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One Big Lie

{"html"=>"An excerpt from Toxic: The Rotting Underbelly of the Tasmanian Salmon Industry.\n", "markdown"=>"An excerpt from Toxic: **The Rotting** Underbelly of the *Tasmanian Salmon Industry.*"}
Storm Bay sits at the southeast corner of Tasmania and is the main port for its capital, Hobart. Photo: Mariusz Kluzniak

Storm Bay sits at the southeast corner of Tasmania and is the main port for its capital, Hobart. Photo: Mariusz Kluzniak

From his shack on Tasmania’s Bruny Island, Booker-Prize-winning author, Flanagan witnessed the industry degrade local waterways and deplete native fish stocks. He’s seen a billion-dollar industry capture the ear of government and silence critics … and an industry pushing ecosystems to the point of collapse. His book, Toxic: The Rotting Underbelly of the Tasmanian Salmon Industry, is a chilling read for anyone who has swam, surfed, dived, fished or kayaked in sparkling Tasmanian waters. And even more troubling for anybody who eats Tasmanian salmon.

From his shack on Tasmania’s Bruny Island, Booker-Prize-winning author, Flanagan witnessed the industry degrade local waterways and deplete native fish stocks. He’s seen a billion-dollar industry capture the ear of government and silence critics … and an industry pushing ecosystems to the point of collapse. His book, Toxic: The Rotting Underbelly of the Tasmanian Salmon Industry, is a chilling read for anyone who has swam, surfed, dived, fished or kayaked in sparkling Tasmanian waters. And even more troubling for anybody who eats Tasmanian salmon.

The following excerpt opens the book.

In the beginning its sea was rich and wondrous. We’d snorkel and fish and swim and beachcomb. Marvelling. So many people came to visit and stayed with us in that old vertical board shack on Bruny Island. And everyone felt it was one of those special, magical places.

The shack became our family’s heart-place. Soon it also became where I went to write. I’d live there for up to six months of the year. It combined teeming life with an improbable serenity so pronounced it was possible to distinguish birds—an eastern rosella, say, from a shrike thrush—by the noise their wings made cutting the air. For near twenty-five years its beauty, its wonder, its lively tranquillity, fed my writing.

The large waterway on to which the shack faced, D’Entrecasteaux Channel, was famous for its scallops, its oysters and flathead. Crayfish and abalone could be had. I would boast to friends of how the place crawled with life. Penguins nested under our shack; I’d wake in the middle of the night to the soft sound of dolphins breaching, and increasingly whales were returning.

In 2002 I became aware of noise from a small salmon farm a kilometre and a half across the water, a farm so inconsequential I had never really thought about it. I reported the noise to the Tasmanian government department responsible, the Marine Farming Branch. They investigated, the noise stopped, and it seemed an end of things.

Then in 2005 noise returned.

This time everything was different. The farm had a new operator: Tassal, the largest salmon company in Tasmania. The company had a chequered past, and had only recently come out of receivership. Announcing a new focus on growing, and slashing costs, it had purchased Aquatas, the previous operators of the farm. With others, I went back to the government.

A senior bureaucrat at the Marine Farming Branch was very clear: Tassal, he said, was a nightmare. “I can’t do anything,” he said, leaning back in his chair and folding his hands behind his head. “If I do something, Tassal rings the minister’s office, and the minister’s office rings me. So I can’t help.”

I have often thought about that strange day since. Government no longer seemed to be government, regulators no longer were burdened by the need to regulate, rule breakers had through an incomprehensible metamorphosis become rule makers, and the new rules seemed made not by parliament but by a profit-and-loss ledger—by, in other words, greed.

The senior bureaucrat advised us that our only hope was to deal directly with Tassal.

And for the next fifteen years we did. Over fifteen years you might expect any industrial operation, particularly one with concerned neighbours, to gradually become quieter and cleaner. You would certainly expect government to improve regulation. But that’s not what happened. The government regulators did nothing. As salmon farming industrialised, the farm grew larger, noisier and filthier, flogging our waters harder and harder, a Tassal senior employee once confiding that they breached their stocking limits there by 50 percent.

For fifteen years our community tried to find an honourable compromise with Tassal. None of us wanted a fight. We wanted the beauty and happiness of our world to continue. That was all. We didn’t like the growing evidence of marine pollution, of a struggling marine ecosystem, but we felt these were beyond our tiny influence, so we restricted our entreaties to noise only. We didn’t like the salmon farm, but we felt compelled to accept it in a “live and let live” spirit.

But while we let Tassal live, things began to die.

”The term ‘farm’ is a polite misnomer for what is in reality a floating feedlot.” A salmon pen off of Macquarie Harbour in Strahan, Tasmania. Photo: Martin Lindsay/ Alamy

I found myself falling deeper and deeper into the story of what happened, and how it happened, and all that is being destroyed to make the Tasmanian salmon we eat.

Toxic is published by Penguin Books Australia.

Find out more about this global issue in the Patagonia film Artifishal. Watch Paradise Lost about the Tasmanian salmon industry here.

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