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Touch-and-go trout: Spring rain sees farmer take the plunge and harvest drought-impacted trout

Lara Webster and Madeline Lewis, Friday October 5, 2018 - 14:44 EST
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Once the trout are harvested, they are filleted, gutted and smoked. - ABC

To say trout farmer Russell Sydenham is taking a plunge is an understatement.

His operation, Arc-en-Ciel Trout Farm, is based on the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales and is experiencing drought conditions like the rest of the state.

The business has been operating on a quarter of the water flow it is used to, dramatically impacting the growth of the fish and the amount of work it can offer its four employees.

Right now however, there has been a reprieve thanks to some rain and Mr Sydenham has this week harvested rainbow trout for the first time in around two months.

Hopefully he will have enough to fill a few waiting orders.

"We have not committed to any customers [but] once we have gilled and gutted the fish we then grade them … and maybe give a couple of happy customers a call."

The product is sent to clients throughout New South Wales and as far afield as Humpty Doo in the Northern Territory.

Touch and go

While it is good news, it is also a touch-and-go situation.

If there is no significant follow-up rain in the next few months, the operation will be back at square one.

Like all farmers though, Mr Sydenham needs an income and right now there is an opportunity to support his staff, a few clients and make a dollar to keep surviving.

"I would say we will probably be able to cover most of our current orders," he said.

"I'm not sure how that will impact on us in the next two to three months if we don't get any significant rain."

At this week's harvest, there were not as many trout at the optimal size as Mr Sydenham would have liked, but he points out is it better than having nothing.

Many farmers have missed out on a winter crop completely and getting a summer crop in is proving to be a gamble.

"I guess I still am a little disappointed but I am happy that the health of the fish is really good," Mr Sydenham said.

"We can only do what we can with the current resources.

"As the temperature warms up a little bit the fish will increase their appetite and what we will do is try and give them enough space in the water to achieve size."

Harvest strategies ahead

Going forward, Mr Sydenham has already thought of strategies to give him the best opportunity to harvest more trout.

Now that he has an idea of growth, he will be able to grade the fish, separating the bigger animals from their smaller counterparts.

That will then enable the smaller trout to get more food and grow.

The fish also need room to grow to the optimal size for harvesting.

"It is pretty tenuous, you cannot run a business without stock but at the same time it is very important to keep our stock alive," Mr Sydenham said.


© ABC 2018

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