Key research

All fisheries research in NSW is coordinated from the PSFI.  Research is divided into four major research programs; Aquaculture, Marine Ecosystems, Freshwater Ecosystems and Fisheries Resource Assessment.

Aquaculture Research

The aquaculture research group develops technology for new or existing aquaculture industries. Key facilities used for this research at the PSFI include a mollusc hatchery, a quarantine mollusc hatchery, marine fish broodstock centre, marine fish hatchery, marine fish nursery facilities and grow-out tanks and ponds.  Facilities for commercial and pilot-scale research are available as well as replicated, small-scale facilities for applied research.  Research directions are developed in consultation with representatives from industry through the Aquaculture Research Advisory Committee.  Key program areas include: 


  • Developing and improving hatchery and nursery techniques for Sydney rock, Pacific, Pearl and Flat oysters, as well as other molluscs (eg. pipis).
  • Genetically improving Sydney rock oysters (eg for disease resistance, faster growth and improved condition).
  • Researching the impacts of human activities and climate change on oysters.

Marine Fish

  • Improving methods for hatchery production of mulloway, Australian bass, yellowtail kingfish and southern bluefin tuna.
  • Producing Australian bass and mulloway for stock enhancement.
  • Investigating potential of inland saline water for aquaculture.

Algal Production

  • Production of live algae for PSFI and industry.
  • Mass culture 7-12 algal species.

Nutrition, Diet Development

  • Developing and improving diets for fish and prawns.
  • Currently focused on mulloway and yellowtail kingfish growout diets.
  • Replacing fishmeal with Australian agriculture ingredients.
  • Producing more cost-effective, environmentally friendly feeds.

The aquaculture research unit has an international role in assisting with developing and managing the aquaculture projects funded by the Australian Council for International Agricultural Research.

Marine Ecosystems Research

The marine environment in NSW is a public resource that is greatly valued. It is very diverse, extending from 3 nautical miles offshore to the upper tidal limit within the estuaries. The marine and estuarine waters all have their own unique biodiversity, habitats and ecosystem processes.  Conserving these features, while also allowing for sustainable fishing and other uses of marine resources, is a key challenge for NSW Primary Industries.  Research activities are centred, therefore, around both examining the threats to, assessing the health of marine and estuarine species, habitats or ecosystems.  If these remain healthy, it is a good indication that marine resources are being managed sustainably and that they will be available for the enjoyment of future generations.  Research on marine ecosystems provide scientific information to underpin the management initiatives and policy development for these valuable resources. Both field surveys and laboratory analyses based from Port Stephens are undertaken in four key areas and cover the following activities:

Ecosystem Assessment

  • Assessment of changes in rocky reef fish assemblages in response to marine park zoning
  • Acoustic tracking of fishes to examine movements and connectivity among and between rocky reefs
  • Regular monitoring of coastal habitats to assess the condition of estuarine and oceanic waters in NSW as part of the statewide Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting (MER) program
  • Development of decision support tools for marine spatial planning

Threats to fishery resources

  • Undertaking surveys to monitor the spread of introduced marine species that have established in NSW waters (e.g. green crabs and the green seaweed Caulerpa taxifolia).
  • Assessment of the threat to the marine ecosystem from activities that vulnerability of coastal habitats and ecosystems to a range of threats
  • Modelling of marine connectivity and climate change along the NSW coast
  • Assessment of catchment materials in the Hunter River estuary and nearshore shelf

Marine Biodiversity

  • Mapping key estuarine habitats such as mangroves and seagrasses, and assessing their conservation value.
  • Research for the recovery of the "critically endangered" grey nurse shark which focuses on documenting its distribution and abundance; population size-structure; age and growth; reproduction; demography; localised and migratory movements; human-induced threats; and behaviour and interactions with scuba divers.
  • Examining the occurrence and habitat preference of juvenile black rockcod on shallow reefs in northern NSW

Fish habitat improvement

  • Research on the biology and ecology of seagrasses, including experimental restoration of the strapweed Posidonia australis.

Freshwater Ecosystem Research

Robust science is critical to the sustainable management of our precious freshwater resources. Our scientists are involved in research aimed at protecting, enhancing and rehabilitating the biodiversity of riverine ecosystems and the productivity of freshwater fisheries, stretching from river headwaters, all the way down to the estuaries that they flow into. Freshwater Ecosystem scientists based at the PSFI work collaboratively with other freshwater research stations throughout NSW, including Narrandera and Grafton Fisheries Centre, and the Batemans Bay Fisheries Office.  The range of freshwater ecosystem research activities our scientists are involved in include: broad-scale surveys of river health and assessments of fish communities, research relating to recovery actions for threatened freshwater fish species, fish habitat mapping and restoration, design and monitoring of river infrastructure improve fish passage (including weirs, dams, hydropower and fishways) and protect fish at irrigation diversions, investigating ways to control invasive fish and fish diseases, collecting information to support environmental water delivery programs and assessing the effectiveness of freshwater fish stocking activities.

In addition to this, PSFI boasts expertise and state-of-the-art freshwater fisheries research equipment including:

  • A fleet of electrofishing boats for fish community surveys
  • Underwater acoustic cameras (DIDSON) which can monitor fish behaviour in dirty water or at night;
  • Autonomous hydraulic sensors (Sensor fish) to determine the hydraulic stresses felt be fish as they pass weirs and dams;
  • Award winning barotrauma chambers to examine the impact of rapid decompression on fish as they pass hydropower and weir facilities;
  • Swimming flumes to investigate different design options for screens to prevent fish being lost from rivers at irrigation diversions;
  • A fully equipped laboratory for the identification of fish specimens and fish diseases.

Fisheries Resource Assessment

Fish stocks are influenced by many natural factors and by various human activities, the most direct of which is fishing. The Fisheries Resource Assessment Unit (FRA) provides the scientific capacity to underpin the monitoring, sustainability, and productivity of the State’s fisheries resources.  A key mandate of the unit is to monitor levels of catch and fishing effort, assess risks to continued sustainability of exploited marine resources. Several monitoring programs underpin this process, including regular data collection on commercial catch and effort, observer programs and periodic estimates of recreational catch obtained from fishery independent surveys, game-fish tournaments and charter-boat logbooks. Impacts from fishing activities can also have unintended consequences for non-target species or fish habitats. Reducing these impacts can be achieved through the development of more environmentally friendly fishing gear or improved survival of released catch.  In addition to monitoring responsibilities, FRA maintains a core focus developing ways to improve the productivity of NSW fish stocks. Scientific research in this area falls under the area of Fisheries Enhancement, as research is targeted at improving the productivity of NSW exploited fish stocks through conservation, restoration or direct enhancement. Key areas include the development of artificial reef systems, rehabilitation of estuarine habitats, and the stocking of marine and freshwater species.