"EVERY kilo of fish you can put on the market is a kilo of fish that stays in the ocean."

They're the words of an Australian fish cultivation pioneer whose farming techniques once helped save a species from extinction.

Abington Aquaculture's Douglas Dilger has been in the industry since the 1980s, when the idea of fish farming was still turning heads.

"It's only getting bigger as the years go by," Mr Dilger said.

"We pretty much pioneered a lot of the original spawning of fish in the 1980s."

The greatest breakthrough came when Mr Dilger started cultivating the endangered Australian bass, which is now a common fish throughout Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.

While the government had struggled to get the fish off the endangered species list, the Bundaberg farmer managed to bring it back from the brink.

"It turned a lot of heads," he said.

 

Cultivating fish at Abington Aquaculture.
Cultivating fish at Abington Aquaculture.

 

"We had the fisheries and DPI in those days who didn't believe they could be bred."

Mr Dilger came from a family who farmed cane, cattle and gold fish before starting his own aquaculture business and advising everyone from international companies to government departments.

Fish are the highest value crop per acre, grossing more profit than avocados and using up less water than agricultural crops.

Mr Dilger, the "first guy to grow fish for the restaurant market in the 1980s", says the industry is now "starting to prove itself".

"We've got some of the best technology in the world," he said.

The systems used at Abington Aquaculture replicate natural conditions for fish, with a controlled, organic environment.

The property, just outside of Bundaberg, includes a wildlife corridor and there are future plans to expand into eco-tourism.

Last year, they produced 163,000 fingerlings in seven different fish species that would go on to stock dams and waterways around the country, including stocking local areas such as Sandy Hook.

They also sold 15 tonnes of fish pellets for stock. The pellets have been developed to provide a ratio to cattle that increases meat yield, texture and flavour.

Abington Aquaculture's Lisa Costello started her job in admin and now finds herself waist-deep in water and mud, at the forefront of the farm's operations nurturing species including silver perch, pandanus catfish and saratoga.

 

Baby fish at Abington Aquaculture.
Baby fish at Abington Aquaculture.

 

"I just stumbled into it," she said.

"I started by applying for a job in the office.

"My dad was a professional fisherman so I have a bit of a background in fish but a bit different."

Ms Costello said the farm was different to many others, because it provided fingerlings as well as full-sized restaurant quality fish weighing anything from 600g to 1kg each.

It's all about the right water and the right temperatures and sometimes that means gathering water from the ocean for the fish to thrive.

"Every species is a bit different, they all have their own things they do."

Mr Dilger and Ms Costello regularly venture to other regions to collect stock, having recently taken a trip out west to St George and Goondiwindi.

Mr Dilger says when rivers out west dry up, cultivating the fish from these waterways helps ensure their survival.

His passion for the sustainability of both the industry and the environment has seen him heavily involved in the restocking of native fish species to Australian river and lake systems.

His clients have included the Queensland Government's Department of Primary Industries, multiple public restocking groups, commercial grow-out facilities, rural dam stockists and buyers from a number of Asian countries including China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan.

 

 

Cultivating fish Abington Aquaculture.
Cultivating fish Abington Aquaculture.


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