exceeds what BHP used to discharge in terms of nitrogen into False Bay.”

Council imposes strict conditions

The council said it had little choice but to grant Clean Seas’ request because it only leased the marina from the state government.

“We thought from a council point of view it was a decision we had to take, so at least we could have some care and control, and be at the table so to speak, to make sure that the operations are monitored and managed,” Cr McLaughlin said.

A portrait photo of a woman in mayoral robes.

Clare McLaughlin was elected as the mayor of the Whyalla City Council in 2018.(

Supplied: Whyalla City Council

)

Under its three-year agreement with the council, Clean Seas will have to do $500,000 worth of upgrades to the marina at its own expense.

The company has also agreed to construct a purpose-built marina a few kilometres north of Point Lowly within the next three years.

“[Point Lowly] is really going to be for what we would consider smaller-scale operations, so primarily moving people and equipment to and from the farms and also in the early years small amounts of feed,” Mr Gratton said.

“The larger operations like harvesting, moving nets in and out and also moving large quantities of feed will be from larger commercial wharves like Port Pirie.”

Mr Hughes said he ultimately supported the decision of the council, despite his concerns over the environmental impact of the fish farm.

“What council did do … is put greater pressure on Clean Seas to come to the party about negotiating a good outcome for the use of the marina,” he said.

SA Infrastructure Minister Corey Wingard said the marina was designed for industrial use.

“We wanted to work with the council and we’re pleased they’ve landed at that point to work with us, to work with Clean Seas to create this economic boom.”

Whyalla council grants access to local marina for controversial kingfish farm
Source:
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