My overriding concern with the draft plan is that one side of an argument is promoted to the exclusion of the opposite view.
Thus the starting point is that the Tasmanian Government is committed to open-water salmon farming, a fait accompli; the Government comes to us with its mind closed to the alternative. It says it is open to how salmon aquaculture should be done, but does not invite discussion on if it should be done. It does not start from a neutral position, and it should.
This is a manipulative approach designed to polarise the audience and stifle critics. It is unfortunately common in political discourse as a way of leading, or worse coercing, the public into supporting a government’s policies.
Our Government says it is committed to science-based decisions: what if the independent science tells us that salmon farming is not environmentally sustainable? Many respected independent scientists are concerned with industry’s practice and record. We should remove industry and political influence from salmon farming decisions – it should be all about the independent science.
I have received many concerns from constituents about current and proposed salmon farming in Tasmanian waters. I have also received repeated criticisms of the Salmon Industry Plan community briefing sessions conducted by the Department of Natural Resources and Environment.
Many say the draft plan is deliberately misleading, and lacks detail, clarity or scientific underpinnings. Constituents have told me that the consultation sessions are “a joke” because, at a dinner attended by industry executives, the Premier promised to give the industry “whatever it wanted”.
I cannot know the veracity of those statements, but I understand the community’s suspicion of the relationship between regulator and industry when, as I have stated, the Government begins the Plan with is commitment to open-water salmon farming.
In representing Tasmanians, I sponsored and supported two petitions to Parliament in November 2022. One was on behalf of citizens concerned with marine farming at Long Bay, Tasman Peninsula, and received 1.287 signatures:
So Long Salmon Farms – Give Back Long Bay
The petition of the undersigned citizens of Tasmania draws to the attention of the House the Report of the Legislative Council Committee Inquiry into Finfish Farming in Tasmania, which received 225 submissions and made 194 findings and 68 recommendations, with particular note to Recommendation 3: “Develop a plan, in consultation with industry, scientific and community stakeholders, to reduce inshore fin fish farming sites, with priority given to ceasing operations in sensitive, sheltered and biodiverse areas.
Your petitioners, therefore, request the House to call on the Government to:
- Implement all of the Recommendations of the Report;
- Finalise an evidence-based, sustainable and consultative Salmon Industry Growth Plan; and
- Require the cessation of all salmon farming operations, as a matter of priority, within Long Bay (Port Arthur) and remediate the area.
The other was on behalf of 1,140 Tasmanians concerned with fish farm expansion in coastal waters, particularly in Bass Strait.
Moratorium on expansion on finfish farming in Tasmanian and Commonwealth waters
The petition of the undersigned Citizens of Tasmania draws to the attention of the House, the Report of the Legislative Council Committee Inquiry into Finfish Farming in Tasmania which received 225 submissions and made 194 findings and 68 recommendations including:
- A revised Salmon Industry Growth Plan be developed as one aspect of an overarching Marine Plan for Tasmania, through a process that:
– includes comprehensive stakeholder consultation;
– is informed by assessment of environmental, social and recreational values;
– has a transparent evidence base.
- Ensure a revised Salmon Industry Growth Plan specifies potential fin fish farming areas identified through a process of marine spatial planning and sets an industry growth target for these areas which is transparently developed, sustainable and evidence-based.
- Develop a plan, in consultation with industry, scientific and community stakeholders, to reduce inshore fin fish farming sites, with priority given to ceasing operations in sensitive sheltered and biodiverse areas.
- There be no further expansion of the fin fish farming industry in the form of new farming areas or increased stocking limits until the revised Salmon Industry Growth Plan is finalised.
Your petitioners, therefore, request the House to call on the Government to:
(1) Place a moratorium on all finfish farming expansion, including the plans for expansion in northern Tasmanian coastal waters and in Commonwealth controlled waters of Bass Strait, until open, honest and comprehensive public consultation is completed;
(2) Fully consider all 68 recommendations of the Finfish Report: and
(3) Finalise a Salmon Industry Growth Plan.
The Industry and Oversight
I, and many in the community, have grave reservations about the motives of the multi-national companies that now dominate fin fish farming in Tasmania. For instance, a constituent has raised the extent of the litigation that Cook Aquaculture has taken against the USA state of Washington – I understand there were four separate cases over five years that went all the way to the Supreme Court, costing Washington State millions of dollars in legal costs.
Many citizens do not trust the operators to act in Tasmania’s best interest, and do not trust the Government to adequately regulate and oversee the industry’s practices. I am regularly reminded of the Macquarie Harbour debacle as a failure of regulator and a failure of industry, and I am not confident that we aren’t already seeing these mistakes repeated.
For example, I am told that Huon Aquaculture notified the community that it was stocking a new lease at Garden Island Creek, just a few hundred metres from a popular swimming beach on the Huon River. A resident tells me it is close to where children swim and that on one occasion she heard eight shots or explosions in the course of just a few hours. The resident’s view is that Huon’s motive was concerned with water temperatures in Storm Bay being so high that they will be a mortality risk to their fish stock, in effect telling the community “we are taking fish out of this offshore area and putting them back right on your doorstep in shallow water …”.
The overwhelming feedback I get to my office, and I see time again in the media and previous submissions to the Legislative Council and industry plans, is that people don’t trust the big companies or the Government. This Draft Tasmanian Salmon Industry plan does nothing to allay those fears or develop confidence in the community.
What the Plan and the Government fail to understand is that every-day Tasmanians have seen the effect of salmon farming in their waterways, and there’s nothing in the Plan for them not to think that we will keep on repeating mistakes of the past. They tell me of the pollution at Strahan, Port Arthur and Okehampton Bay. The oil slicks from the pens, the algae blooms, smothering of sea beds, the dumping of antibiotics into local waters, the faeces and plastic pollution that wash up onto the beaches, the noise, the visual pollution: it goes on.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the Plan is the under-playing of rigorous science. In my opinion, hard science should determine every aspect of the Plan, not vague platitudes like “world-best practice” and “healthy ecosystems”.
I support the views of respected independent water quality scientist Dr Christine Coughanowr who, on behalf of the Tasmanian Independent Science Council, wrote to The Mercury newspaper in a letter published 18 January 2023. In short, Dr Coughanowr’s main points were:
- The Draft Plan “completely missed the mark” in largely ignoring feedback from the community and the final report from the Legislative Council inquiry into the Tasmanian salmon industry. The community is being repeatedly consulted, but their concerns are neither being genuinely considered nor addressed.
- The salmon industry has grown too quickly over the past ten years, without the necessary independent regulatory, scientific and biosecurity frameworks in place, placing unreasonable stress on coastal and freshwater environments and communities.
- The issue of greatest concern to the community is that of existing leases in sheltered waterways, and the potential that these will be expanded further into new areas or further intensified.
- The draft plan and the responses given at community briefing sessions imply that existing leases will be retained, and likely extended to new areas.
- The financial return to the state is poorly documented and appears to be pitiful, compared to other parts of the world.
- There should be a genuine moratorium on further salmon expansion in Tasmania’s marine and freshwater systems, together with an audit and risk assessment of current operations.
- Freshwater operations need a major overhaul, including the urgent phasing out of flow-through hatcheries.
It is clear to me that the salmon farming industry has not obtained a broad social licence, and this Plan won’t bring it any closer.
Further pursuit of this Plan as a consultation vehicle will have the opposite effect to that intended: the community will be further polarised and any hope of a social licence lost.
I call for a major rewrite of the Plan, as recommended by the TISC, based on the precautionary principle. It should include a genuine pause on further growth until the science is resolved, an audit of and a scaling back of in-shore operations, a definite pathway to land production, and a well-resourced and independent Environmental Protection Agency.
Only then can we consider if salmon farming is appropriate for Tasmania.
Kristie Johnston MP
Independent member for Clark