EPA protects Tassal profits: unethical and illegal?

Environment Tasmania is deeply concerned about the EPA’s decision to extend the period Tassal is able to act in breach of the law at its Franklin lease in Macquarie Harbour, where all marine life is dead to 500 metres beyond the lease site. The Director of the state’s peak environment group, Laura Kelly, argues there is no evidence to justify the EPA’s claim that this won’t worsen the environmental crisis in the harbour.

“The EPA are saying extending Tassal's dead zone operation won’t make matters worse, but fail to present any evidence that pumping more feed and faeces in the harbour won’t increase harm to the harbour and endangered Maugean Skate,” said Laura Kelly Environment Tasmania.

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Misleading consumers: Tassal, ASC and WWF

Today peak state environment group, Environment Tasmania, will release a damning report into the faulty auditing process which has allowed Australia’s largest salmon company to falsely market its salmon to consumers as ‘clean and green’.

Tassal’s product has carried the Aquaculture Stewardship Council – or ASC – logo for its salmon from Macquarie Harbour, on Tasmania’s west coast, since 2014. Yet government data shows oxygen levels in Macquarie Harbour plummeted to worrying levels in 2013 and the latest report by the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies shows that all marine life is dead under Tassal's largest lease in Macquarie Harbour. 

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Environment Tasmania backs Huon legal proceedings

Tasmania’s peak environment group today stated its full support for Huon Aquaculture’s legal proceedings in the Federal and Tasmanian Supreme Court.

“The latest report from IMAS scientists shows that all marine life under Tassal’s largest lease in Macquarie Harbour is dead. The government knew this last November, but have allowed Tassal to farm in a dead zone until March this year – that’s 5 months of operating in breach of the law to massive commercial benefit.

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‘Tasmanian Peak Environment Group requests WWF stop taking payments from Tassal’

Tasmania’s peak environment group has written to WWF Australia requesting they stop taking money from Tassal – Australia’s largest farmed salmon producer - after the global environment group ignored water pollution issues to endorse Tasmania’s controversial industrial salmon farming industry in The Australian today. 

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Proposed cuts in Macquarie Harbour salmon stocks dismissed as "window dressing"

Tasmania's second largest salmon producer Huon Aquaculture has condemned a proposed stock reduction for Macquarie Harbour, labelling it "window dressing" and "spin".

The comments were in response to today's draft determination by the Environment Protection Authority (EPA), telling salmon producers to reduce stock in the waterway on Tasmania's west coast.

EPA director Wes Ford said that while the current cap for the harbour was 21,500 tonnes, the current stock was about 16,000 tonnes.

He said that was still too much and the cap would be cut to about 14,000 tonnes.

The latest scientific data showed concerning levels of bacteria and low oxygen in the harbour and the inability of the waterway's ecosystem to cope, Mr Ford said.

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Macquarie Harbour salmon farmers may be hit with new rules

We welcome the news that the government has asked salmon companies to clean up their act in Macquarie Harbour. We are disappointed there have been no penalties imposed and no reduction in production limits. After 3 years of damage - do you think the government should do more than politely request that the companies stop breaking the law? 

  

Marine farming licences require the three Tasmanian companies which operate in Macquarie Harbour to undertake regular visual monitoring of the benthic habitat with underwater vehicles mounted with cameras. Picture: SUPPLIED

Macquarie Harbour salmon farmers may be hit with new rules

 

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Cleaning up Tasmanian Salmon

Today Tasmania’s peak environmental group released a damning dossier on the shortcomings of regulation of Australia’s largest fishery sector, the Tasmanian salmon industry.

Environment Tasmania’s investigation into industry regulations, Cleaning up Tasmanian Salmon: How the Tasmanian Government can restore social licence and secure jobs in Tasmania’s salmon industry is being released following a Four Corners probe into the industry and yesterday’s acknowledgment by Tasmania’s Environmental Protection Authority that companies are breaching licence conditions in Macquarie Harbour, where oxygen levels in the water have reached zero in some areas and faeces and bacteria are accumulating on the floor of the harbour.

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Salmon farmers at odds on environmental rules

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One of Australia’s biggest salmon producers wants a major toughening of environmental regulation, but faces criticism for using a 20-year-old planning scheme, written by industry, to guide its own expansion.

Huon Aquaculture has proposed regulatory changes to the Tasmanian government it argues are vital to the rapidly expanding $700 million salmon industry’s survival.

A leading tourism industry figure, Rob Pennicott, has also warned that clearer regulation is vital for state’s two growth industries — tourism and aquaculture — to coexist.

“Salmon farming is a very important economic pillar for Tasmania, but it’s got to be done in a sustainable manner,” he said.

“We can’t keep having expansion after expansion without very good science around the environmental impact. We need clear ­parameters. We need ... new regulations written.”

Environment Tasmania, the state’s peak environmentalist body, is soon to release a damning dossier on salmon industry regulatory shortcomings, along with proposed changes that go beyond Huon’s blueprint.

The Huon proposals include all new fish farms to be located further offshore, to reduce impacts on sensitive coastal waters, with minimum requirements for depth, ocean flushing and sediment type.

Huon wants a mandated minimum distance between different operations, and compulsory use of well-boats to cleanse and transport the fish — to avoid the towing of pens, which risks spreading disease and pollution.

“We are saying to the government: ‘We’ve set the bar, you catch up’,” said Huon co-founder Frances Bender. “It has to be comparable (to world’s best practice) because if it isn’t … they’ll be too many of us, too close together, we’ll get our fish sick, seals will get in … and we just start over again.”

Ms Bender said Huon’s proposals had met with “silence” from the Hodgman government.

Its main competitor, Tassal, is also unsupportive, denying the proposals “represent an industry position”.

Huon faces its own challenges, with concern over the doubling of its Storm Bay lease area, which relies on a 1998 development plan commissioned by a defunct company, Nortas.

“It’s a total stitch up,” said Environment Tasmania strategy director Laura Kelly. “You’ve got industry writing the plans that guide their expansion, licence conditions that enable them to kill everything below the cages, no minimum site depth, no minimum current flow, no minimum water temperature, no mapping of nitrogen budgets for an area.”

 

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Fish Farm Science is Clear

Tassal boss Mark Ryan has responded to the Four Corners probe into his company's practices by denying facts from key research groups including the Cawthron Institute, Melbourne University and IMAS. Published today, this editorial provides a timeline of the increasing ecological pressures in Macquarie Harbour, which is adjacent to a stunning World Heritage Area on Tasmania's West Coast.

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Talking Point: Fish farm science is clear that big rise in production is dangerous

CHIEF executive Mark Ryan portrays the Four Corners probe into Tassal’s conduct as nothing more than a bun fight between competitors (Talking Point, Mercury, November 5).

Mr Ryan seemed to deny the validity of government-funded research on Macquarie Harbour by the University of Melbourne, dismissing it as “competitor’s scientific research”. His denial of the results of scientific research goes further, with his claim that “some people have their own views on Macquarie Harbour”.

If we are to believe Mr Ryan, what we are seeing in Macquarie Harbour is not repeated warnings by independent scientists of an ecosystem under stress, but opinion, a mere difference of views between competitors.

It is crucial the record is corrected, not just for the reputation of the scientists involved, but to address questions as to the accuracy of reports Mr Ryan is providing to government and shareholders.

The research Four Corners quoted on the lethal conditions in Macquarie Harbour last summer was not Huon Aquaculture research, it was funded by the Fisheries Research Development Corporation. Huon Aquaculture gave University of Melbourne scientists access to their lease site to do the research. If Mr Ryan gave independent scientists access to Tassal lease sites to monitor fish stress levels in Macquarie Harbour last summer, we encourage him to release the results of this research. We also encourage Mr Ryan to move beyond rhetoric and provide details of what comments made by Four Corners were misleading.

Unfortunately, some of Mr Ryan’s comments are misleading. He states: “Heat stress and low dissolved oxygen was an issue last summer because of the abnormal weather conditions. That is a fact.” Publicly available government data shows dangerously low dissolved oxygen levels in Macquarie Harbour have persisted since 2013. These conditions are not limited to a one-off extreme weather event. Plummeting oxygen levels began with the 360 per cent increase in salmon production and have not recovered.

What follows is a timeline of the ecological crisis in Macquarie Harbour, based on government data and scientific facts provided by New Zealand’s Cawthron Institute, the University of Melbourne and the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies:

2013: Industry data shows a 360 per cent increase in production is accompanied by plummeting dissolved oxygen levels, median levels dropping from 20—40 per cent in 2010-11 to 5 per cent in 2013-14.

FEBRUARY 2014: The Tasmanian Salmonoid Growers Association establishes an inquiry into oxygen decline, the Macquarie Harbour Dissolved Oxygen Working Group.

MARCH 2015: Leaked documents from this group show licence conditions have been breached at all fish farms. Faecal matter has built up under pens. Two species of dorvilleids — a worm that feeds on faeces and is used as an indicator of serious pollution — are present at most lease sites. Bacteria mats have formed at two lease sites. A degraded environment has led to increased fish disease.

MARCH 2015: Industry sources leak an email from Huon Aquaculture and Petuna Seafoods chief executives to Premier Will Hodgman. It describes serious environmental and fish health warning signs, and urges the Premier not to approve Tassal’s request for an increase in production.

APRIL 2015: The Government commissions the Cawthron Institute to review conditions and assess whether the monitoring is effective in detecting salmon farm impact.

MAY 2015: 85,000 fish are suffocated in Macquarie Harbour. Petuna blames a one-off storm event.

AUGUST 2015: The Cawthron Institute report documents a “biological system under stress”, with serious impacts up to 7.5km from fish farms. It finds a correlation between increased fish farming and low oxygen levels and states that government regulations are insufficient to monitor impacts.

AUGUST 2015: A rare chronic disease called mycobacteriosis is found in farmed salmon in Macquarie Harbour. A Department of Primary Industries internal discussion paper, obtained by the ABC through Right to Information laws, reveals the disease is linked to degraded environmental conditions.

SEPTEMBER 2015: The Tasmanian Government responds to the Cawthron Institute Report. There are no penalties for companies. None of the recommended improvements to monitoring are adopted. The Government commissions further research.

APRIL 2016: Government responds to a continued evidence of an abundance of pollution indicator species by changing the law to remove this limit on pollution, pending further research.

APRIL 2016: Government approves an increase in salmon production in Macquarie Harbour, from 20,000 to 21,500 tonnes a year.

OCTOBER 2016: New FRDC research shows conditions in the summer of 2015 breach the maximum temperature and minimum oxygen supply salmon can withstand before they stop eating and develop skin lesions.

OCTOBER 2016: Research requested by the Government to determine whether pollution indicator species (dorvilleids) are an accurate indicator of salmon farm pollution finds they are. Minister Rockliff does not reintroduce licence conditions relating to dorvilleids.

Laura Kelly is strategic director of Environment Tasmania.

Published in The Mercury here

 

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