IT WAS the feed all along, it seems.
The pioneering aquaculture firm Clean Seas Tuna has sought compensation worth tens of millions of dollars from two suppliers for the loss of kingfish devastated by the deficiency of an amino acid, taurine, in their feed.
The chief executive, Craig Foster, said Clean Seas had issued formal dispute notices to its two main feed suppliers after receiving independent legal advice and assessment of kingfish feed protocols in Japan.
"The board has determined to invoke formal dispute resolution procedures with both feed suppliers to attempt to find a commercial compromise of the claims the company considers it has against both suppliers," Mr Foster said in a statement.
Clean Seas would not identify the companies it had notified but industry sources said the listed Ridley Corporation and Tasmania's Skretting were the two major feed suppliers in Australia. Neither Ridley nor Skretting returned calls on yesterday.
Mr Foster said it had taken months to determine the cause of the kingfish kills that struck Clean Seas this year. By adding taurine to the feed, he said, "simply, empirically, we can see we've reversed the whole health problem".
Clean Seas shares have fallen from a year-high of 8.3? in February to 2.4? at yesterday's close, up 0.2?.
Mr Foster said the dead fish stocks themselves were worth only a few million dollars but there was also lost productivity from the fish that didn't go on to grow. He would not quantify the total damages claim but said it was "tens of millions of dollars".
Mr Foster said further independent testing would be needed. At this stage blaming the feed deficiency was "only our opinion".
Clean Seas also said on Wednesday it had achieved early spawning of its southern bluefish tuna brood stock, and was confident of achieving viable fingerlings for transfer to sea cages next month.
A BBY analyst, Dennis Hulme, welcomed as "very positive" both announcements, on the feed deficiency and tuna propagation. Clean Seas could now "get back to being a money-making business ... [and] potentially a takeover target", he said.