An ASC Audit on Tassal’s Macquarie Harbour operations, released today, has found Tassal have failed to meet the Aquaculture Stewardship Council’s minimum standards for oxygen provision to fish and the environment for the third consecutive year. Despite this, Tassal’s auditors, SCS Global, have recommended that Tassal retain its best-practice, ASC certification. In response, Environment Tasmania is calling on the ASC to end direct payments of auditors by companies, and for the conservation group WWF to remove itself from the ASC Board, due to a financial conflict of interests that is threatening the integrity of the ASC system.
"It is baffling that after years of failing to conform with ASC Standards for pollution levels in Macquarie Harbour and Tasmania’s rivers, Tassal will hold on to their ASC logo,” says Laura Kelly, Strategy Director at Environment Tasmania. “We support third party accreditation, but its failure in Macquarie Harbour is bringing the entire ASC brand into disrepute and misleading consumers about the sustainability of Tassal’s salmon,” Ms Kelly says.
Released today, Tassal's ASC Audit report has been produced by SCS Global, a company Tassal pays directly for their auditing services. The report documents that dissolved oxygen dropped below the minimum 70 per cent saturation threshold on five occasions during March 2017 surveys, whilst remaining above the minimum threshold at control sites. This continues a pattern of lower than required oxygen levels and breaches in environmental and fish welfare conditions, which were documented in Tassal’s 2015 and 2016 ASC audits.
As well as a failure to meet minimum oxygen standards, the audit report also documents Tassal’s failure to meet the minimum threshold for environmental harm at two of its hatcheries, a breach which has persisted since 2014. In response, the audit company has granted Tassal yet another extension on compliance, accepting Tassal’s complaint that remedying the breach would entail ‘significant capital costs’ and commending Tassal’s “considerable level of intent” to comply with ASC Standards.
“Accreditation awarded regardless of a persistent failure to meet accreditation standards is proof that companies can’t simply pay for a logo and expect it to reassure consumers,” Ms Kelly says.
“Environment Tasmania is calling on the ASC to put a stop to direct payment of auditors by companies. We are also calling on WWF to do the right thing, and either stop taking money from Tassal or remove itself from the ASC Board. It is not appropriate for WWF to continue to receive up to half a million dollars a year from Tassal, a conflict of interest which should disqualify WWF from overseeing what should be an independent accreditation process,” Ms Kelly said.
Environment Tasmania has also raised concerns regarding ASC Auditors failure to document Tassal's compliance with Federal laws in the form of EPBC water quality triggers, an issue currently the subject of state and federal legal proceedings. The audit report also fails to provide evidence of Tassal's 'in-lease' compliance in Macquarie Harbour, compliance which Environment Tasmania has been unable to verify due to the Tasmanian EPA's position that in-lease compliance information is 'commercial in confidence'.
Environment Tasmania will proceed with challenges to the Auditors recommendations, both within ASC processes and to the international accreditation body, Accreditation Standards International.
The SCS Global report is available here.