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A big fishy tale

October 13, 2014 - Port Stephens

B is for big. B is also for Barry, a really big barramundi who gives me a fright when his jaws snap-pop! right in my face as I peer into his tank. I jump backwards and barramudi breeder Nick Arena has a big chuckle. He keeps big Barry at the rear of the Cookabarra Restaurant in Port Stephens partly for this purpose.

“Lots of groups visit the fish farm”, he says, ” and there’s always someone among them who deserves a surprise.” And if you visit alone like me, then snappy Barry’s big surprise is all yours.

The Cookabarra Restaurant is the public face of Nick’s barramundi breeding business. It’s an excellent pit stop for anyone with an inkling to know more about how food gets from source to plate. There are two tours daily of the fish farm behind the restaurant during which everything you might wish to know about barramundi and sustainable fish farming is answered.

The farm raises fingerlings to a market size of 750g in nine months, producing 1000kg of fish a week. The tanks require 450,000 litres of water, constantly filtered and recycled with 10% bled off each week and used for the adjacent hydroponic vegetable and herb farm. Among a blizzard of interesting statistics I’m amazed most when Nick tells me that 70% of the barramundi eaten in Australia is imported. I’d thought the fish was practically a national icon.

To correct this imbalance I head straight to the restaurant to devour some homegrown at source. And thanks to chef David Hochkins’ delicious new tasting plate I now know that barramundi is equally delicious served as ceviche, gravalax or deep fried. Eat that Barry! – RW

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