Our research

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, nutrition barn 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. clams and pipis).
  • Genetic improvement of 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 Marine and freshwater fish including Mulloway, Australian bass and Yellowtail Kingfish.
  • Producing Australian bass and Mulloway for stock enhancement.

Nutrition, Diet Development

  • Developing and improving diets for fish and prawns.
  • Currently focused on Mulloway and Yellowtail Kingfish broodstock and grow-out diets.
  • Replacing fishmeal with Australian agricultural ingredients.
  • Producing more cost-effective, environmentally friendly feeds.

The aquaculture research unit has worked nationally and internationally to assist with developing and managing the aquaculture projects funded by the Australian government.

Fish nutrition

Aquaculture policy and management

The aquaculture group supports the development of environmentally sustainable and profitable aquaculture industries. In NSW, the industry is dominated by Sydney Rock Oyster cultivation but interest in farming finfish, crustacea and other molluscs in increasing. Current programs include: case management aquaculture investors; supporting the activities of the Marine Aquaculture Research Lease for Yellowtail Kingfish off Port Stephens; managing the NSW Hatchery Quality Assurance Scheme; improving business service operations; managing the impacts on the oyster farming industry from natural disasters, diseases and pests; and promoting the protection of estuarine water quality.

The NSW government has prepared Sustainable Aquaculture Strategies for land-based and edible oyster aquaculture. The strategies include identification of appropriate aquaculture sites and a simplified approval process. The strategies also address issues such as business planning, species and site selection, planning and design, and water quality guidelines. A NSW Marine Waters Sustainable Aquaculture Strategy is under development.

Aquaculture Administration

The Aquaculture Administration team provides a range of administrative services, including:

  • Processing lease and permit applications and managing financial accounts relating to aquaculture permit holders and lessees in NSW.
  • Maintaining GIS lease plans for oysters, marine fish and mussel farms.
  • Managing the annual aquaculture production-reporting program and publication.
  • Processing miscellaneous permit applications which authorise activities relating to aquaculture.

Freshwater ecosystems research

The sustainable management of our precious freshwater resources needs to be underpinned by robust science. Our scientists are involved in research which assists in 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 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 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 to improve fish passage (including weirs, dams, hydropower and fishways) and to 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 by fish as they pass weirs and dams.
  • An award winning barotrauma laboratory used 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.

Barotrauma lab

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.

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.
  • Mapping of coastal intertidal and subtidal rocky reef habitats to examine their structure and extent and examine changes in condition.
  • 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.
  • Research on the restoration of the nearshore kelp species Phyllospora comosa in the Sydney region.

Aerial view of PSFI

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 on 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.

Aquatic biosecurity

  • The Aquatic Biosecurity & Risk Management team (ABRM) is responsible for managing aquatic pest and disease issues affecting the industries, environment and communities of NSW.
  • Aquatic pest and disease threats are managed by implementing operational policies and procedures based on an assessment of the risks,.
  • Health management of stock is a critical issue in the aquaculture industry, as a disease outbreak can devastate farmed populations and severely impact the short-term profitability or even long term viability of aquaculture businesses. ABRM help to manage current disease outbreaks through advice and with quarantine orders and movement controls.
  • Those who keep ornamental fish as a hobby also frequently confront disease issues, and need to be scrupulous in managing the health of their fish and preventing any diseases that do occur from spreading to other aquaria or even the wild through transfer and disposal of sick fish or contaminated water and equipment. ABRM assists these industries and hobbyists to manage disease by providing advice on good hygiene and biosecurity protocols, and by assisting businesses to investigate and manage disease outbreaks.
  • Outbreaks of disease also occur in the wild, where they can cause unsightly and unhealthy fish kills or even endanger populations of some native species. When disease is suspected to be the cause of a fish kill, ABRM coordinate samples to be sent to the Department’s laboratory at Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute for diagnostic testing.
  • Introduced species of fish, aquatic invertebrates and marine plants can become established pests which compete with native species for food and habitat. Activities that increase the risk of translocating pest species include shipping, aquarium releases, contaminated aquaculture shipments, movement of unclean gear from waterway to waterway and deliberate illegal stockings. ABRM implemented policies and procedures and education programs to help prevent and control pest incursions, and for new and significant incursions the feasibility of eradication is considered.

Aquatic environment protection and management

The health of aquatic habitats in fundamental to the sustainability of commercial and recreational fishing, aquaculture production and non-consumptive uses (such as diving and tourism). Staff within the Aquatic Environment Unit work to protect marine, estuarine and freshwater aquatic habitats both locally and statewide via a range of activities including: reviews and amendments to legislation, development of policies and guidelines, review of strategic land and waterway use plans; assessment of rezonings and development proposals, and issuing (or refusing) permits for works or activities that may harm marine vegetation, disturb the substrate, obstruct fish movement along a waterway or harm habitat within a Marine Park. The scope of this work commonly extends to water quality, riparian buffer zones, environmental engineering design (eg. for fishways, road and rail waterway crossings and seawalls), environmental flows, fish kill investigations, adaptation to climate change and sea level rise and threatened species recovery.