Letters to EPA, Department: Evidence demands state and federal action against fish farm licence renewals in Macquarie Harbour


The science is clear: Removing fish farming from Macquarie Harbour is an urgent priority to be actioned before this summer.

The Australia Institute, with Equity Generation Lawyers, has written to the Environment Protection Authority and Department of Natural Resources and the Environment with compelling scientific evidence and legal advice demonstrating clear grounds for the non-renewal of existing licences in Macquarie Harbour when they expire on 30 November 2023.

This follows earlier correspondence to the Federal Environment Minister (8 June 2023, 31 July 2023), urging the federal government to intervene and end marine farming in Tasmania’s Macquarie Harbour, which is threatening the endangered Maugean skate.

Key points

  • Federal Government’s Conservation Advice on the endangered Maugean skate says that 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.
  • In June 2023 the Australia Institute triggered a review of the federal government decision that allowed large-scale marine farming in Macquarie Harbour.
  • There is a unique opportunity now to act, as all licences for marine farming in Macquarie Harbour expire on 30 November 2023.
  • Letters have been sent to the Environment Protection Authority (15 September 2023) and Department of Natural Resources and the Environment (28 September 2023) detailing the evidence on which they should refuse to renew marine farming licences and cancel leases in the Harbour.
  • Criteria that the decision makers can consider in refusing to renew a licence are broad and include:
    – Environmental constraints;
    – Considerations of improper conduct; and
    – Past contraventions of conditions of the licences.

“Neither regulator is taking responsibility for making decisions about the impacts of the salmon industry on Macquarie Harbour,” said Eloise Carr, Director, The Australia Institute Tasmania.

“Despite all the scientific evidence, the Director of the EPA has publicly said that he intends to renew all environmental licences on the same conditions. The Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources and Environment is on the record saying it is premature to make any decision about reducing fish stocks in Macquarie Harbour. These comments demonstrate that the salmon industry has an undue influence on the Tasmanian Government.

“The science is clear: Removing fish farming from Macquarie Harbour is an urgent priority to be actioned before this summer.

“The salmon industry continues to heavily lobby the government, exaggerating its economic benefit to both the Tasmanian government and community. Salmon Tasmania’s figures have been completely discredited by respected economist Dr Graeme Wells, as well as by the Australia Institute.

“Census data shows that salmon farming employs at best 1,700 people in Tasmania, less than 1% of Tasmanian jobs. On the other hand, 19,400 people are employed in tourism, which is heavily reliant on the natural environment. It’s troubling that some Tasmanian leaders are willing to use discredited statistics in order to benefit the salmon industry.”

“The Environment Minister has pledged to stop extinctions of Australian species. The Maugean skate is on the brink of extinction. Minister Plibersek has a unique opportunity to make good on that pledge by using her powers to reverse an old decision and protect the Maugean skate and the whole Macquarie Harbour ecosystem,” said Jess Holgersson, Senior Associate, Equity Generation Lawyers.

“This is also a critical opportunity for the State Government to intervene. Our client, the Australia Institute, is asking the EPA and the Department of Natural Environment and Resources to refuse to renew marine farming licences in Macquarie Harbour. A key criteria for renewal is compliance with licence conditions, and there is ample evidence that Huon, Tassal and Petuna have repeatedly infringed their licence conditions.”

“The community is seriously concerned over the operation of marine farming in Macquarie Harbour, including because the operators, who are now all foreign-owned, have interfered in senate inquiries, covered up antibiotic use and have links to bribery scandals. Despite this, and the abundance of scientific evidence that shows a direct link between marine farming and significant population loss of the Maugean skate, the EPA has flagged that they intend to renew the licences on the same conditions,” said Holgersson.

Related documents

Correspondence on behalf of Federal Environment Minister

Letter to Director EPA

Letter to Secretary NRE