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It used to be forestry that divided the Huon Valley community, with fierce clashes between long-time residents who were involved in the logging industry and environmentalists. The new battleground is the aquaculture industry, with salmon producers, workers and service providers butting heads with mussel growers and abalone divers as well as locals concerned over water quality.
I WELCOME Huon Aquaculture chief Frances Bender’s announcement that her company is setting a new standard for salmon farming in Tasmania.
Her promise? That the company will move to offshore salmon farming.
There is a huge amount of detail left to come. What is the time frame for the company’s transition to offshore farming? When will Huon exit inshore leases in Macquarie Harbour, the Huon and the Channel? What are the minimum standards her firm will pursue in terms of distance from shore, minimum site depth and flushing capacity and maximum water temperature?
Offshore farming does not solve the problem of fish faeces being released in the ocean, and the salmon industry releases 2.1 million kilograms of nitrogen pollution off Tasmania’s coast each year.
What we heard from Huon Aquaculture is a commitment not to farm in inshore areas where shallow water and weak wave energy means fish faeces build up under pens, creating a dead zone below them.
There are always going to be limits on how much pollution we can introduce in the ocean, even offshore. But Huon has committed to minimising the worst impacts of open-pen farming, which the science shows occur in shallow, poorly flushed sites, close to the coast.
The question now is how Tassal can bulldoze ahead with its plan to intensively farm salmon in Okehampton Bay on the East Coast.
The site is sheltered, shallow and warm. It breaches all the requirements that scientists and industry leaders say need to be respected to minimise harm. How can the State Government approve such a development?
Based on 20-year-old science, Tasmania’s regulations for salmon farming provide no barrier to Tassal’s Okehampton Bay development.
Fisheries Minister Jeremy Rockliff’s response to this has been to announce an “independent” public review of environmental management of the lease site. To be assured by this solution, one would need to ignore the fact the review panel is appointed by the Minister and has no independent powers, and that the environmental data on which public submissions to the review were to be based were not publicly released.
Tassal ignores these facts, and the review itself.
This week they put a multi-million dollar development plan to council to progress land infrastructure development at Okehampton Bay, and their reports to shareholders assume production will proceed on the East Coast. Why shouldn’t they assume this, given the Government has refused to let outdated regulations or mass fish kills get in the way of championing industry expansion?
Huon Aquaculture’s announcement shows that even if regulations are stuck in the 1980s, there is an ethical and market incentive to be seen to respond to the latest science, and the concerns of local communities, and the tourism, wild-catch and recreational fishing sectors.
Whatever the outcome of Minister Rockliff’s rubber-stamp review, if Tassal continues to plough ahead with plans that ignore the evidence on minimising harm to the environment and local communities, the damage to the industry brand will not stop at the shores of Okehampton Bay.
This opinion piece was published in The Mercury here.
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In 2012, the world's second largest super trawler, the Margiris, was proposed to be brought into Australian waters. This catalysed huge opposition from across the country and the world. Conservation, recreational fishing and tourism groups worked together to form an alliance, and worked with thousands of community members to win a temporary two-year ban on large freezer trawlers. That ban was replaced by a legislated ban on super trawlers over 130m long, leaving Australian waters wide open to shorter, equally destructive factory freezer trawlers.
Intensive fish farming in coastal areas is one of the greatest threats to Tasmania's marine values.
While the industry started small, at just 53 tonnes a year in 1983, it now produces 40,000 tonnes a year and has plans to double production by 2030.
The main reason open pen salmon farming damages the marine environment is because the industry doesn't bother to capture its waste - which just settles on the sea floor and enters the water column. Waste produced by salmon farming includes uneaten fish food, fish faeces and urine and organic matter from net-cleaning.
Environment Tasmania is not against salmon farming, we just want the Government to regulate it properly to make sure fish farms don't go into areas that are high conservation value and can't support the amount of pollution salmon farming leaves in the ocean. Unfortunately, the industry is currently looking to expand into important conservation areas - like Tassie's stunning Sapphire Coast.