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Opening a can of worms
  |  First Published: June 2005



Live worms have become a whole lot easier and more ecologically sustainable to obtain, thanks to this central coast aquaculture outfit.

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Most anglers who have paid their dues know live bait will outfish packet bait tenfold.

I know in this rush-rush, take-away world it’s easier to cruise into your local servo and grab a packet of frozen bait for that fishing trip but if you take the time to gather fresh bait your catch rate will increase dramatically.

For those who are short of time there are select bait and tackle shops that now sell live bait such as tube and bloodworms, nippers and even live mullet and yellowtail.

Recently I was taken on a conducted tour of a tube or case worm farm on the Central Coast which proved a real eye-opener.

Tube or case worms are a very close relation to the beach worm. These worms are native and found in their wild state up and down the east coast of Australia in waters to 30 fathoms and form an important part of many fishes’ diets.

The owner of aptly-named Aquabait is Les Safarik, who is passionate about his craft and has invested more than $1.5 million in making sure his worms are the best quality available.

Formed in 1996, Aquabait now supplies to retailers in NSW, Victoria and Queensland. Drawing water from Lake Macquarie, the worms take around eight to 10 months to mature and are then despatched to selected bait and tackle outlets.

They are fed every day on a modified fish meal and it is fascinating to watch the worms emerge as they hunt down the tiny pellets.

In their wild state these worms can grow to over a metre but Aquabait releases the worm at around 30cm and 5mm to 8mm thick so they are ideal for threading onto a hook.

Aquabait’s tube worms are kept in optimal condition from the farm gate right to the angler’s hook by using handling methods that don’t cause the worms stress.

Aquabait sedates the worms on the farm before harvest so each worm suffers less stress and produces a high-quality live bait that can last weeks if kept in shallow, sandy substrate with continuous replenishment of fresh seawater and aeration.

The worm farm comes under very strict environmental guidelines and all water used goes through a string of sediment and settling ponds to make sure it’s pristine before emptying into Lake Macquarie.

Rigorous testing is frequently undertaken by Government regulators to make sure the farm is compliant with the latest practices. A fair amount of money is spent making sure these strict conditions are not just met but surpassed.

Only around 20% of ponds are in use at present at Aquabait but there are many ponds waiting to come on line as the business expands.

The worms are bred under cover in a nursery before they are put into ponds where they mature. Each 10-metre by six-metre pond holds around 35cm of sand in which the worms make their holes. All ponds enjoy constant reticulating sea water.

When the time for harvesting arrives, they are taken in trays to the packing shed where they are weighed and deposited in strong plastic bags. Aerated water and a shot of pure oxygen are added to these bags before they are sealed, encased in foam containers, bound and picked up by the daily courier.

The tube worms are then kept alive within a recirculation system in the bait shops for the angler to buy fresh.

Some of the fish caught on Aquabait tube worms include bream, whiting, flathead, mulloway, dart, morwong, blackfish, squire, flounder and leatherjackets.

Marine aquaculture, if properly researched and undertaken, takes the stress out of delicate marine intertidal zones where these types of worms were once harvested from the wild.

Aquaculture also allows a continuity of supply so bait and tackle shops can depend on deliveries and not be at the mercy of bad weather.

I have tried Aquabait worms off my local beach and they do catch fish. Whiting, bream and flathead fall to these small marine bootlaces but beware – these critters do have a small mouth and they can give a painful nip, as I found out when I dug my hand into the bait bucket!

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