In the wild, salmon have two growth phases. They hatch and spend their early life in fresh water, then they migrate to the sea where they grow and mature, then they return to their natal river to spawn. Salmon farming mimics this pattern by hatching and growing young fish in inland freshwater hatcheries, then transferring them to seawater pens where they grow until ready for harvest.
The hatcheries pollute rivers and lakes, and the seawater pens destroy coastal ecosystems.
It is indefensible for the salmon industry to put these costs upon Tasmanians while the companies line their pockets with exorbitant profits. The rest of the world is taking a different approach to salmon farming and leaving Tasmania behind. Modern technology allows for salmon farming to take place in land-based fully-recirculating facilities. So why do we continue to use archaic equipment and methods? This is untenable in the long run as world markets increasingly seek sustainable business models.
Tasmania is one of the very last truly wild places on earth; wanton corporate environmental destruction has already damaged our clean green image, but it is not too late to recoup what is our priceless global asset. We risk being left behind with nothing but a destroyed environment and a product that the world does not want.
We are calling formally on the Tasmanian Government to convene a Royal Commission to enforce acceptable operational standards on this destructive industry (jump to the petition at Change.org).
Six straightforward changes would create a salmon farming industry in Tasmania that will be sustainable and robust in our rapidly changing world. This would ensure a healthy industry and protect the jobs and communities that depend on it.
3. Abolishing Sea-based Feed-lots
Sea-based farms, which are basically floating feed-lots, produce immense quantities of waste. Tons of excrement and uneaten food coat the seabed in a thick blanket of sludge, choking all plant and animal life and leaving a low-oxygen dead zone that resembles a nuclear wasteland. Moreover, these low-oxygen conditions can cause mercury and other heavy metals in the sediments to be resuspended into the water. Our food is being raised in this pollution.
We call for all sea-based farms to be transferred to land-based operations meeting the requirement in item 2 (above) for water purity.
4. Zero Tolerance of Animal Cruelty
Each year, dozens of seals are killed in salmon farm interactions, while tens of thousands of underwater explosives are detonated each year to scare away more. Other native animals are injured by these actions. It is fully unacceptable to actively harm protected or native wildlife in the pursuit of profit. It is incumbent upon the salmon farming industry to develop methods of farming that do not kill, injure, harass, or otherwise harm native seals, dolphins, penguins, endangered handfish and weedy sea dragons, and other protected species. This explicitly includes but is not limited to the use of 'bean bags', 'seal crackers', 'scare darts', shotguns, and other forms of weaponry.
1. Reformed Regulatory Framework
First and foremost, the Government must nominate a fully independent regulator of the salmon industry. This industry is currently on a fast track to self-annihilation through its destruction of the environment on which it relies to grow wholesome fish and through its flagrant disregard for social license. No industry can persist like this. Public confidence in the current regulatory structure is in crisis, and this structure is unlikely to lead the industry to true environmental and economic sustainability.
5. Transparency on Food Safety
Matters of food safety have arisen based on peer-reviewed studies, calling into question the safety and wholesomeness of Tasmanian farmed salmon. Applying the Precautionary Principle, these issues must be taken with deadly seriousness. They include but are not limited to the following concerns:
- Resuspension of mercury in the environment due to fish farm-related hypoxia
- Mercury bioaccumulation in farmed salmon via fish scraps in feed production
- Other legacy heavy metals in the fish (e.g., arsenic, zinc, cadmium, copper, lead)
- Residues of antibiotics in the fish and in aquatic environments
- Enhancement of blue-green algae downstream of hatcheries, and stimulation of BMAA* in drinking water
- *BMAA, or β-N-methylamino-L-alanine, is associated with Motor Neurone Disease, Parkinson's Disease, and Alzheimer's Disease
- Synthetic antioxidant Ethoxyquin (and its derivatives), a putative carcinogen, in the fish and in the environment
- Residues of industrial chemicals in the fish, and bioaccumulation through the feed production system
The public ought to be entitled to transparency and regular independent reporting on these food safety issues, e.g., minimum quarterly.
Common Dolphin, Gregory 'Slobirdr' Smith CC BY-SA 2.0
Of the 18 salmon hatcheries currently in Tasmania, 10 are flow-through, 6 are fully recirculating, and 2 are mixed. The flow-through and mixed facilities receive pure clean water and discharge it fouled with vast quantities of excrement and other fish waste. These contaminants, and toxins from the algal blooms that they stimulate, are in the drinking water supplying the entire population. Why should clean water belong to the salmon industry while we have to drink their filth?
Only the fully recirculating facilities can hope to contain the dangers associated with contaminated drinking water supplies. All salmon hatcheries must be upgraded to fully-recirculating (RAS) facilities, with any and all effluent fully treated so that the water is just as clean and pure downstream as it is upstream.
2. Fully Recirculating Hatcheries
6. Pay Fair Share
Tasmania's salmon farming industry is heavily subsidised by taxpayers, many of whom do not support these subsidies or their enabling of the rampant and wilful destruction of our coastal ecosystems. The Government must end the grants and exemptions, and charge a fair market value for leases and licences. The only morally defensible exception to ending these subsidies would be those that directly shift the industry to fully recirculating land-based facilities.