Marine Environment

Background

Lutruwita/Tasmania has one of the world’s most biologically diverse marine environments on the planet. 80% of Tasmania’s marine species are unique to the state.[1] Our oceans provide a globally unique habitat, and are an important part of the Tasmanian lifestyle. We must preserve it for future generations.

Tasmania’s marine environment is particularly vulnerable to climate change. Climate change has been identified as a key factor in the recent shocking loss of at least 95% of once abundant giant kelp forests along Tasmania’s coasts. This impacts rocky reef communities and individual species that rely upon these forest habitats to survive.[2]

Over the past ten years, populations of large fished species in Australia have declined by 30%.[3] In Tasmania, commercial catches are declining,[4] and iconic fisheries like abalone are depleting or depleted.[5] Invasive species have extended their range into Tasmanian waters, due to the global heating of our oceans. The long-spined sea urchin is devastating rocky reefs and caused extensive urchin barrens.[6] Their impact has accelerated the loss of giant kelp beds and reduced populations of reef-dependent species such as abalone, rock lobster and fish.[7]

Tasmania’s fragile coastal habitats are of enormous importance, but are being actively threatened by poor management decisions, over-development and fishing, and continuing warming waters. Our remaining biological diversity must be given the best support we can muster to help it adapt to warming waters and invasive species.

Marine Protected Areas

No-take Marine Protected Areas are a boon for building biological diversity. On average, MPAs have 670% more marine biomass than unprotected adjacent areas, and 343% more than in reserves without no-take protection.[8] MPAs also restore ecosystem complexity through a process known as ‘trophic cascades’, and show more resilience to the impacts of climate change than unreserved areas.[9]

Tasmania once, but no longer, had a Marine Protected Area strategy.

A 1999 analysis of the effectiveness of Tasmanian reserves found the no-take reserves, particularly the Maria Island reserve, had resulted in a significant increase in populations of large fishes, bastard trumpeter and rock lobsters, as well as the average size of blue-throated wrasse and abalone.[10]

Since 2001, only two marine reserves have been declared – at Port Davey/Bathurst Harbour and the Kent Group National Park (in Bass Strait) in 2004.[11]  In 2007, after extensive public and scientific consultation, the Resource Planning Development Commission supported the development of a Bruny Marine bioregion.[12] However, the proposed reserve was scrapped by the then-Labor Government. The reserves were instead declared as lines on water, with no controls on fishing.

Our current system of reserves leaves many habitat types unrepresented, and half of our bioregions do not have a ‘no-take’ reserves.[13]

The removal of large rock lobsters, the only effective predator of the Centrostephanus sea urchins that graze on kelp, contributes to the decline of kelp forests, particularly on Tasmania's east coast.[14]

Australia has signed the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, which has a target of 10% of waters being protected by 2020.[15] Extending Tasmania’s MPA network is vital minimum support to keep a functioning marine environment in the future.

Marine Protected Areas

 

We will renew Tasmania’s Marine Protected Area strategy, and set a target of 10% of Tasmanian waters to become no-take reserves. We will prioritise consideration of existing marine conservation areas, and ensure that all eight bioregions and habitat types are represented in no-take reserves.

Fish for our Future

MPAs can have significant benefit for sustaining the health and productivity of fisheries. The no-take status of these reserves creates an environment where fish stocks can significantly increase, and the environment can be a source of larvae, juvenile and adult fish that expand outside the reserve and can then be harvested by fishers.[16]

It is therefore no surprise that, nationally, 63% of fishers have expressed support for no-take marine reserves in their area, and only 17.8% are opposed to them.[17] It is also no surprise that support for no-take reserves in expected to increase from 38% for a new reserve, to 72% for the same reserve after it has existed for 14 years.[18] The longer a reserve has been in existence, the more positive impacts on fish stocks are likely to be observable.

MPAs and Recreational Fishers

 

We will engage with recreational fishers in the development of size and location of MPAs, and include an increase in fish stocks in adjacent fisheries in the design objectives.

Salmon Farming

Tasmanian salmon has doubled in size over the last decade.[19] While the farming operations have provided important local employment, the mass expansion and location of farms has had damaging environmental and social consequences.

We need a future for salmon farming that provides a pathway for regional employment, and reduces the impact on marine biodiversity and local communities.

Evidence received during the Senate Inquiry into the Fin-Fish Aquaculture Industry in Tasmania suggested the industry has been responsible for reducing river water-quality in hatcheries, the decline of populations of endemic species, and potential broad-scale negative impacts on rocky reefs.[20]

Parts of Macquarie Harbour have been turned into a ‘dead zone’[21], and threatened species such as the Maugean skate, handfish species, and the Gunn’s screw shell have been pushed closer to extinction.[22] The ultimate impacts on these globally-unique species have still not been properly assessed.

In 2018, the Australian Marine Conservation Society downgraded Tasmanian salmon in its Australia’s Sustainable Seafood Guide from an amber ‘think twice’ rating to a red ‘say no rating’.[23]

In Tasmania mass salmon escapes from fish farms are relatively common.[24],[25],[26] For example, the escape of 120,000 fish in 2018 was one of the largest salmon farm escapes ever recorded globally.[27]

After a large escape of salmon from their pens in 2020, Huon Aquaculture cited an Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies report in an attempt to argue that escaped fish do not damage local ecosystems[28] – although that study made no such finding.[29] While most escaped salmon do not adapt their diet to local ecosystems,[30],[31] a reasonable number do prey on native fauna. Escaped salmon that survive for longer periods were in a healthier condition and had a much higher amount of prey in their stomachs,[32] including baby flathead, flounder and crayfish.

Another study noted –

“. . . a small fraction of [salmon] escapees conclusively showed changes… indicative of a shift to feeding on native fauna. Given the numbers and frequency of escapes, this can have an important impact on native species and on the ecology of Macquarie Harbour.”[33]

The poor approvals process for fish farms is a substantial reason why environmental impacts have developed to such a significant level. In 2018, during the controversial Storm Bay salmon farming expansion assessment process, the two scientific experts from the Marine Farming Planning Review Panel resigned. They described the assessment process for the expansion into a new marine environment as “inherently compromised”. The scientists stated that the legislation the panel operates under forces them to recommend approval for marine farming plans.[34]

One of the former Marine Farming Planning Review Panel members noted the environmental management plan for the Storm Bay expansion – which she argued was the state’s largest ever industrial development – was only eight pages long.

In relation to the state’s method of protecting the environment via ‘adaptive management’ of industry operations, the former panel member said –

"No land-based development in Tasmania is approved on adaptive management . . . With marine farming, we stick cages in and we suck it and see."

Another significant issue with fish farming is marine debris. Submerged floating debris from fish farm operations has damaged boats, put lives at risk, extensively spoilt beaches and headlands, left plastic pollution on the benthic layer of waterways, and released antibiotics an antifoulants into pristine waters.[35]

The only future for salmon farming that can address the marine environment impacts, the impacts of light and noise pollution on neighbours, and the loss of mammal and bird life is to adopt the approach of other countries and move onto land-based, closed-loop systems.

Closed-loop aquaculture can involve circulating water between fish-growing tanks into soilless vegetable greenhouses that use the nutrients from fish waste, and then cycle the cleaned water back into the fish tanks.[36] They can also utilise filtration systems instead of plants.[37]

Closed-loop aquaculture developments on land are assessed as per other land-based developments, under the Land Use Planning Approvals Act 1993.

In addition to the environmental benefits, there are significant economic opportunities in research and development.[38] The current trajectory of salmon farming is to reduce on-water labour by automating operations as much as possible.

Future of Fish Farming

 

We will require all new fish farms to operate as closed-loop land-based farms, and will not renew licences for coastal farms as they expire.

We will require all current coastal farms to transition to land-based closed-loop systems.

We will immediately review and update allowed stocking-levels and environmental licence conditions of existing fish farms, including stronger controls on marine debris and marine wildlife protection, to require them to meet environmentally and socially sustainable outcomes.

We will immediately review the operations of the Marine Farming Planning Review Panel to remove the involvement of the minister in decision-making, and will discontinue the legislated role of the Panel as new expansion for farming move.

Wildlife mortalities are a particularly serious result of current marine farm practices. A Right to information document revealed that, between 2018 and 2021, eight dolphins and 81 protected fur seals were reported dead by fish farm operators. Most were either shot by staff with bean bags, or drowned in fish farm nets. Shockingly, of these, only four seals and one dolphin were not killed as a result of fish farming.[39]

In March 2021 alone, one fish farm company reported fourteen cormorant, one Pacific gull, one silver gull, and four seal mortalities.[40]  Bird entanglements are commonly reported by fish farms, with 43 deaths in 2020 from Huon Aquaculture, and 19 from Tassal (including 14 Little Terns, listed as endangered). On a single day, 24 cormorants were found to have died on one day in Huon Aquaculture’s Storm Bay lease.[41]

RSPCA standards prohibit the use of bean bags, ‘scare caps’, electronic ‘seal scarers’ and pingers. They do, however, allow for the use of crackers as ‘a last resort’ if seals fail to voluntarily lease after outer nets are lowered.[42]

The standards also require nets to be designed in a way that reduces the attractiveness, and the capacity to enter, of birds. The RSPCA have also noted that nets need to be monitored and birds promptly released when captured.[43]

Wildlife Safety

 

We will require all fish farms to comply with RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme Standards for Farmed Atlantic Salmon.

Coasts

The State Coastal Policy establishes the State Coastal Advisory Committee, the Coastal and Marine Program and commits to provide funding and other resources to implement the policy.[44] None of these things are currently in place.

The Coastal and Marine Program used to provide practical help and assistance to the operations of Coastcare in Tasmania. The Victorian Government funds Regional Coastal Plans at the regional level and Coastal Management Plans at the local level. These plans fund, among other things, Coastcare operations.[45]

Coastal Management

 

We will establish a Coastal Management Unit in DPIPWE, develop Coastal Plans and fund Coastcare operations.

 



[1] Australian Marine Conservation Society, Tasmanian Marine Parks, n.d.

[2] Institute for Marine and Antartic Studies, Satellite Images Track Decline of Tasmania’s Giant Kelp Forests, University of Tasmania, n.d.

[3] Martlew, M, A wake-up call for better global marine protection, University of Technology, June 2018.

[4] Millar, R and Vedelago, C, Empty nets and tropical fish in Tasmania as climate change hits Southern Ocean, The Sydney Morning Herald, January 2020.

[5] Fisheries Research & Development Corporation, Status of Australian Fish Stocks Report: Blacklip Abalone, 2018.

[6] Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, Long-Spined Sea Urchin (Centrostephanus Rodgersii), University of Tasmania, n.d.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Sala, E, Giakoumi, S, No-take marine reserves are the most effective protected areas in the ocean, ICES Journal of Marine Science, Vol 75, no. 3, 2018, pp. 1166–1168.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Edgar, GJ and Barrett, NS, Effects of the declaration of marine reserves on Tasmanian reef fishes, invertebrates and plants, Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, Vol. 242, 1999, pp. 107-144.

[11] Edyvane, KS, Tasmanian Marine Protected Areas Strategy Technical Background Report, 2000.

[12] National Library of Australia, Inquiry into the establishment of marine protected areas within the Bruny Bioregion : draft recommendations report / Resource Planning and Development Commission, 2007.

[13] Tasmanian Conservation Trust, Missing Tasmanian Marine Protected Areas, 2017.

[14] Johnson, C and Gardner, C, Why lobsters are the best thing to hit Tassie's urchin-encrusted reefs, 2018.

[15] Edwards, R, Tasmanian Government has no plans to review marine protections despite calls for change, ABC News, February 2021.

[16] National Marine Protected Areas Center, MPA Science Brief: What Does the Science Say? Do “No-Take” Marine Reserves Benefit Adjacent Fisheries?, n.d.

[17] Navarro, M, Kragt, M, Hailu, A and Langlois, TJ, Recreational fishers’ support for no-take marine reserves is high and increases with reserve age, Marine Policy, Vol. 96, 2018.

[18] Ibid, p. 49.

[19] Department of Agriculture, Water & Environment, Australian fisheries and aquaculture statistics 2018.

[20] Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications, Impact of fin-fish aquaculture on waterway health, Chapter 4, Senate Inquiry into the Fin-Fish Aquaculture Industry in Tasmania, 2015.

[21] ABC News, Environment watchdog orders Tassal to destock salmon lease in Macquarie Harbour, February 2017.

[22] Marine Life Network, Submission to the Legislative Council Inquiry into Fin Fish Farming in Tasmania, 2019.

[23] Australian Marine Conservation Society, Red Rating for Tasmanian Farmed Atlantic Salmon: Industry Pushing Environment Too Far, Too Fast, 2018.

[24] Rachwani, M, Fears for environment after 50,000 fish escape salmon farm in Tasmania, The Guardian, 2020.

[25] Neighbours of Fish Farms, How is salmon farming damaging the environment?, n.d.

[26] Compton, L, Huon Aquaculture confirms 120,000 salmon escaped in May storms, amid calls for more industry 'transparency', 2018.

[27] Navarro, L, Here are the largest recorded farmed Atlantic salmon escapes in history, IntraFish, 2019.

[28] Rachwani, M, Fears for environment after 50,000 fish escape salmon farm in Tasmania, The Guardian, 2020.

[29] Lyle, JM, Fishing for Atlantic salmon following a major escape event: inferences about dispersal, survival and ecological impact, Institute for Marine and Antartic Studies, University of Tasmania, 2019

[30] Ibid.

[31] Abrantes, KG, Lyle, JM, Nichols, PD, Semmens, JM, Do exotic salmonids feed on native fauna after escaping from aquaculture cages in Tasmania, Australia?, Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, Vol. 68, no. 9, pp. 1539-1551.

[32] Lyle, JM, Fishing for Atlantic salmon following a major escape event: inferences about dispersal, survival and ecological impact, Institute for Marine and Antartic Studies, University of Tasmania, 2019

[33] Abrantes, KG, Lyle, JM, Nichols, PD, Semmens, JM, Do exotic salmonids feed on native fauna after escaping from aquaculture cages in Tasmania, Australia?, Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, Vol. 68, no. 9, pp. 1539-1551.

[34] Humphries, A, Experts' scathing comments about 'independent' Tasmanian fish farm review panel revealed, ABC News, 2020.

[35] Maloney, M, Submissions released regarding finfish farming in Tasmania, The Advocate, February 2020.

[36] Simke, A, Aquaponics Presents A New Way To Grow Sustainable Fish And Veggies, Forbes, 2020.

[37] FoodPrint, Recirculating Farms, Hydroponics and Aquaponics, n.d.

[38] The Fish Site, Closed-system Fish Farming Developing, 2008.

[39] Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment, RTI 038-2020-21: Wildlife interactions with fish farms, 2021.

[40] Huon Acquaculture, Wildlife Mortalities, 2021.

[41] Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment, RTI 038-2020-21: Wildlife interactions with fish farms, 2021.

[42] RSPCA, How do RSPCA Approved salmon farms protect fish from predators, such as seals?, 2020.

[43] RSPCA, RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme Standard: Farmed Atlantic Salmon, 2020.

[44] Tasmanian Government, Tasmanian State Coastal Policy, 1996.

[45] Victorian Government, Victorian Coastal Strategy, 2014.