Barra project still afloat

Thousands of barramundi await the angler’s lure in the Latrobe Valley’s Hazelwood Pondage.

And Victorians have been assured they’ll have their chance at catching one, despite speculation of the power plant’s closure as early as April next year.

The pondage is hoped to be opened to recreational fishers before Christmas, making it the first barramundi fishery in the state and a massive tourism drawcard.

Barramundi Working Group member and Futurefish Foundation chief executive David Kramer said despite the rumours, the team behind the project was not slowing down.

“I did have a lot of phone calls when it appeared on the front page of The Age on Saturday (24 September) – we are going full steam ahead with the barramundi project,” Mr Kramer said.

“Whether it’s one year, two years or three years, this will provide some great tourism opportunities for the region.”

The first batch of barramundi was stocked in the pondage in April following tank-based acclimatisation trials that indicated the fish would survive there.

Mr Kramer said growth rates had been compared to those found in the northern states of Australia – an “exceptional” result.

“The water seems to be perfect for them,” he said.

But if the Hazelwood power station and mine were to close, he doubted the likelihood of the barramundi fishery continuing at the pondage.

“While it’s not as important as job losses and the security of power, it certainly puts a big dent in the potential tourism to the township of Morwell and the whole of the Latrobe Valley,” Mr Kramer said.

The pondage exists as a cooling system for Hazelwood, meaning its temperature is consistently warm.

Fisheries Victoria executive director Travis Dowling acknowledged the fishery’s life depended on the operation of the Hazelwood power plant.

“We understand no decision has been made yet by the parent company in relation to the future of Hazelwood and as information becomes available, we’ll make decisions relevant to the barramundi fishery,” Mr Dowling said last week.

The arrival of barramundi to Hazelwood came about through the State Government’s Target One Million plan to grow recreational fishing in Victoria.

Mr Dowling said regardless of what happens to the power station and mine, “there will be barramundi fishing in Victoria”.

“It will be a great fishery and it will provide a great opportunity for many Victorians to fish,” Mr Dowling said.

“Whether that’s for a short or long period is yet to be determined, but we’re hoping through the investment of Target One Million, we will provide an opportunity for people to catch barramundi in Victoria for the first time ever.”