Latest News - Environment Tasmania

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.


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


Read more
1 reaction Share

Big Fish: Four Corners investigates the business of salmon farming

Environment Tasmania recently appeared on the Four Corners investigation into intensive salmon farming in Tasmania waters. The show included interviews with scientists and industry leaders who raised concerns about the sustainability of Tassal’s production in Macquarie Harbour and their plans to expand into high value conservation, fishing and tourism areas on Tasmania’s pristine east coast. The show also raised concerns about the money exchanged between both Tassal and the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) and Tassal and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) as part of a process that has allowed Tassal to feature the logo of both organisations on their products, to communicate to consumers that Tassal’s salmon is, apparently, sustainably farmed.  


Watch the Four Corners investigation into industrial salmon farming here: 

Read more
2 reactions Share

Salmon farmer Tassal referred to Senate over alleged attempt to influence witness

We've posted a bit on our facebook page about Warwick Hastwell, the mussel farmer who says his farm was destroyed by waste from the adjacent Tassal salmon farm, but that Tassal paid him to keep quiet. Tassal is now being investigated by the Senate for allegedly breaching parliamentary privilege by interfering with a witness to a Senate Inquiry. We'll be watching the investigation closely. 

Read more
Add your reaction Share

Talking Point: Huon nod to offshore fish farms changes

Published in The Mercury September 30, 2016 12:01am

Battle of the Huon

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.

Add your comments below

Add your reaction Share

Super Trawlers

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. 


Take Action to Stop the Super Trawlers!



Read more
2 reactions Share

Cleaning Up Fish Farms


Salmon Nets in Strahan 


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.



Add your reaction Share