The waters surrounding Flinders Island today remain free from fish farms, but locals are concerned for the future. Photo SA Rips

A MURKY PLAN FOR CLEAN WATERS: Tasmania’s salmon plan leaves more questions than answers

On Saturday night, two weeks back, 56 Flinders Island locals gathered in a town hall in Whitemark to talk about salmon farms.


Tayaritja (the Furneaux Islands) in Bass Strait are currently free from salmon farms and might seem a long way removed from lutruwita (Tasmania) to the south, where the billion-dollar salmon industry has boomed in the past decade. But facing increasing scrutiny in the south, the industry is on the move, emerging from the secluded (and increasingly polluted) bays and harbours around Hobart and looking for new corners of the island state to farm salmon.


It was a modest gathering on Flinders that night – the population of the whole island chain is only about 900 people – and to many islanders, concerns about the salmon industry setting up locally still seem a long way away. There’ve been dormant aquaculture leases pegged out around Flinders and the surrounding islands since 1999, and in that time there’s been no interest from the big Tasmanian aquaculture companies in taking up a tender. The area has been considered too remote and the waters too rough to industrialise.


But after a number of environmental calamities in Tasmanian waters, and increasing evidence that pristine inshore marine environments are becoming choked with fish farm pollution, opposition to the industry in Tasmania has forced the government to look at finding new areas for the industry to operate in.


Locals on Flinders – and neighbouring King Island, where plans are underway to farm salmon next to the fabled surf break of Martha Lavinia – have been watching what’s happening in waters to the south and see a clear threat to their way of life.


The previous week, the Tasmanian Government had visited Flinders Island and in the same hall at Whitemark presented their Draft Tasmanian Salmon Industry Plan. According to locals who attended, they downplayed the likelihood of the salmon industry setting up in the islands.


Locals were unconvinced.

Jess Coughlan, Dan Ross and Heath Joske discuss the wider salmon farm issue in Tasmania during their visit to Flinders. Photo SA Rips

Announced late last year, the plan was billed by the Tasmanian Government as a ‘reset’ for the increasingly controversial industry. The draft plan offered a one-year moratorium on new leases, with a goal to make the industry sustainable in the long term by moving it onto land, or out into deeper “offshore” waters. Environmental groups who’ve battled both the industry and the state government on fish farms for over a decade however were openly sceptical.

“This is not what we see in the draft document, or are hearing in the community briefing sessions,” says Jess Coughlan, who’s been fighting against fish farms down in Tasmania and attended the Flinders community night. “Essentially, use of the term ‘sustainable’ in the plan itself, applies to how much the environment, as a resource, can sustain the industry, with acceptable collateral damage, and not how the industry can operate in a way that sustains a functioning, balanced ecosystem.”

The draft salmon plan in many areas posed more questions than it answered. It contains no maps, for a starter. The draft plan doesn’t define what’s considered “offshore waters”, and also exclusively refers only to salmon, despite the industry looking at expanding into white flesh fish like kingfish as ocean temperatures rise with the effects of climate change. At the briefing session, islanders asked questions around the use of freshwater by the industry, the effects on the local cray and abalone industries, the use of often lethal seal deterrents and the recognition of Indigenous water rights. They were left underwhelmed by the responses.

The message from locals at the salmon farm film and information night at Whitemark was pretty clear. Photo SA Rips

Jess Coughlan sees the plan lacking in crucial detail, and more a greenwashing exercise than a legitimate attempt to clean up the industry. “Since the plan’s draft publication and briefing sessions, the government has taken the 10-year time frame off the document, and announced it is a more fluid document, without timeline-adhered goals. This is typical of what Tasmanians have come to expect from an industry that operates on a model of adaptive management. What this looks like is irresponsible optimistic planning, which favours industry’s demands above the needs of the environment, and a government not willing to commit to regulating it.”

The real fear though for Tasmanians and locals on the Bass Strait islands is that this weakly defined plan has dropped at the same time that two of Tasmania’s original aquaculture companies have been snapped up by giant, aggressive multinational companies with dubious environmental track records and histories of aggressive growth. In November, Cooke Inc snapped up Tassal while Brazilian meat giant JBS bought Huon Aquaculture.

“I don’t trust them,” says Flinders local, Addy Jones, “the Government or the big companies. They came here with their plan telling everyone not to worry, there’ll never be salmon farms here. Well if that’s the case, why were they even here?”

The waters surrounding Flinders Island today remain free from fish farms, but locals are concerned for the future. Photo SA Rips


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