Project number: 2013-729
Project Status:
Budget expenditure: $99,990.13
Principal Investigator: Wayne O'Connor
Organisation: NSW Department Of Primary Industries
Project start/end date: 29 Sep 2015 - 14 Dec 2015


NSW currently imports over 85% of its seafood and needs a substantial increase in investment and production, most notably, major new marine based aquaculture development.(Bond University, 2012). However, marine aquaculture development is fundamentally constrained by the lack of background biological and economic information. To promote marine finfish production, the NSW government has invested significantly in establishing, through the normal application pathway (EIS, REF, public consultation, DA), a 20 ha Marine Aquaculture Research Lease (MARL) off Port Stephens with approval to produce up to 300 t fish/annum. The MARL is a vehicle to streamline approvals process, foster the social licence required for finfish production expansion in NSW, and to provide the fundamental information needed to encourage investment.

There are three key end users for MARL research: Industry, Public and Regulators. The research proposed on the lease will address short term needs central to the development of fish farming in subtropical waters of the Australian east coast and develop a platform for ongoing research.
DPI has begun dialogue with potential commercial partners to operate the MARL. These discussions have established that yellowtail kingfish (YTK) is the primary species of interest (although tuna is a candidate and is specifically approved for the MARL). This interest in YTK is in part is driven by a shortfall of Kingfish and Barramundi from aquaculture in local markets – of the order of 460 t at the Sydney Fish Market alone last financial year.

Industry need: YTK production within Australia has not been without its challenges and further research is essential, particularly when entering new farming environments. Previous CRC research (SFCRC 2008/903) has developed models showing rapid growth for YTK in warmer waters (

Public need: In gaining approval for the MARL, extensive public consultation was undertaken that identified key concerns with respect to the sustainable operation of the MARL. Traditional concerns over nutrient enrichment arose but were overshadowed by issues related to potential impacts on species of sharks and cetaceans. There is a need to investigate the MARL interaction with these species, and Port Stephens is uniquely well placed for this to occur. Port Stephens has the most intensive cetacean watch industry in the world and is the focus of a juvenile white shark and grey nurse shark monitoring program.

Regulatory need: DPI is funding development of a Marine Waters Sustainable Aquaculture Strategy for NSW (MWSAS), under State Environmental Planning Policy 62 – Sustainable Aquaculture (SEPP62) to streamline investment pathways and promoting sustainable seafood production. A MWSAS will describe the approvals process, best practice system design and operation, and identify areas suitable for future development. MARL research will inform a MWSAS in key areas of sustainability


1. To obtain background environmental data for MARL operation
2. To have commenced development of a Marine Waters Sustainable Aquaculture Strategy for NSW
3. To have established the validity of existing growth/nutrition and economic performance models for Yellowtail Kingfish and Mulloway
4. To have determined any health challenges for finfish production and consequent management options in an offshore environment

Final report

Authors: Knibb W Elizur A Fielder S O’Connor W McCartin B Nguyen N and Whyte D.
Final Report • 2016-12-01 • 1.77 MB


Huon Aquaculture and NSW DPI are working together to establish NSW’s first Yellowtail Kingfish (YTK) farm. Using a recently approved Marine Aquaculture Research Lease (MARL) and an existing farm site off Port Stephens, NSW, we have begun to establish NSW largest fish production facility, with the capacity to hold up to 2000 tonnes standing stock of YTK. To prepare for farming operations Huon and DPI have worked collaboratively with the University of the Sunshine Coast to better understand and protect the genetics of local kingfish stocks while developing the necessary genetic resources to establish a broodstock population with sufficient diversity to meet production and breeding needs and develop a selective breeding plan for YTK.  

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