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Primary Industries and Water – Fin Fish Farming Inquiry

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 8 June 2022

Tags: Fish Farms, Legislative Council, Primary Industries

Dr WOODRUFF - What we have here is a massive document, the Legislative Council's sub-committee report on fin fish farming in Tasmania. It is the one and only fin fish farming inquiry that has happened in Tasmania despite the industry being around for decades now. It makes it crystal-clear that there is a huge volume of scientists, community members across the whole state who are deeply sickened by this Government' s continual pretence that our EPA is independent when it comes to making decisions about environmental leases, stocking levels, how plastic debris is not enforced, there are so many reasons.

We had a Senate inquiry into the damage to the World Heritage Area in Macquarie Harbour because of fish farming and the failure of the EPA to regulate. It is all a matter of public record.

To continue at this point, when the Government is going to expand, without addressing the recommendations of the fin fish farming inquiry would be an appalling miscarriage of oversight. Are you going to respond to each of these recommendations? Will you make a commitment to responding to all the recommendations and enacting them?

Ms PALMER - As I have previously advised, the Government is already delivering on many fronts through the progression of the 10-Year Salmon Plan as were identified in that inquiry.

The Tasmanian Liberal Government is ensuring that our salmon industry remains sustainable, is world leading and retains the support of the Tasmanian community.

It's in everyone's best interests that this important industry is sustainable and I'm committed to delivering on the Government's priority of a new 10-year Salmon Plan. The project to develop the plan is in the consultative phase and the Government expects to release a draft 10-year Salmon Plan in September. That will be developed on the principles that future growth lies in land-based and offshore salmon farming, worlds best practice through continuous improvement, and strict independent regulation.

The Government is considering the inquiry report and will certainly have more to say on that in due course.

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, in the Legislative Council's Fin Fish Farming in Tasmania inquiry, the committee expressed concern that the current provisions for disclosure of data and information on the fin fish farm industry operations are inconsistent between newer and older leases; that they are not comprehensive; that they are not transparent or independent from industry; and that they are not always presented on industry or government websites in a way that makes clear connections with the relevant regulatory requirements. The committee also found that data on salmon biomass pollution loads' localised impacts from salmon farming are not always publicly available and public requests for information are often denied on the basis of commercial in confidence or diverted to the RTI process.

Recommendations 5 to 9 in this report of the committee all deal with improving access to information on the fin fish farming industry and increasing online data and legislating -

CHAIR - Dr Woodruff, Dr Broad has brought to my attention the time length that you are taking to ask a question. It has now been over a minute so I will ask that you please ask a question otherwise I will hand the question across to Mrs Alexander.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thanks, Mr Chair, I was asking the question then. Do you support the recommendations and will you bring forward legislation or regulations to increase transparency and data availability in the industry?

Ms PALMER - Thank you, Dr Woodruff, for your question. We will consider the recommendations and respond in due course. It is a huge body of work that has been done and it does deserve to have careful consideration.

Dr WOODRUFF - One of the principles of the salmon industry growth plan - and there are four principles - involves continuous improvement to regulation but the Government has sat on a raft of changes to legislation including more than 70 amendments related to the regulation of aquaculture, for nearly three years now. Public consultation on the Environmental Legislation Miscellaneous Amendments Bill 2019 was held in September 2019 but the bill has not been tabled in parliament.

Will you confirm that in the interest of continuous improvement to regulation, this long delayed bill be introduced to parliament without delay?

Ms PALMER - I am firstly going to set out the government's record on salmon, stating that the new 10-year salmon plan builds on eight years of continuous improvement in industry regulation transparency, monitoring and performance. For example, we have transferred responsibility for the environmental regulation of the industry to the independent EPA, including the requirement for new environmental licenses, along with environmental monitoring. We introduced a zero-tolerance policy on marine farming debris and gave Marine and Safety Tasmania a formal role in safety enforcement around marine farms. We have brought greater transparency through publishing environmental fish health and other industry data on the salmon portal, as well as benchmarking the Tasmanian industry through the Tasmanian salmon industrial environmental scorecard.

We have invested with industry into science, research and development through the world-class Tasmanian Institute for Marine and Antarctic Science, IMAS, the Blue Economy CRC, and the leading aquatic animal health and vaccine centre in Launceston, and we are advancing accountability through developing new regulatory standards for biosecurity, the environment, and marine farming options and the establishment of a new director of fin fish compliance in the independent EPA. I can advise you that environmental legislation is obviously a matter that you would need to put to the environment minister.

The department is progressing consultation on three proposed standards that build on existing regulatory requirements for our sustainable industry, and those proposed standards are biosecurity regulations to enhance fin fish farming biosecurity management, environmental standards to improve environmental regulation and ensure a contemporary monitoring and environmental management framework, and marine farming operations to ensure statewide consistency through standardised marine farming management controls across all aquaculture sectors.

The standards aim to provide a contemporary best-practice framework that ensures consistency and streamlining of regulation across all sectors, while also building on insisting voluntary measures undertaken by the industry. Once finalised, ongoing compliance with the standards will be monitored by NRE Tasmania and the independent Environment Protection Authority. Submissions are open until 20 June, and we encourage all stakeholders to have their say and make a submission on the new standards.

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, antibiotics in Tasmanian salmon farms are concerning, and there is an increased risk of impacts on human health from having incidental antibiotics. Salmon farms are required to report the use of antibiotics to control disease in salmon, but they are not required to control or report on antibiotic levels present in salmon feed. I think this is something that would be really good to clear up. There is a lot of conversation in the community, whether or not it is all correct, it would be very helpful if people's concerns could be put to rest.

It is a serious challenge to marketing salmon and it is one of the issues that people have. So what steps will you take to provide this information to consumers to prevent this threat to the industry and, fundamentally to human health, if there is indeed an issue?

Ms PALMER - Thank you for the question. Consumers can have confidence that Australia's strict food safety system ensures safe Tasmanian animal products. The use of medicines is well-regulated at federal and state levels, which includes the requirement to report antibiotic usage. This includes compliance with national registration of chemical products by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, relevant jurisdictional agricultural and veterinary chemicals legislation and codes, and the Australian, New Zealand Food Standard Code supported by Tasmania's own Primary Produce Safety act and Food act requirements.

I also note that Food Standards Australia New Zealand has indicated it would be monitoring antibiotic resistance from June 2022, as part of a new study looking at antibiotic resistance in Australian food. They're known as FSANZ and they've indicated it will be analysing the research from Monash University. It's important to ensure that a fact-based scientific and risk-based approach is adopted to ensure that there are appropriate regulatory controls relating to antimicrobial resistance. In addition to that, new national feed standards for food producing animals are currently being developed under the auspice of the National Biosecurity Committee via the SAFEMEAT industry government partnership.

This new feed standard will establish a feed safety system for food producing animals to assist compliance with human food standards and minimise risks to consumer health, trade in animal products and trade in animal feed. Tasmania is represented on the working group by officials from the Office of the Chief Veterinary Officer and the Product Integrity Branch, both in Biosecurity Tasmania.

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, I want to raise the issue of the great concern among some in the community about marine debris from salmon farming. This was raised specifically in the Legislative Council's fin fish inquiry. One of the comments made was that a doubling of the industry is likely to lead to a doubling of debris.

The problem with marine debris in the environment hasn't been grappled with by the Government. There has been a voluntary code, a voluntary app for industry for reporting. According to people like Sheena Neill, who's a boater and I want to note her work, it's defunct in terms of its effectiveness in increasing safety for boaters. The issues of debris are about safety for boaters, about the plastic going into the environment and the impact on marine life, about animal deaths from choking and so on.

Can you commit with the 10 year Salmon Plan to, first of all, recognising marine debris is a critical issue, which is only going to get bigger with a doubling in size of the industry, if that's what happens?

And will you do a couple of things that could make a real difference, including public representation on any marine debris committee of the Government and a penalty for large and small plastics which typically get chucked off marine farms directly into the water?

I’m talking about plastic swirls from drilling and rope ends that are cut. That stuff at the moment usually goes straight into the water and stays there forever, as well as the bean bags I talked about before, the plastic stays in the water.

Also, stickers and information to boaters, yachties. I'd like to hand you what's been prepared by Sheena Neill. That's gone to MAST but Sheena Neill, with the Tasmanian Alliance for Marine Protection (TAMP), did that work herself. Thanks to the constructive work she's been doing with MAST, we've got some information. But it really needs to go out to all yachties in their boat registration.

The situation is that it needs to move into the marine farming branch, instead of just being handed to MAST to take all the responsibility for and it definitely needs legislation to increase penalties and a capacity to enforce the plastics, which is just tossed into the water at the moment.

Ms PALMER - I thank the member for the question. A zero tolerance policy approach to marine farming debris in our waterways is now well-entrenched. The Government, industry and the Tasmanian community are all contributing to a cleaner marine environment. There are additional compliance officers, clear licence conditions on farmers, online reporting tools for the public to use and data is published on the salmon portal website. Compliance officers also have the power to issue infringement notices, and do so. In addition, a marine farming equipment identification register is now in place for each fin fish company to ensure that ownership of all floating marine farming equipment can be determined.

The companies have responded by taking measures to prevent marine debris at the source, using distinctive gear marking and colour coding of equipment for identification, installing tracking devices on significant marine farming equipment, developing debris management partnerships with community groups, environment groups and social enterprises, and establishing an app and hotline for reporting marine debris.

NRE Tas has two compliance staff to inspect all marine farming operations in Tasmania on a systematic and responsive basis. Marine and Safety Tasmania, MAST, also has two authorised officers who can issue marine debris infringement notices. And the public can report marine farming debris by email to the aquaculture branch of NRE Tas or via a new online reporting form.

The department has also strengthened marine farming licence conditions specific to the management of marine farming equipment. Those conditions include requirements to ensure that all floating marine farming equipment is identifiable or uniquely marked as the property of the licence holder; ensuring that all floating marine farming equipment used under a licence is recorded in the approved marine farming equipment register form and submitted as required by the secretary; and cause MAST to be formally notified as soon as practicable of any potential hazards to navigation.

The penalty for marine farming equipment found outside a lease area is an infringement notice and specifies the number of penalty units. Marine debris clean up data and infringement notice data is publicly available on the salmon portal website.

I can advise that for the current calendar year to 30 March, five infringement notices have been issued for marine farming debris related offences by fin fish operators. In 2021, I am advised that 21 infringement notices were issued for marine farming debris related offences. Of those, 20 were issued to fin fish operators and one was to a non fin fish operator.

We appreciate the design work but it is also important take a balanced approach to education in partnership with industry. Can I reiterate again, there is a zero tolerance and we will certainly be considering any other measures through the planned development.

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, on behalf of the community who are watching this webcast or who read the Hansard, I am personally sickened at that response. I find it disgusting that you took no account of any of the details in the question I asked. It is effectively a declaration of war to the community with a 10 year salmon plan when obviously the Government is not prepared to listen to anything that is being raised. You have just made it very clear that community consultation means absolutely nothing.

When I suggested some win win solutions on behalf of the community all you can do is read a talking point that I heard last year. It has done absolutely nothing. It makes a complete sham of this committee process. I recognise you are a new minister but that really is beyond the pale. You didn't attend to anything that I asked. I am sickened.