Kel Gordon: Aquafarmer

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Kel Gordon's new sci fi adventure

In 1978 a marine science job was advertised at the fisheries research station at Port Stephens in NSW. Having been fascinated in all things aquatic I applied for the job. It was a "dogs body" job assisting Greg Mcguire in his initial prawn research breeding program. I was unsuccessful.

It was 'that' research project that launched the prawn industry in Australia. And, although I was unsuccessful with the job it was that research, that meeting and that inspiration that set me on the aquaculture road. I'm not sure I should thank Greg for I can now say with some certainty that western aquaculture is one of life's real tragedies.

So in 1978 I applied to James Cook University to study Marine Biology. At the same time my interest in music was gaining momentum so I remained in Newcastle, NSW to play punk rock n roll. In hind site I should have stayed a musician and played out my hand, forn the longer term as it were.

However in 1984 the opportunity to study aquaculture came up with the brand new aquaculture department at UTAS in Launceston Tasmania.

So off to Tasmania I went with a new wife and a 3 week old baby son. It was a hillbilly adventure with everything we owned on the back of an old Dodge Canter truck heading into hillbilly country.

As it turned out Tasmania was a great place but it was cold, very cold. The university, which at the time was still a college, had a very positive focus on aquaculture and had imported 'the right stuff' in Dr Nigel Forteath whose knowledge and wisdom were never misplaced on those who chose to listen.

I learnt some interesting lessons while studying aquaculture and probably much more on human nature than on aquaculture. It is that same academic pomposity that is responsible for today's lack of drive in aquaculture.

Indeed one of my fellow students from those heady days recently said that "in hind-site aquaculture was a waste of a life". However this statement is only true in commercial, privately funded aquaculture. Government aquatic research has blossomed at the expense of commercial endeavors in aquaculture. There now exists an dangerous and endemic attitude suffocating any commercial investment.

The example I give here is simple. In 1985 I was the only person to successfully spawn black lip abalone. I was a first year student. The news of such a feat soon echoed around the aquatic science community and scientists turned up at the aquaculture department. However they refused to speak with me and preferred for my lecturer to ask me their questions and then gain my technique from him.

I have no doubt that fisheries deliberately pulled the fuses on the land based oyster farm in 1987 as that project showed a remarkable increase in oyster growth rate.

In 1988 I spent two years researching the first RAS of silver perch in Australia. The system used the passive POD filtration system and had a stocking rate of 10 tonnes per megalitre of water. So what you say,,,, it also had 1.5 workers per 35 tonnes production and an electricity component of less than 5% of production cost. The farm is still rated as one of the best in Australia. However, not one fisheries scientist will acknowledge its existence. Does that seem odd?

The same situation occurred with the barramundi at the Broome TAFE fish hatchery in 2000. You simply cannot be a simple lecturer and show how to spawn in two weeks what the hatchery manager could not achieve in 18 months...Indeed while WA scientists were parading for national television I was still cleaning up in the background... I had already resigned.

Again, the fish lock system provides state of the art for fish transfer in rivers but we are ham-strung by so called aquatic biologists insisting we spend $200,000 on a full size working model. I find this altitude pompous, don't you?

And yet these are the entrusted ones. What chance has real commercial aquafarming got?

After many years, thirty in point of fact, I can say confidently that this brand of unimaginative so-called scientist is endemic in government research. They have soaked up many many millions of dollars with precious little output. Indeed we now have some of the best research facilities in the world and probably the worst applied aquaculture as a commercial enterprise in the western world.

I have to say that all research must productively support commercial aquafarming. Instead there exists a pompous them and us case of mind over matter. They don't mind and we don't matter.

Sour grapes? YOU DECIDE....Because...... it will be your future.

 

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Kel Gordon's new sci fi adventure