Federal Intervention Required to Call Out Salmon Industry’s Clearly Unacceptable Impacts on Maugean Skate



The Australia Institute Tasmania has provided the federal environment department with substantial new information and evidence of a substantial change in circumstances that should lead to a change to the 2012 decision that allowed large-scale fish farming in Macquarie Harbour.

The information is contained in the Institute’s submission to the federal Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Protection Act (EPBC Act) review of salmon farming in Macquarie Harbour.

Consultation as part of the review process closes today. The EPBC Act allows for such reviews when new evidence becomes available about impacts on matters of national environmental significance.

The Australia Institute Tasmania’s work was critical to triggering the review.

Key points in the Australia Institute Tasmania’s submission:

  • The Australia Institute and Equity Generation Lawyers wrote to the Environment Minister in June and July, 2023, with new scientific evidence showing the endangered Maugean skate, a ray-like animal, is at risk of extinction in Macquarie Harbour, due in large part to salmon farming
  • With less than 1,000 individuals left, Australia’s Threatened Species Scientific Committee has recommended increasing the threat level faced by the skate from endangered to critically endangered
  • In May 2023, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) scientists interrupted a Maugean skate monitoring program to call for urgent conservation action, after finding the population of skate has rapidly declined by almost half since 2014. Of particular concern is that they found very few juveniles coming through to keep the population viable
  • Australia Institute surveys have found strong support for government action to address the impacts of salmon farming, including:
    • Nationwide research, which found that three in five respondents (61%) support stopping fish farming where it puts the endangered Maugean skate at risk of extinction, while one in six (17%) oppose it. A majority of Franklin voters (56%) – the electorate adjacent to the highest density of fish farms in the state – support stopping fish farming where it risks the extinction of the Maugean skate
    • Between 72-74% of Tasmanians support the Parliamentary Inquiry recommendation to reduce inshore salmon farming, with priority given to ceasing operations in sensitive, sheltered, and biodiverse areas
    • Salmon farming impacts were ranked as the most urgent priority that needs action to protect Tasmania’s marine life, with one in three Franklin voters (34%) choosing this option
    • Three quarters (76%) of Tasmanian are concerned or very concerned about the health of their coastal waters
  • Australian Government Conservation Advice for the Maugean skate, clearly identifies fish farming in Macquarie harbour as causing the main impact on the endangered Maugean skate. It says:
    • The highest priority conservation action is to “eliminate or significantly reduce the impacts of salmonid aquaculture on dissolved oxygen concentrations”
    • It says the fastest and simplest way to achieve this is to significantly reduce fish biomass
    • This is an urgent priority to be actioned before this summer (2023-24)

“The IMAS report and other research published since 2012 provide substantial new information about the impacts of salmon farming on the Maugean skate. This is evidence of a substantial change in circumstances that was not foreseen at the time of the original decision,” said Eloise Carr, Director, Australia Institute Tasmania.

“The science is clear: Minister Plibersek should change the decision that allowed large-scale fish farming a decade ago. This activity is clearly having an unacceptable impact and a decision should be made that recognises that. Salmon farming in Macquarie Harbour must end to save the skate.

“Two of the four endangered Maugean skates have died in the captive breeding program designed to prevent their extinction. With fewer than 1000 skates left, it’s more important than ever for Macquarie Harbour to recover as quickly as possible, so that the skate can survive in its only natural habitat.

“The decision to greenlight expanded marine farming operations was made more than a decade ago, on the grounds the operations would not significantly impact the skate. We now know that it is –Australian Government scientists have recognised this and recommended urgent measures that were recommended for action before this summer.

“We are calling on the environment minister to decide that large-scale fish farming in Macquarie Harbour is clearly unacceptable and should be stopped immediately. Any alternative decision is inconsistent with her own department’s advice.”

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