Aquaculture diving is undertaken to support the production of farmed marine species for a global market. Aquaculture diving involves a wide range of tasks performed in and around sea farms. In Australia, marine finfish farming is dominated by atlantic salmon in Tasmania and southern bluefin tuna in South Australia.
The Tasmanian salmon (and related species) farming industry currently comprises fourteen commercial operations including hatcheries, nine of which operate seafarms as part of their operations. The majority of Tasmania atlantic salmon farms are located in the South East in the Huon River, Port Esperance and D’Entrecasteaux Channel, and Tasman Peninsula areas. Other farms are located in Macquarie Harbour on the West Coast, and in the Tamar estuary on the North Coast.
Day-to-day duties of salmon farm divers include net cleaning of salmon pens, net inspections, mortality retrievals, mooring checks, recovery, and net scoring.
Tuna farms are located at Port Lincoln in South Australia. Over the past decade the farmed sector has grown to the point where around 98 per cent of the Australian southern bluefin tuna quota is now farmed.
Experienced aquaculture divers support the wild catch operations that are performed from trawlers in the open sea. Tuna are harvested from the wild between December and March using purse seine nets, they are then transferred to floating cages, which are slowly towed back to the farm, the fish are then transferred to growout sea cages and fattened up for the Japanese sashimi market.
From their beginnings in the early 1990s, tuna farms have made extensive use of divers. Divers are used at every phase of the operation from capture through to harvest. Aquaculture divers dive to depths of approximately 18 metres generally tend the fish and look after the nets.
Tasks performed on the job:
- Fish health inspections;
- Net inspection and repair;
- Net cleaning;
- Mooring (which includes visual inspections, installation and removal of mooring systems, weighting system on fish nets, underwater cameras, deployment of transaction nets, sea bed samples and transect video footage);
- Mortality collection;
- Retrieval of lost equipment.
Examples of equipment used:
- Underwater scooters;
- Net needles;
- High pressure water jets or trash pump vacuums;
- Sample cores;
- Air lifts.
All dive equipment used conforms to AS 2299 standards. Divers use SSBA systems with AGA facemasks and comms.
Responsibilities and Challenges
An aquaculture diver is responsible for the security and maintenance of fish stock. This involves monitoring the stock for disease, death or unusual behaviour and ensuring there are no losses of stock due to damaged nets. Maintaining the mooring systems in a good state of repair is also essential for preventing the loss of stock.
Planning, working efficiently and reporting observations are all necessary to get the job done effectively. Working as part of a small team, it is important to gain a close working relationship with colleagues in order to meet deadlines. The health of the fish, and other work crews, depends on your ability to carry out duties required on a daily basis.
Personal safety and safety of the crew is extremely important. Aquaculture diving can be dangerous work especially in high risk weather conditions or in low visibility. For these reasons, aquaculture divers need to be able to remain calm in various underwater situations and to stay fit and healthy and to remain alert while on the job.
Highlights and Rewards
Working as an onshore diver you have the privilege of going home each day and not living out at sea!
Aquaculture diving offers an interesting and healthy lifestyle. You can enjoy being out on the water with spectacular views like the Houn, Channel, Tasman or the beautiful Harbor in Strahan. It may also provide the opportunity for travel if you enjoy changing sceneries.
As the demand for aquaculture divers is often quite high, it is a great way of gaining dive time and logged dives — being able to undertake all the diving you would like to do. It is a useful stepping stone to careers in the dive field or aquaculture management.
The reward of a hot shower after being wet, cold and smelling like fish has been described as one highlight! Oh, and apparently chicks dig aquaculture divers!
Remuneration is the order of $AU40,000- $44,000 base salary and $AU50,000- $70,000 for Team Leaders. Dive allowance of around $70 per dive day (for all divers) can add a further $13,000- $14,500 per annum on top of base salaries.
The emphasis of the ADAS Aquaculture SSBA Diver to 30m course is to train recreational scuba divers to work safely and effectively as members of a diving team, on surface supply using modern full-face masks and with effective communications, to successfully achieve a variety of light work tasks required by seafood divers.
Courses are generally of 4 weeks’ duration (usually 20 days over a 26-day period). Prices and schedules vary according the Accredited Training Establishment (ATE) running the course:
Trainees are assessed on at least two occasions on the preparation of an effective risk assessment. All dives are to be conducted as no decompression dives and to include at least:
- simulated decompression dives using lazy shot and stage;
- sufficient use of demand full helmet and band masks to ensure competency;
- at least 6 boat dives;
- at least 6 shore dives;
- at least one night dive;
- at least one dive to deeper than 28m;
- at least one zero visibility dive (minimum of 20 mins bottom time);
- the use of two types of full-face masks which comply with the requirements of AS/NZS 2299.1 (including Aga) with voice communications;
- standby diver training and assessment as per the ADAS assessment pro forma;
- bottom searches (at least three of jackstay, grid mesh, snag line, semi-circular, parallel and circular); and one chamber dive to 50 metres.
Please see the Aquaculture Course outline.
Aquaculture diving has the highest rate of dive time for any dive field; you will gain experience and log books very quickly. As you dive on a regular basis you can obtain up to 700 logged dives a year and it is also possible to supervise over 2000 dives a year which can be quite appealing to other dive industries having had that amount of experience. This is key to working in another dive field, such as oil rigs and construction. Also, boating tickets can help get you into shipping or commercial fishing.
Once knowledge is gained in the field, it is possible to progress into management roles in the aquaculture industry.
Some companies (e.g.Tassal) promote skills building by providing access to professional development courses such as boating, engineering, and dive supervising.
Special thanks to Tassal for their assistance in the production of this web page and for providing photos for the video.