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Don't miss the chance to have your say on offshore fish farming

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Peter Whish-Wilson 22 Feb 2022

Did you see the news that broke last week following the Greens questioning in the Senate? The State and Federal Liberal Governments have taken the first steps towards establishing fish farms in Commonwealth waters, with a trial site selected just 3-6 nautical miles off the coast of Burnie. If successful, this trial could lead to the industrialisation of our seas in Bass Strait, waters that are already under pressure from climate change, pollution, habitat loss and oil and gas drilling.  

The Government opened public submissions for this project on February 4, but typically kept it quiet. Trialling offshore salmon farming in Commonwealth waters is a sensitive and significant matter of public interest. The void of information regarding this project shows clearly that it has not been communicated in good faith with the Tasmanian public. This is fuelling divisions within the community over what is already a controversial and highly emotive issue. The secrecy and lack of detail around this project may well be deliberate given the track record of atrocious regulation of this industry, and the contempt this Government has shown those who have demanded transparency and accountability from it.

Alarmingly public submissions for the project close this Thursday 24 February, and without the Greens in parliament we would have missed this small window to respond to the project entirely. I wrote to the Federal Minister seeking an extension to the window of opportunity for the public to make submissions, and that request was declined. This failure to extend the deadline for public submissions will inevitably jeopardise this project moving forward, at a time when public confidence in the industry is at an all-time low. 

Extending the deadline for public submissions and providing more information about the project would have demonstrated that industry and government were listening to the community regarding this planned trial. The salmon industry repeatedly gets taxpayer dollars to help fund its commercial activities and this project won't be any different. We have every right to expect full transparency.

Just last week the Morrison Government responded six years late to a critical Senate Inquiry report on the regulation of the fin-fish aquaculture industry in Tasmania, staging the response slyly alongside its own government-led report on supporting the future of aquaculture. The Federal Government is required to respond to Senate Inquiry reports within three months of them being tabled. Six years is a joke. I moved for the inquiry in 2015 because the regulation of the fin-fish aquaculture industry in Tasmania had been a total disaster. The State Minister and regulators had failed spectacularly to protect the environment, including matters of national environmental significance. It was only thanks to pressure from the Greens that the Federal Environment Department finally visited Macquarie Harbour in Tasmania which led to the Tasmanian EPA ordering Tassal to de-stock its Atlantic salmon fish pens.

There’s no doubt climate change is the single biggest threat to the Tasmanian salmon aquaculture industry. Shallow waterways like Macquarie Harbour and inshore Huon Valley have experienced mass fish mortalities from unprecedented warming water associated with the burning of fossil fuels and global warming, and just recently we saw 60,000 fish deaths in kanamaluka/River Tamar. Water temperature has obviously always fluctuated in this river, but the science tells us climate change is magnifying the frequency and intensity of warming events, leading to lower oxygen levels in our waterways and higher risks of pests and diseases that kill fish and marine life. This is exactly why the aquaculture industry is seeking to trial moving fish pens way offshore into deeper Commonwealth waters, but even this will fail if our oceans continue to warm. 

So where to next for this doomed industry that continues to prove time and time again that it cannot be trusted? As a taxpayer helping fund the industry, you have a right to have your say. If you care about our oceans and coastal communities, I encourage you to urgently make a submission via the Federal Governments Have Your Say website: https://haveyoursay.awe.gov.au/aquaculture-trial-site

I am very concerned about what the trial could lead to, considering the state government’s appalling track record in regulating the industry. The Government isn’t making any promises about moving salmon farms out of the state’s inshore waters. We should demand this pledge now. This trial is just an excuse to aggressively expand the profits of the salmon barons.

You can rest assured The Greens will continue to hold our Government, and this toxic industry to account. We will never stop fighting to protect the health and future of our waterways for lutruwita/Tasmania, its people and our future.

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