Opinion – 11 March 2022

Growing up near the English Channel in the UK, I remember pebbles, funfairs, candy-floss and deckchairs. I also remember murky brown waters that I couldn’t see my feet through, and only ever dipped in for a quick cool down on warm days. Researchers have discovered that due to human activity and heavy industry the English Channel is a “cocktail of pollutants” including numerous heavy metals. No wonder I couldn’t get out of the water fast enough and didn’t develop an affinity for the ocean until much older.

Fast forward to my weekend kayaking and swimming with the children in Norfolk Bay in Tasmania, and it couldn’t feel further removed from those summer days in England. Clear, clean, sparkling, blue-green tinted waters. Fish swimming all around us. A curious pipefish coming to say hello.

I’m not trying to paint a romantic picture of Tasmania’s wild coastlines as entirely untouched or pristine, I know this is not the truth. But I want to express how fortunate I feel to be here and how the ecological richness of this coastline is very special. Reports have shown that a significant portion of Tasmania’s coastline is pristine, which includes unique, undisturbed environments that are globally rare.

Tasmania is in the unique position of being at the convergence of three ocean currents resulting in a mixture of warm, nutrient-poor waters from the North and West, and cold nutrient-rich waters from the south. The majority of fish, mollusc and seastar species are found nowhere else on the Globe. This is something to collectively shout about and be proud of. The world’s rarest fish is also found here, the charismatic Red Handfish. These incredible ecosystems and marine life are part of the Tasmanian commons.

With the forming of the Blue Economy CRC in 2021, the oceans are the next frontier for big business with ambitions of carving them up for giant fish farming factories combined with mega wind farms. This vision terrifies me, one where our oceans are treated as a commodity for industrial exploitation rather than the fragile network of ecosystems on the verge of collapse that they are.

The environmental concerns about Big Salmon always come hand-in-hand with the issues of lack of transparency and poor regulation. The Tasmanian lower house recently quietly passed a bill amending the Living Marine Resources Act to allow the State Government to take control of aquaculture expansion operation in Commonwealth waters. This bill will now be debated in the Upper House this week. Let’s pray that the members represent the view of the majority of Tasmanians who wish for a genuine halt to the expansion of this industry, and vote against this bill. Polling by the Australia Institute in 2021 found that 63% of Tasmanians believed that salmon farm expansions in Tasmania must be paused and 63.5% were concerned that the health of Tasmania’s coastal waters is declining. Offshore salmon expansion must simply be out of the question and instead the health of our marine environment prioritised.

Now the stealth application for a research permit 3-6 nautical miles from Burnie. The community cannot be expected to have trust in their government and industry when they are continually excluded from the conversation about Tamania’s wild places and natural resources. If approved this will be the third exploration license issued to salmon companies in Bass Strait and the first one in Commonwealth waters. One single large 240m circumference fortress pen containing up to 200,000 fish would dump the equivalent dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) pollution as the sewage from the entire population of Burnie. The Burnie application consultation paper offered no information about the nature of the operations, about the possible impacts to the community or impacts of nets and high nitrogen pollution in Bass Strait, home to dolphins, penguins, weedy sea dragons and a migration route for whales. Today is your last chance to have your say so I urge you to write your submissions.

This week the Living Marine Resources Management Amendment (Offshore Aquaculture) Bill 2021 will be debated in the Tasmanian Upper House.

The industry and their cronies at the Blue Economy CRC have made their aspirations of massive expansion very clear. Research permits open the floodgates for more feedlots in our ocean waters governed by an incompetent state government that should never be allowed to be in charge.

Tasmania has a choice before them, a future with clean, pure waters teeming with life or an island surrounded by industrial salmon feedlots.

The time is now to take strong action for oceans in this time of biodiversity and climate crises, not to hand over vast swathes of our ocean to big business to satisfy corporate greed.

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