Maugean Skate Recovery Team fails to agree to act to protect the skate


The Australia Institute has found that a communique, released late on Friday 4th August by the Department of Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania, is lacking action to prevent the extinction of the endangered Maugean skate.

The National Recovery Team for the Maugean Skate Meeting 1: Public Communique describes the role of the Recovery Team, its members, and the summary of outcomes of its first meeting, but does not include agreed actions or timeframes.

Key points:

  • The communique states that the Recovery Team will work together over coming months to formulate and implement a roadmap of actions.
  • The Australia Institute wrote to Minister Plibersek in June calling on her to review the decision that allowed the expansion of fish farming in Macquarie Harbour in 2012 and reminding her of her obligation to protect the skate.
  • One-third of Macquarie Harbour lies within the boundaries of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, while a further third is within the South-West Conservation Area on Tasmania’s west coast. The Maugean skate is one of the World Heritage Area’s values.
  • The Maugean skate has been listed as endangered in Tasmanian legislation since 2002 and in national legislation since 2004.

“The endangered Maugean skate is on the brink of extinction. Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS ) scientists interrupted their usual business in May to tell us that urgent action is needed to save the species. It’s now August and nothing has changed to improve water quality – there are no agreed actions and no timeframe for anything to change,” said Eloise Carr, Director, Australia Institute Tasmania.

“The Australia Institute wrote to Minister Plibersek in June, calling on her to review the decision that allowed the expansion of fish farming in Macquarie Harbour in 2012. The science is clear: the increase in fish farming in the Harbour is linked to the drop in dissolved oxygen. We know this is harming the skate,” said Ms Carr.

“Minister Plibersek has obligations to act to protect the skate under the EPBC Act, the World Heritage Convention, Australian World Heritage management principles and the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area Management Plan.”

“It’s a plan to make a plan. Will the Maugean skate become extinct while the Recovery Team keeps arguing?”

“The federal environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, acknowledged the key threat to the skate is low oxygen levels, the link with this to fish farming and the role of river flow management for hydroelectricity when she was in Hobart last month. It’s time to have some difficult conversations about changes to this industry – where it is safe for it to operate and moving out of where it is not. But instead, the Tasmanian Government keeps on subsidising it with public money.”

“It is apparent from the 2012 decision that the then federal environment Minister thought fish farming could expand in Macquarie Harbour without any significant impacts on the Maugean Skate. We now have ample evidence that shows that was wrong.”

“World Heritage Macquarie Harbour, on Tasmania’s west coast, has suffered impacts from mining and forestry since the nineteenth century. But it’s the Harbour’s twenty-first century salmon industry that will go down in history for being linked to the extinction of a species if business as usual continues.”


  • In May this year, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) scientists interrupted an endangered 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.
  • The IMAS report confirms fish farms are having a significant impact on the Maugean skate by causing a lack of oxygen in the water, pushing the Maugean skate towards extinction. Gillnetting, extreme weather and the regulation of hydro-electric dam releases are adding to the threats, as is climate change, but the underlying problem is the lack of oxygen caused by pollution from fish farming.