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Fire burns net-pen and 50000 salmon escape in Tasmania

Atlantic salmon, averaging 4 kg, in mass breakout after fire melts Huon Aquaculture pen in southern Tasmania

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Fire engulfs the structure of the net-pen, allowing 50,000 farmed salmon to escape. Photo Huon

Fifty-thousand Tasmanian farmed salmon have made a dash for freedom after a rare fire in a commercial aquaculture enclosure off the island’s coast.

Huon Aquaculture said the fire broke out early this morning, melting part of the pen and allowing the fish to give the company the slip.

“The fire damaged approximately a third of a pen, burning through and melting the pen infrastructure above and just below the waterline,” the company said in a statement.

Company chief executive Peter Bender said in 35 years of fish farming he had never had an electrical fire on a fish pen and was “baffled” as to what had caused it.

“We are not ruling anything out at this early stage,” he said, urging anyone with information to contact the company.

“We are estimating that we have lost between 50,000 and 52,000 4-kilogram fish.”

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Burned out net-pen. Photo Huon

Mr Bender said a study of previous fish escapes indicated the escapees would not impact native marine fauna.

“Farmed salmon generally don’t appear to feed on native species as they are typically used to feeding on fish pellets,” he said.

Mr Bender said the future was bleak for the fugitive fish.

He said the “calm weather” had enabled crews to “thoroughly search the surrounding area including shorelines to retrieve any pen components that had come adrift during the fire”.

The loss was calculated by counting the remaining fish at Huon Aquaculture’s Zuidpool lease.

Marine and Safety Tasmania, the Environment Protection Authority and Tasmania’s Department of Primary Industries, Water and the Environment have been notified.

Salmon have previously escaped en masse from enclosures around Tasmanian waterways, leading to fishers reaping a bounty, if they can be caught — as farmed fish are unused to pursuing bait.

Tasmania Police said they were not investigating the fire.