Fish farming has become a divisive issue in my home state of Tasmania. In the past few months I have been contacted by a number of people concerned with the proliferation of the salmon industry and, in particular, Tassal’s proposal to produce widespread salmon farming at Okehampton Bay on Tasmania’s east coast.
I need to be perfectly clear that I do love to eat salmon and I well understand the importance to the economy of the salmon industry. I am certainly not arguing, here, to shut it down. What I am doing, however, is calling for a moratorium on any further fish farm development anywhere in Tasmanian waters until we better understand the environmental aspects of it all much better and can have greater confidence in the regulatory regime covering it.
We know that fish farming creates all sorts of marine pollution, not least because of the chemicals and feed pumped into the water as well as the effluent produced from the fish. Of course, this has a detrimental effect on water quality and it reduces oxygen levels in the surrounding waters. Even the original leaseholder at Okehampton Bay has come out in recent weeks and said that the area is, indeed, no good for salmon farming anymore. Frankly, there can be no doubt that anything less than world’s best practice fish farming is unacceptably bad for the environment. That puts at risk not only our marine and bird life but also our clean waters and beaches. It jeopardises our tourism industry as well as our recreational and commercial fisheries.
How crazy is that? We would, potentially, put one industry ahead of just about all else that makes Tasmania so very special.
Of course, the unease with fish farming in Tasmania has all the more substance because of the history of the forestry industry in the state and the way in which that industry was fawned over by countless Labor and Liberal politicians while some of the world’s most precious natural environments were literally bulldozed. No wonder so many Tasmanians are cynical about the next big thing, and all the promises that accompany it.
What is needed now is really quite simple, and that is to stop any expansion of the industry until the very best minds do the research and determine the right way forward, a way that genuinely satisfies the triple-bottom-line criteria so that, yes, the fish farms are financially viable, but also that they meet the most stringent social and environmental criteria. The Tasmanian government also needs to establish the very best regulatory framework, one that can win the complete confidence of the community. That is what is needed. That is what will the industry on a genuinely sustainable footing and ensure that Tasmania continues to supply the country, and indeed the world, with the very best produce.