Controversy as dozens of cormorants shot by salmon farm operator

Editorial Staff

The company estimated losses of up to $20,000 of salmon per day.

Tasmanian salmon farm operator Tassal legally killed 53 native cormorants with permission from the Department of Natural Resources and Environment last year.

The Tasmanian government approved the shooting after substandard netting allowed hundreds of the birds to enter fish cages at the Sheppards salmon lease near Coningham in November and December 2023.

Right to Information documents released to the Tasmanian Inquirer revealed that an estimated 641 cormorants entered the fish cages, resulting in significant financial losses for Tassal. The company estimated losses of between $10,000 and $20,000 of salmon per day.

Thirty-six great cormorants died after becoming entangled in bird netting, and Tassal was granted permits to shoot up to 50 cormorants as a “last resort” measure. The permits were intended to scare the birds away, but the tactic proved ineffective. Subsequently, Tassal applied for and was granted a second permit to shoot an additional 30 cormorants, ultimately culling 53 birds.

The first the department knew of the issue was on 6 December, when Tassal submitted a monthly wildlife interactions report. The company’s report said that there had “been no changes in the exclusion infrastructure that could have led to this increased interaction”, but an attached spreadsheet noted that 20 cormorants had entered one cage through a hole in the netting.

Two days later, Tassal applied for a permit to shoot up to 50 cormorants as large numbers of the birds were squeezing through the 100mm bird netting or weighing down the nets to gain access to the salmon. Tassal estimated that it was losing between $10,000 and $20,000 of salmon a day.

According to the documents, a department officer wrote in a file note on Tassal’s permit application that Tassal wanted to “shoot to scare” the cormorants away and discussed “the need for lethal control on a small number to deter the rest from settling”.

A later file note reported that a Tassal representative had said the “shoot and scare” tactic was ineffective. “They noted that a cormorant would not move away even if the cormorant sitting next to it was shot,” it said.

The department granted the permit but stressed to a Tassal executive that “lethal control of these birds is a last resort”, according to the documents.

Within nine days of being granted the permit, Tassal reported that 36 cormorants had died from entanglement in bird netting. In the week before Christmas, the department granted Tassal a second permit to shoot up to another 30 cormorants. Tassal later reported that 53 cormorants “were humanely culled” at the lease.

In its application for the second permit, a Tassal executive said the company was “installing the correct upgraded exclusion infrastructure”. But they noted that some nets were second-hand, and the company was continuing the “tensioning and repair process”. The records say Tassal replaced the original 100mm mesh netting with 70mm mesh nets.

Gerard Castles, president of the Killora Community Association, criticized the shootings as “outrageous” and called for a complete, transparent audit of Tassal’s operations.

Tassal’s 2022 sustainability report reveals there were 104 bird deaths at the company’s salmon farms in the five years to June 2022. A further 1,599 birds were released from inside salmon cages.


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