Huon Aquaculture Group [HUON] was established in 1988 by the current owners Peter and Frances Bender, with the assistance of their extended family business, when the salmon farming industry first commenced in the region around Dover in the far south of Tasmania. Both Peter and Frances grew up in the Huon Valley and were traditional farmers, farming cattle and sheep until 1987 and thought the knowledge and experience they had gained therein would hold them in good stead.
Like with most businesses, HUON had humble beginnings. Initially knowing very little about aquaculture Peter and Frances jumped right in, determined to make this new venture work. They supplemented their farming knowledge with weekend education on aquaculture from Professor Emeritus Nigel Forteath from the University of Tasmania.
In the first year they put to sea 1 pen of 10,000 smolt [juvenile salmon] of which half died. They were sourced from the industry owned, Tasmanian Government sponsored hatchery. Operationally the key company assets were one staff member, a fish pen, a dingy, and a plastic feed scoop. In these early days the fish were hand fed daily. In this small scale environment they were able to experiment with the latest techniques and practices to determine the best way forward. This was a fantastic learning experience for the couple whose core objective was to produce the best fish possible. The first year production amounted to 15 tonnes of fish and they knew they were hooked!
With true entrepreneurial spirit Peter & Frances managed both the cattle and fledgling fish farm until 1994. In 1994 they purchased the fish farming business from the family company and since that time have focused solely on growing their aquaculture business.
Understanding their strengths and limitations the business model was established around the idea of being a supplier of salmon to other processors or in other words being contract growers. It was felt that it was important to focus on what they knew best – growing the best quality product, leaving the rest to the experts. This meant that HUON purchased smolt from various hatcheries in Tasmania, and sold fresh market ready salmon to larger aquaculture businesses that had wet processing or smoking capability. Quickly building a reputation as a producer of the finest salmon, the Huon business began to grow as the demand for salmon products expanded. Active within the industry the Benders were keen to work with other similar businesses to ensure the industry was strong and efficient. Joint ventures with hatchery operations were one clear example of businesses within the industry working together to ensure the local demand for salmon was met.
As the scale of the business grew so did the attention to innovation & technology. There needed to be more effective & efficient ways to meet the commercial demand. Significant investments in marine operations followed as Peter took the lead on establishing world’s best practice within marine operations. Capital expenditures were focused on equipment that would ensure each salmon was able to live a stress free existence.
Peter’s previous successful farming experience challenged him to try to repeat the best of terrestrial practices in the water. His mantra was feed the stock well, keep them clean and stress free as this was seen as the way to produce the best quality salmon. The first major development was the Aquasmart feed system that enabled fish to be fed on demand, to match their appetite at the time. This level of automation ensured the fish were given access to food regardless of the conditions. A further significant HUON invention was the fish race developed from the principles of cattle and sheep races. It was a way to move and handle fish in the water. This piece of equipment, that has had many scaled up versions, and is still in use today, enables Huon to handle the fish for bathing in a totally stress free manner. Larger centralised feed hoppers, fresh water bathing barges, increases in pen size & robustness, pen lighting, and research into fish welfare are among some of the other key investments made.
With increases to the level of sophistication within the enterprise, the Benders also recognised the need to staff their business with the expertise required to ensure they could move to the next level. They recruited exceptional talent and know-how from all over the globe to head critical areas of the business to ensure continuous improvement within the operation. Experts in fish health, modern aquaculture methodology, farm husbandry, hatchery management, marine biologists, and planners all joined the business, sharing the common business philosophy to focus on quality.
In 2002, driven by a desire to control their own destiny, Peter & Frances determined to launch the Huon brand in the market, effectively going direct to customers and therefore changing the business model for ever. This required investments in harvest and wet processing capability. HUON began marketing their fish in under their own brand in May 2002.
HUON worked with a small Australian company to develop their award winning humane harvesting process that has addressed the issue of fish welfare at the same time as improving fish quality. Once again this piece of equipment, like the Aquasmart feeding system previously, is now sold world wide and is recognised as a world leader.
While our wet processing was initially done under contract, HUON eventually took this part of the process in-house in 2005. Further investments followed in state of the art automated processing equipment that enabled the business to quickly and hygienically process whole fish and deliver them fresh to market within 24hrs.
The journey towards fully vertical integration was further advanced when Huon purchased Springs Smoked Seafood’s (a former customer) in 2005. This provided the enterprise with salmon smoking capability and instant access to the retail packaged goods market. In 2006 HUON commenced development of their unique recirculation hatchery that will supply the business with around 40% of their annual smolt requirement. The first of its kind in Australia, the hatchery is virtually drought proof and is lauded for its minimal environmental impact.
Peter & Frances Bender and their team have accomplished so much in such a short period of time. They have established the largest privately owned Atlantic salmon farming business in Australia, which is generally acknowledged by industry to be a model of excellence locally and around the world. HUON is the second largest producer of salmon in Australia producing approximately 10,000 tonnes of product and currently employs 400 direct staff.
HUON is recognised for its innovation and commitment to research and development and our hatchery, farming and processing practices are worlds best. Our business must continue to be world competitive if we are to maintain our success as we compete head to head in the domestic and export markets.
HUON Tasmanian Salmon is a safe, premium product grown in the Huon Estuary and the D’Entrecasteaux Channel. These pristine waters at the tip of the vast Southern Ocean allow them to grow salmon in an environmentally sustainable manner.
The goal is to see aquaculture continue to prosper and expand as a source of sustainable future employment especially in non urban areas and for the company to be at the forefront of this effort. The ultimate for HUON will come when consumers ask for “Huon” by name, knowing that Huon fish are a premium, safe and healthy product.
They are proud of what has been achieved so far; the product, the people and the region and trust that you will be confident in knowing that if it’s Huon Tasmanian salmon then it has to be good