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Salmon farmer looks north-west

Edition 187_PetunaWeb

North-west Tasmania, including King Island, emerged in August as a likely option for continued expansion of salmon farming in Tasmania.

Devonport-based Petuna Aquaculture, the smallest of the State’s three major farmers, is set to be the first investor in a region that is well removed from the ocean-warming threat of the recently unpredictable East Australian Current.

Petuna has an environmental monitoring permit to investigate prospective sites near Three Hummock Island.

The company’s Acting Chief Executive, David Wood, said the 50-job expansion that would cost tens of millions of dollars was still at least three years away.

Mr Wood said Petuna would work with the local community to ensure any new development had a social licence.

The north-west has a pro-development reputation, but conservationists were quick to call public meetings to build opposition to the plan.

The Minister for Primary Industry, Jeremy Rockliff, said: “The salmon industry already supports more than 5,200 jobs, most in regional Tasmania, and the rich fishing history of Circular Head and King Island makes them ideal locations for expansion.

“There is resource for everyone. Tourism and aquaculture can, have done and will continue to co-exist.”

Petuna’s target sites are among a number of "grow zones" identified in the State’s Sustainable Industry Growth Plan For The Salmon Industry which was released for public comment in August.

The draft plan rules out further expansion on the east coast north of the Tasman Peninsula, but declares a grow zone around Flinders Island, as well as those created at the western end of Bass Strait.

The plan proposes that:

  • Future growth should be largely oceanic rather than estuarine;
  • A fin-fish farming unit should be established within the Environmental Protection Authority and funded by industry levies;
  • A formal agreement on sustainable farming in Macquarie Harbour should be negotiated between licence holders and the Government; and
  • There should be a zero-tolerance approach to the generation of marine debris.

Mr Rockliff said: “We want to see this world-class industry continue to grow sustainably from its current position of $730 million in annual revenue…

“I know many Tasmanians want to see the industry grow, but also they want to have the confidence that we have the regulations right.”

Huon Aquaculture made recommendations about the regulatory structure and suggested that an international symposium on salmon farming should be held in Tasmania later this year, in collaboration with the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies.

The symposium proposal was immediately supported by the Government, the Labor Opposition and Tassal Ltd.

In reference to Petuna’s plans, the Mayor of Circular Head, Daryl Quilliam, said: “Fishing has always been an important industry for Circular Head … further development would be really good for us.”

He said jobs would be needed if the Murray Goulburn dairy plant at Edith Creek closes at the end of the year. Re-training of displaced workers would be important.

Meanwhile, Tassal received approval in August, under the Commonwealth’s Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, for its planned $30 million expansion into Okehampton Bay.

Commonwealth approval was the final regulatory hurdle for the project and freed Tassal to start the process of putting salmon in the water.

Okehampton Bay now looks likely to be the last new lease on the upper east coast.

Tassal is also restocking a lease at Long Bay, near Port Arthur, 11 years after it was last used.

The 15ha site is being prepared for at least seven salmon pens, with an option of expanding to 14 in the future.

Huon Aquaculture has received an environmental monitoring permit to explore the potential for oceanic farming off South Bruny Island.

Mr Rockcliff said: “This permit is part of the preliminary investigation process covering issues like water temperature, tidal flow and depth and also includes extensive local community consultation.”

Having weathered a fierce campaign in the media over Okehampton Bay, Tassal was named in August as the No. 2 aquaculture business in the world for its reporting.

The Seafood Intelligence annual Transparency Benchmarking Report ranks businesses on transparent corporate, social and environmental communication.

The Okehampton Bay project faces on-going Tasmanian Green opposition and possible court challenges, as well as the physical threat of ocean "heat waves" carried south on the East Australian Current.

Tassal intends to put 28 pens, capable of holding 800,000 fish, in the bay near Triabunna.

The company’s Senior Manager Corporate Engagement, Barbara McGregor, said the project would incorporate multiple species including kelp, mussels and, potentially, sea urchins.

She described Okehampton Bay as an "eco-aquaculture site" and said the project would create 50 sorely needed regional jobs.

The Commonwealth imposed conditions aimed at protecting migrating southern right whales that might enter the bay, including requiring all boats to use navigational sonar.

Australia’s Environment Minister, Josh Frydenberg, said: “The decision is supported by independent environmental advice and follows … public consultation.”

There is on-going disagreement about community attitudes to the project.

ReachTEL polling commissioned by The Mercury showed that 47.9 per cent of respondents state-wide did not support fish farming in the bay, while 29.4 per cent were in favour and 22.7 per cent were undecided.

However, in terms of issues that matter most to those Tasmanians surveyed, fish farming rated at only 2.9 per cent, while jobs and the economy rated 32.8 per cent.

Tassal is confident it has sufficient local support for the project.

Environment Tasmania, which has led the campaign against the project, is considering a legal challenge, potentially involving an injunction to stop Tassal acting to begin farming.

Tassal has offered to take its critics on tours of the site to show off joint ventures including the growing of native seaweeds and the harvesting of invasive long-spined sea urchins, as well as mussels.

Meanwhile, an action in the Hobart Supreme Court by Huon Aquaculture against the Director of the Environment Protection Authority, Wes Ford, has been adjourned.

Tasmania’s second largest salmon producer is challenging the validity of Mr Ford’s final biomass decision for fish farm leases which occupy about 1 per cent of the surface of Macquarie Harbour in western Tasmania.

Huon has also lodged proceedings in the Federal Court in relation to the biomass limits which it claims are too generous and could lead to environmental damage in the harbour.

Image courtesy of Petuna Aquaculture

6 September 2017, Edition 187

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