FARMING EELS: Ben Clift inspects the dam on his 280ha Gundurimba farm, which doubles as a wildlife sanctuary and a breeding ground for eels which are exported live to Japan.
FARMING EELS: Ben Clift inspects the dam on his 280ha Gundurimba farm, which doubles as a wildlife sanctuary and a breeding ground for eels which are exported live to Japan. Jay Cronan

Lismore eels on Japanese plates

BEN CLIFT'S dam at Gundurimba, near Lismore, revealed a well-kept secret after a friend asked if he could do some fishing there.

“The original lagoon had been drained by Public Works in the 1960s,” he said.

“We decided to fill it in again as there was quite a bit of acid sulphate in the soil and we wanted a permanent store of water to irrigate the farm.

“That way, if it is permanently under water, the vegetation won't build up after a flood and we don't have all the rubbishy weeds that are no good for the cattle.”

But it wasn't until Ben's friend, professional fisherman Brett Higgins from the Tweed, asked if he could try fishing for eels that they discovered the dam's bounty.

“He has a licence to fish for eel in dams and when he tried the first time he couldn't believe how big they were,” Ben said.

“He said that he hadn't seen eels like that in ages.”

Ben said eels were able to travel over land looking for water.

“They can also bury themselves in the mud and wait until there's water,” he said.

Now being ‘farmed', eels from the dam are destined for Japanese markets and are shipped out alive.

“They are put on ice which causes the eel's body to slow right down, but they are still alive,” Ben said.

“If the dam isn't fished then the eels will actually start eating each other to keep numbers down.”

Ben estimated about a tonne of eels was now being caught each year. “I've never eaten eel,” Ben laughed. “And I have nodesire to.”

Re-flooding the eight-hectare lagoon area on Ben's 280ha farm has created other benefits, aside from the harvesting of eels.

“It's our permanent water supply off-river and has also solved our acid sulphate andwater quality problem,” he said.

“It acts as a sort of filter when water spills over into the river.

“The wildlife has also increased around the dam as we get swans, ducks, sea eagles and pelicans.”

Ben said the increase in birdlife also meant that insect pests in his other crops of sugar cane, soy and various grain crops were reduced.

He has also put aside a large tract of land as a wildlife habitat.



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