Australian minister tells Tasmania she may reconsider salmon farm licensing in wake of ‘catastrophic’ impact on rare fish.
The Australian Minister for the Environment, Tanya Plibersek, has sent a letter to the Tasmanian government, indicating a possible reconsideration of decade-old salmon farms in Macquarie Harbour due to concerns about their impact on a critically endangered species.
Macquarie Harbour is home to a number of sites belonging to JBS-owned Huon, Sealord backed Petuna and Cooke-owned Tassal.
Scientific warnings have emerged, suggesting that the salmon industry is having a “catastrophic” effect on the skate, an ancient fish believed to be exclusive to the vast harbour on the state’s west coast.
In September, the federal threatened species scientific committee reported a “high risk of extinction for the species in the near future” and recommended urgent action, including reducing salmon farming to improve dissolved oxygen levels before summer.
Salmon farming loads
In her letter to Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockliff, the Australian Environment Minister stressed that improved regulation and monitoring of the salmon farming industry’s impact on the environment, including reducing salmon farming loads, were crucial steps in protecting the species.
“The last remaining population is under enormous pressure due to the low oxygen levels and poor water quality in the harbour,” the Environment Minister stated. “Urgent action must be taken to change this. Failure to do so will have implications for the long-term viability of important regional industries and jobs, especially in tourism and aquaculture.”
Plibersek mentioned that her department is examining three requests, including those from the Australia Institute, the Bob Brown Foundation, and the Environmental Defenders’ Office, to reconsider whether the salmon industry has the necessary approvals to operate in Macquarie Harbour.
If these requests are deemed legally valid, it would trigger a comprehensive consultation process involving the state government, the salmon industry, its workforce, the union, and the local community.
Pause in operations?
“If the reconsideration finds that the salmon industry in Macquarie Harbour does not have the necessary environmental approvals, [national environment law] would require operations to pause while approvals are sought,” Plibersek added. She also expressed her commitment to exploring actions within her legal obligations to support the Tasmanian government regulator and the salmon farming industry in establishing a truly sustainable operation.
A decision to reconsider the approval of farms owned by Tassal, Petuna, and Huon Aquaculture could provoke strong opposition from the industry and its supporters in the Tasmanian government and Labor opposition. Luke Martin, the CEO of Salmon Tasmania, emphasized that the industry would fiercely defend its interests and jobs.
Salmon farming operates alongside several other industries in the harbour, and despite a reduction in the industry’s scale in 2017, dissolved oxygen levels have not seen significant improvement, according to Martin.