At Huon, we prioritise fish health and welfare, as doing so, is not only the right thing to do, it is also the foundation of a strong and robust farming business.
We encourage you to explore this page to learn more about how the way we farm directly results in positive welfare outcomes for our stock.
Veterinary Health and Biosecurity Plan (VHBP)
The VHBP covers all aspects of operations
Over the last 35 years or so, we’ve learnt a lot about how to raise healthy Huon Salmon and Ocean Trout. We are able to achieve this as our operations are underpinned by a significant amount of research which has informed our comprehensive Veterinary Health and Biosecurity Plan (VHBP). This living document details our protocols and procedures that address fish health, welfare and biosecurity matters.
Our VHBP is based on a detailed Risk Assessment Review across our operations, consolidated with the collective experience and standard operating procedures of Huon employees over 35 years, and an extensive review of biosecurity practices in overseas salmon-producing countries.
The VHBP encompasses all areas of fish health and welfare. It aims to identify and define management and husbandry protocols and procedures throughout the lifecycle targeted at best practice. The VHBP was developed with broad staff involvement and is regularly reviewed and updated to promote continuous improvement in all areas.
The VHBP promotes a well thought out and comprehensive approach to farm operations that have potential to impact on fish health and welfare. In addition, the VHBP serves several other functions including giving ownership of agreed protocols and procedures, providing a clear and effective education resource for training staff, a clear reference on which internal and external auditing can be based, and an ongoing basis for regular review and continual improvement.
RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme
The RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme is the RSPCA’s farm certification program dedicated to improving the welfare of as many farm animals as possible by working with farmers to provide an environment that better meets the animal’s behavioural needs. In 2016, animal welfare standards for farmed Atlantic salmon were added to the Scheme with a focus on meeting the fish’s physical and behavioural needs of this fish species.
The standards require that all persons managing fish are trained and competent in their required tasks; that handling of fish is carried out in a manner that is low stress; and that all husbandry and management practices limit negative impacts on the fish. The standards aim to ensure that fish be held in water of good quality and that farming practices aim to provide all fish with sufficient oxygen and feed; freedom from injury, stress, deformation or disease; the ability to exhibit normal swimming and schooling behaviour (stocking densities must be less than 1.5% fish to 98.5% water – Huon’s average is around 0.65% fish to 99.35% water) and to escape aggressive encounters (from pests and predators).
Huon joined the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme in 2018 and remains Australia’s only RSPCA Approved salmon producer. The RSPCA’s standard for farmed Atlantic salmon does not allow for the farming of salmon in Macquarie Harbour therefore, 98 per cent of Huon’s salmon is currently farmed to the standard (correct at Nov 2021).
It is important that the RSPCA’s high standards of animal welfare are maintained at all times, so just like every other producers participating in the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme, our farms are routinely assessed by the RSPCA and the farms are also subject to unannounced audits. In 2018 alone, there were 19 farm assessments. As well as on-farm assessments, harvest is recorded on CCTV for review by RSPCA.
Achieving and maintaining this accreditation hasn’t happened overnight—we have worked closely with the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme over many years to meet their high standards and it is something that everyone working for Huon has been instrumental in achieving.
Biosecurity includes good site management and farm hygiene
All good farmers have the attitude that prevention is better than a cure—this is why we take biosecurity so seriously. Biosecurity in its broadest definition is the prevention of disease-causing organisms entering or leaving any site where they pose a risk to farmed stock, other animals, humans or the safety and quality of food.
Disease control in aquaculture production requires a holistic approach. Good site management, animal husbandry and rigorous biosecurity measures are central to reducing the risk of disease outbreaks and controlling the spread of infectious diseases. Biosecurity is important at every stage of the production cycle but even more so in the hatchery as un-vaccinated fish are more vulnerable to diseases and pathogens.
Biosecurity is not only a matter of good hygiene, disinfection procedures and preventing the spread of disease between different geographical farming regions – we believe best-practice biosecurity measures demand that our fish have good nutrition, live in high quality water and avoid stress. All these factors contribute to our salmon being less susceptible to disease and infection.
Huon has a biosecurity plan that covers all aspects fish farming and processing. This includes education and training, and implementing good fish husbandry through water quality management, health monitoring, vaccine use and ongoing research.
Key aspects of our plan include:
- Intensive monitoring and reporting of fish health status
- Strategic testing of stock before transfer between sites
- Early identification, investigation, diagnosis and mitigation of disease incidents
- Comprehensive Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) which clearly outline husbandry and disinfection to avoid spread of disease organisms
- Monitoring of healthy fish and the prevention of the spread of disease organisms between different geographical areas. These disease organisms include viruses, bacteria and parasites.
Tasmania is fortunate to be free of many of the serious diseases which effect salmon overseas. We work closely with Commonwealth and State governments to maintain strict quarantine regulations to protect our unique environment.
Our stocking density is the lowest in the world
By giving our salmon plenty of room to move they are able to behave and school naturally.
Low stocking density also means that there is reduced concentration of organic nutrient inputs such as feed and salmon waste immediately under our pens. This, coupled with our farm fallowing program, means that the local ecology (animals and food webs) can process those inputs more quickly. Similarly, when stocking densities are low, oxygen in the seabed can break down nutrients more quickly and can easily deal with organic enrichment from our farm operations.
When salmon are relaxed and allowed to behave normally in a clean, healthy environment, they feed better, they grow quicker and when it comes time to harvest our fish, the benefit is seen in the quality of our products. Across all our leases, our average stocking densities range from 6.5-7.2kgs per cubic metre (correct as at Nov 2021) which is less than half the density recommended by the RSPCA for compliance with its Approved Salmon Farming Scheme (15kgs per cubic metre).
Managing predator interactions reduces fish stress
Reducing and eliminating stress on our salmon is a key focus at Huon and directly contributes to the overall welfare of our fish and the quality of our products.
The five key ways we reduce stress for our salmon are:
- Providing plenty of space
Huon’s stocking densities are the lowest in the world. By giving our fish plenty of space, they are able to behave naturally which reduces stress dramatically.
We try to minimise the amount of handling our fish require and when we do need to handle them, for example when bathing we use methods and technology that are gentle on the fish.
- Keeping them together
Salmon have complex social structures and by keeping a population of fish together throughout their life, we allow them to build and maintain cohesive social structures.
- Using their natural instincts
Salmon instinctively swim into a current. We utilise this instinct for both transporting and harvesting fish. When we transport fish, we move them in the hull of our wellboat which, is low-stress. When it comes time to harvest, our system has a standing wave which encourages salmon to swim against the current into the harvest setup.
- Preventing threats
The presence and proximity to predators such as seals, birds and sharks can greatly stress the fish. To reduce this, Huon developed the Fortress Pen which controls access to the pens below and above the waterline and the double-net keeps a greater distance between the fish and predators.
Antibiotics are only used as a last resort
We believe that antibiotics should only be used as a last resort which is why we practice a holistic approach to farming. Integral to our approach is good site management, low stocking densities, the development and use of vaccines, feeding a high-quality diet, and keeping our fish as calm and low stress as possible.
Fish are sedated before undergoing vaccination
Vaccines have an important role to play in fish health and wellbeing. This is why Tasmania’s Centre for Fish Health, with industry as a partner, has invested a significant amount of resources into developing and testing vaccines. These vaccines have helped manage a range of fish health issues by providing life-long immunity.
Vaccines are routinely used very effectively in livestock, pets and people to control a range of diseases caused by viruses and bacteria. As fish have a functional immune system that is similar to that in mammals, vaccines can be used in the same way to improve fish health and welfare outcomes.
Fish vaccines were first developed in the USA during the mid-1970s and are now widely used in fish farming around the world with some being developed at DPIPWE’s Animal Health Laboratories in Launceston, Tasmania.
Millions of dollars have been invested in vaccine development and industry now uses vaccines commercially to successfully control up to five serious disease pathogens.
Huon’s fish are fed a quality diet using advanced technologies
Our fish feed needs to provide them enough energy to live and thrive and must also supply all the nutrients (proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals) to grow. We know exactly what our fish have been fed, which means that when you purchase Huon Salmon and Huon Ocean Trout you know it has received safe, sustainable, traceable feed.
Huon has the only ongoing dedicated research trial farm program in Australia into salmon feed. We work in close partnership with our feed suppliers to understand and continually improve our feeds so they provide a balanced, healthy and tasty diet for our fish in the unique Tasmanian environment.
Our salmon feed is made up of a range of ingredients including:
- Fish meal and fish oil, which is sourced from certified wild fisheries, and the off-cuts from other fish species. Salmon farmers world-wide have been working on a fish oil and fish meal substitute for many years and we have reduced our use to between 13-18% (varies each year class). There are now diets that require no fishmeal, and instead use oils produced from algae which provides the Omega-3s in the salmon which is essential for a healthy diet. The majority of fish meal in the diets in future will most likely come from off-cuts that would otherwise be disposed of. Moreover some 30% of fish meal globally is made from trimmings not wild catch. The fish that makes up fish meal are typically small, bony pelagic fish that aren’t generally used for human consumption.
- Vegetable ingredients such as wheat, soya derivatives, corn gluten and vegetable oils.
- Vitamins and minerals and astaxanthin. Astaxanthin is a powerful antioxidant that salmon need for healthy muscle growth and egg production and which also provides the salmon the signature orange hue to the flesh.
- Meat and chicken meal, blood meal, and poultry oil. By using land-animal by-products in our feed, we are helping to utilise ‘waste’ from other farming, which improves the sustainability of both land-based and sea-based aquaculture farming production.
Our feed does not contain ingredients of genetically modified (transgenic) origin. And we never feed our fish growth hormones or growth promoters. Nor does it contain pork or pork by-products.
We feed our fish using a state-of-the-art intelligent system which enables all of the fish Huon farms to be remotely fed from a central location in Hobart.
Our remote feed system uses a combination of industrial automation and artificial intelligence (AI) to autonomously control feed rates in offshore fish farms by identifying and tracking feed pellets in the water column using machine vision and machine learning.
This system means that at any one time, just four people are remotely feeding (from Hobart) every one of our fish regardless of location (Huon River, Storm Bay or Macquarie Harbour), which also creates a safer working environment particularly when the weather is too rough to operate from a feed barge