'A serious threat to endangered whales': lead environment group questions Tassal’s EPBC permit

Tasmania’s peak environment group today expressed serious concerns regarding the Commonwealth Government’s decision to allocate Tassal an EPBC permit for the company’s controversial plan to industrialise endangered whale calving habitat on Tasmania’s east coast.

“This decision shows that our environment laws are broken. Any Tasmanian that wants their children to grow up in a world where there are whales should be dismayed by this decision, which shows the Liberal Government has learnt nothing from the disaster and subsequent legal battles over Macquarie Harbour,” says Laura Kelly, Strategy Director at Environment Tasmania.

“Industrial salmon farming has pushed an endangered species to the brink of extinction in Macquarie Harbour, and now the Commonwealth Government is rubber stamping that same threat in endangered whale calving habitat on Tasmania’s east coast.”

“IMAS scientists are calling Macquarie Harbour’s Maugean Skate, a hundred-million year old species found only in Tasmania, the ‘thylacine of the sea’. Now Tassal are getting a tick from the Turnbull Government to do the same in a Bay which Tassal’s own EPBC application acknowledges is calving habitat for endangered Southern Right Whales.”

“Just last week one of Australia’s leading experts on Southern Right Whales, Professor Rob Harcourt from Macquarie University, stated that Okehampton Bay is ideal calving habitat for the endangered species and that fish farming expansion is a threat to the endangered whales."

“It is unclear how Tassal and the Commonwealth could have ignored this advice, and ignored the Commonwealth Government’s own Management Plan for the species. We will be reviewing their decision closely, with the assistance of our lawyers,” Ms Kelly says.

A juvenile humpback caught in aquaculture debris in BC last year. Aquaculture and entanglement in marine debris, are listed as clear threats to endangered Southern Right Whale in the Commonwealth Conservation Management Plan for the species
A juvenile humpback caught in aquaculture debris in BC last year. Aquaculture and entanglement in marine debris, are listed as clear threats to endangered Southern Right Whale in the Commonwealth Conservation Management Plan for the species.

Showing 3 reactions

  • Nick Direen
    commented 2017-08-07 14:06:00 +1000
    I don’t think your (ET’s) description of Okehampton Bay as “endangered whale calving habitat” in this press release is accurate, nor the description in your Development Application submission to the Glamorgan Spring Bay Council that “Current zoning recognizes that the area is calving habitat for the EPBC-listed, endangered Southern Right Whale.”

    Environment Australia’s current South-east marine region profile which is the relevant environmental management statement relevant to the Southern Right Whale (SRW), which can be accessed at
    it lists the breeding and calving grounds for SRWs on p.26. It states:

    “Southern right whales regularly aggregate for breeding and calving off Warrnambool, Victoria, with calving areas tending to be very close to the shore. The known calving and aggregation areas in the south-east region are Warrnambool, Port Fairy, Port Campbell and Portland (Victoria), and Encounter Bay (South Australia). "

    Okehampton Bay is not listed there.

    In addition the Conservation Management Plan for the Southern Right Whale, which can be accessed at

    only lists Great Oyster Bay and Frederick Henry Bay (p.26) as significant congregating (but not calving areas) for the SRW.

    Given this is the basis to ET’s objections to the fish farming license in Okehampton Bay, what is the actual science- based evidence for these statements?
  • Bart Roberts
    commented 2017-08-07 13:39:31 +1000
    Umm, Southern Right Whales are not endangered. According to the IUCN Redlist they are “of least concern.” http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/8153/0

    This is what the IUCN assessment said:

    Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern ver 3.1
    Year Published: 2013
    Date Assessed: 2008-07-01
    Assessor(s): Reilly, S.B., Bannister, J.L., Best, P.B., Brown, M., Brownell Jr., R.L., Butterworth, D.S., Clapham, P.J., Cooke, J., Donovan, G.P., Urbán, J. & Zerbini, A.N.
    Reviewer(s): Taylor, B.L. & Notarbartolo di Sciara, G.
    Given the recent estimated population size (1,600 mature females in 1997, and approximately twice that number in 2007) and the strong observed rate of increase in some well-studied parts of the range, the species, although still scarce relative to its historic abundance, is not considered under threat at the hemispheric level. The population is estimated to be higher now than it was three generations (87 years, assuming a generation time of 29 years; Taylor et al. 2007) ago. Some breeding populations, in particular that off Chile/Peru (see separate listing), are still very small and may need special protection to become re-established.
    Previously published Red List assessments:
    2008 – Least Concern (LC)
    1996 – Lower Risk/conservation dependent (LR/cd)
    1994 – Vulnerable (V)
    1990 – Vulnerable (V)
    1988 – Vulnerable (V)
    1965 –
  • Nick Direen
    commented 2017-08-07 05:47:45 +1000
    “Professor Ross Harcourt from Macquarie University”
    Do you mean Prof. Rob Harcourt?

    Rob Harcourt has not published anything on Okehampton Bay.