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Impacts of Salmon Farming on Tasmanian Native Marine Life

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 24 March 2021

Tags: Fish Farms, Marine Environment

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Deputy Speaker, we received some very shocking RTI today about some devastating impacts of salmon farming on Tasmanian native marine life and birds. A massive right to information document submitted by Environment Tasmania was seeking information about reports of animal deaths from salmon farming companies over the period 2018 to 2020 inclusive. In that two-year period the record shows that eight dolphins and 81 fur seals have been killed by salmon farming operations. Shockingly, of those numbers only four fur seals and one dolphin were found to be unrelated to the fish farming operations themselves, so fish farming activities are killing native animals through trapping them in nets and they suffer the terrible death of drowning through becoming entangled in fish farm nets.

There is also the active killing of dolphins and fur seals, predominantly fur seals. The 81 fur seals are recorded deaths. Regarding active killings of these animals by shooting them with bean bags, there were 134 instances recorded where fur seals were shot by salmon farm staff. If they were not directly killed they are often maimed or blinded. There is photographic evidence that has been collected by the community over the years. This is well documented and it is a disgrace that these acts of cruelty to animals - protected native wildlife - are occurring on a daily basis with the complete cover of the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment. That is another part of the evidence that is provided in the right to information. DPIPWE is running a cover activity for salmon farms to ensure they continue to operate in the manner that provides the most profit to the company. On the record, it says from someone Huon Agriculture to somebody in DPIPWE on 14 January 2019:

I note that the recording of levels of interactions and deployment affect is no longer required in the new template, however, I would think the department would be interested in seal behaviour before and after deployment particularly when aggressive seal behaviour is involved. Perhaps this is something to discuss.

That tells us that the department helped the salmon farming companies to negotiate a new reporting schedule that would mean they were not required to record the level of detail about the numbers of animals that have been killed. When it comes to the killing of birds, we have direct evidence from a salmon farm employee. Someone who used to work at Huon Aquaculture came to us last year, deeply distressed, with a number of photographs. This was documented evidence - distressing photographs of hundreds and hundreds of birds that he had photographed in this time that died on salmon farm pens, on the nets. He tells us that it is the nets that are creating what he says is, quote:

Carnage for birds. There are usually birds on every single pen while the pen is feeding. It is rare to say there isn't at least one bird sitting on the net. Obviously, they on the windy side waiting for pellets to blow in their direction. Before any tour of different sites by the management we are asked to inspect each cage and remove the dead birds. The owners, upper management come out with visitors, including the media looking briefly at the cages, obviously they view the clean, neat tight cages that reflect their perceived image.

We are informed prior to their arrival onsite so we can do a thorough clean up of dead birds and the self reporting of bird numbers from staff members is simply not affective. You just become desensitised and frankly removed from the reality of bird deaths. You are not allowed to complete the forms truthfully. My co worker now just cuts the netting to free the dying birds as we see hundreds of them become entangled.

The evidence from the right to information is that there are indeed hundreds of sea birds killed in Tasmania. From its Storm Bay lease in Trumpeter Bay, Huon Aquaculture reported the mass death of 24 cormorants found entangled in netting on one single day. It raised serious questions about the threat that is posed to our Tasmanian sea birds by that company's so called fortress pens that have been deployed across Storm Bay.

We know that the salmon industry self regulation is a joke, it is inherently flawed, and it is clearly not working. There is so much pressure on employees in fish farms to not record the true numbers of animals that have been killed because it looks bad to the shareholders; it looks bad to the media and through the media to the community. People do not want this anymore. This is disgusting. People are absolutely sickened by the images we have of birds that are drowned, hung upside down. They obviously die a slow, painful death, dehydrated, starving in the sun or drowned.

This is not the sort of Tasmania we want to live in. This is not the industry we should be providing cover for. There is no reason for salmon farming to use that net, other than to make a bit more profit. As the worker himself says, there is a solution - get rid of the nets. It is the nets that are a problem. The purpose of the nets is to reduce the number of fish that are taken and to increase the efficiency of feeding. Well, it is a cost the companies have to bear. It is a cost they have to bear - sacrifice a few fish. The birds were there first. These are native birds. These native, protected wildlife - native fur seals. We have to do better and make sure the EPA stands for something.