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.”