What is happening in Macquarie Harbour?
In 2012 the Tasmanian Government approved a 360% expansion in salmon farm production in Macquarie Harbour from 8,000tonnes to 29,500tonnes despite warnings from ex-fish farmers, scientists and conservation groups that there wasn’t sufficient evidence that the Harbour could cope with such levels of production. Leaked documents have been tabled In Federal and State Parliament by the Greens exposing dire environmental and fish health impacts that are occurring as a result of that increase in production. These documents reveal:
Disease outbreaks: Yersinia causes septicaemia, blood spots in the eye and results in a slow lingering death – outbreaks of Yersinia have occurred in Macquarie Harbour in 2014 and 2013 affecting hundreds of thousands of salmon.
Dead zones: Dissolved oxygen levels in Macquarie Harbour are dropping so low in deeper waters that they are becoming hypoxic - dead zones where fish and marine life can’t breathe. This could lead to a total shift or collapse in the Harbour’s ecosystem.
Bacteria spreading: Pollution from farmed fish feed and faeces is creating the spread of bacteria mats throughout the Harbour.
Repeat offenders: Tassal, Huon Aquaculture and Petuna were given approval to expand salmon production in Macquarie Harbour by 360% in 2012. Since then all three companies have breached licence conditions numerous times.
Secrecy and Failing Regulator: The Tasmanian Government knows these health and environmental impacts are happening, and not only are they failing to minimise them, they are doing everything they can to cover it up.
Huon Aquaculture and Petuna state that if a temporary cap on production is not maintained “the consequences (of not doing so) are potentially severe and wide-ranging”.
What does ASC and WWF support for Tassal in Macquarie Harbour mean?
WWF say they are on a “sustainability journey” with Tassal and the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) have just certified them as “responsible”. Some of the concerns we have with these endorsements include: they certify operations where the company has made efforts on issues but not achieved; they only assess individual salmon farm leases and do not take into account all company operations, ignoring cumulative impacts; they don’t do any independent monitoring and rely on company provided data; they certify operations with numerous non-compliances. We will be providing the leaked documents to both organisations and requesting a response.
What are the environmental problems with salmon farming?
Salmon farms are like overcrowded caged chicken farms in the ocean. Up to 50,000 salmon can be put in one circular cage.
Wildlife are caught and killed:
Seals, birds, and occasionally dolphins all run the risk of being caught in aquaculture nets and dying. Whilst improvements have been made, wildlife are still dying, especially protected seals. As of June 2013, at least 144 protected seals have died as a result of fish farming in just four years.
Fish feeding fish:
It takes 1.7kg of wild fish in addition to other inputs such as grain and chicken to produce 1 kg of farmed salmon.
Nutrient pollution and dead zones:
Fish farms are the most significant source of ammonium, a form of nitrogen, in many marine areas due to the bacterial mineralization of fish faeces and feed. Salmon aquaculture increases the risk of localized oxygen depletion (dead zones) and excess nitrogen changes nutrient dynamics and increase the risk of algal blooms. Harmful Algal Blooms have started regularly occurring in waterways south of Hobart where around 70% of the state’s farmed salmon production occurs.
There is some on-site monitoring done by salmon companies and a Broadscale Environmental Monitoring Program in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel however these are very limited and the data is not available to the public. For example, there is no monitoring of impacts on seagrasses and reefs, monitoring under salmon cages is so infrequent and superficial (one video above the seafloor once a year) that it is not meaningful for assessing impacts, and a number of monitoring parameters do not have baselines or triggers so the extent and acceptable limit of impacts are unknown.
Rope, pipe and other materials from salmon farming activities frequently ends up in the waterways and polluting our beaches. Despite some efforts by companies to address this issue, debris from salmon farms is persistent in south-east Tasmania.
What are the social concerns with salmon farming?
Noise and light impacts:
Salmon farm operations can be noisy and unattractive, and have the potential to decrease property values in an area. They use generators, feed barges, net-washing machines and have servicing boats moving around constantly. In beautiful natural places like Bruny Island and the D’Entrecasteaux Channel where people live or go to fish, sail or holiday, this can really undermine the value of the place and the experience people have.
South-east Tasmania is truly spectacular and provides thousands of people with an environment to enjoy and many local businesses with a resource make a living from. Boating, recreational fishing, swimming, kayaking, tourism activities, other commercial fisheries are all impacted by the expansion of salmon farms. Coastal communities and other resource users currently have very little say in planning of the waterways because the marine farming planning system is biased towards the salmon farming companies so many social and environmental values are not being considered.
Lack of transparency:
There are growing community concerns due to a lack of transparency in the monitoring, planning and regulating of the salmon farming industry. Coastal communities and resource users do not have access to water quality data; the planning process is ad-hoc and piecemeal; there is no independent monitoring; and there are no third-party rights of appeal on planning decisions (so only the salmon companies can appeal a rejection of their plans, community cannot appeal an approval of the salmon farming plans).
The salmon farms say they are worlds-best-practice and certified as sustainable?
The Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) certification system that Tassal is being certified by is a new system and still in development - they themselves say that they certify for ‘responsibility’ not ‘sustainability’. Among other things, Environment Tasmania do not support the certification of Tassal’s current operations because they do not assess the cumulative impact of salmon farms, they only assess individual leases. You can contact Environment Tasmania for more information on our concerns with the ASC certification scheme.
The above environmental and social issues need to be addressed with improvements in monitoring, management and planning of salmon farms in south-east Tasmania before coastal communities, conservation groups, and other stakeholders will be relieved of their concerns.