This could be a headline about why you would choose Australian fish over another and be a strong positive article about the industry….. but alas, it is a tale of woe that highlights how an industry constantly fails by not working collaboratively.

My sense of being involved in this industry for over 40 years is that things are probably at a major low.

In Australia, where you have a small population (24 million) in a country nearly as big as the USA; where you have a food retailing sector which is monopolised by two giant organisations (Woolworths and Wesfarmers-Coles account for 82 percent); where you have had Governments keener about creating Guinness Book of Records accolades about the size of their Marine Parks; where you have a very vocal recreational fishing industry keen for no competition from commercials and so many other issues confronting the industry you might think that this would a great time to say ‘enough is enough’ and look at every possible way you could work collaboratively as an industry.

However, it seems there must a lower level the industry must reach in Australia before that thinking will come about. Australia’s largest primary seafood sector, Tasmanian Salmon, is now going to have to take their finger off the pulse of their growth and deal with a Senate inquiry, launched by the Labor and Greens MP-dominated Environment and Communications Committee, and will look into Tasmania’s aquaculture regulations, as well as the industry's economic impacts and employment profile.

Why would a government allow such an inquiry into the seafood industry’s major activity you may well ask? Well it seems that the move for an inquiry, according to reports, followed complaints by abalone and mussel farmers about the impact of fish farming on their fisheries and Tasmanian waterways.

While distressing that there have been issues with other species, you cannot help but wonder if every attempt was made to sort out the issues and get the facts agreed and solutions sought before it reached this stage. Only the involved parties know this and they will now see what the consequences may be in allowing the problems to head into this direction. Hopefully some lessons will be learned.

The largest Atlantic Salmon producer is Tassal Ltd, a publicly listed organisation which most experts in seafood would acknowledge has been as exemplary in their approach to engagement with the environment as any Australian organisation as ever been, having been guided strongly by Canadian, Linda Sams. Sams has been the shining light which challenged the organization, and then the industry, to embrace the environment and use it as a tool to maximise their knowledge and investment and take leadership in this area.

As head of sustainability for Tassal, Linda Sams said on radio that she did not think a Senate inquiry was needed but welcomed the opportunity to allay fears. "We're not raping and pillaging the environment. We're paying attention to that ecosystem, its impact on us and our impacts on it. We'll engage with this, we have a good story and the industry will come out of this stronger than it is even now."

Tassal have strongly been a leader in embracing certification. Initially they ‘put their foot in the water’ with Best Aquaculture Practices (GAA-BAP) and since then they became the first Salmon farm in Australia to obtain Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) approval. In a market like Australia it seems rather expensive to consider paying for two certifications especially when neither one of them are doing any major work in promoting your achievements.

What is the point of certifications that are supposed to meet world standards, if they can be challenged like this?

It will be interesting to see how both ASC and GAA-BAP support Tassal and the industry in this enquiry. Failure to turn up and promote their credentials would seem to be very non-supportive of organisations and an industry which is paying for the process.

Additionally will we see Coles or Woolworths come forward and make their case to the enquiry as to why they are forcing all their suppliers down the international certification pathway, clearly adding costs yet with clearly undefined benefits?

Coles partnered with WWF in 2011 (according to WWF website) ‘to improve the sustainability of their seafood supply, and educate consumers about sustainable seafood choices, including Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC)’. Love these words, so easily written, they give all the right vibes but what really do they mean? Since 2011 has there been any education done at all? Lots of rhetoric but true education….very doubtful.

In 2012, Coles put in a submission to the Review of Commonwealth Fisheries Management (you can see it here). This spells out the WWF doctrine and Coles adherence of that. 

In 2014 when Tassal achieved their ASC accreditation Peter Trott, employee and spokesman for WWF, was reported as saying it was a significant achievement that other producers should strive for. Specifically he added "It goes without saying, we'd love to see the other salmon producers meet

Tassal's aspirations here and we look forward to the day where all our (Tasmanian) salmon is ASC certified.”

So having said all of this it will be interesting to see what the actions will be from all organisations in supporting the industry in clearly what is described by the Tasmanian Government as ‘a political witch hunt’ and will likely cost Australian taxpayers, as well as the industry a tidy penny, let alone the time and effort going into non-productive areas.

I hope we reach the bottom soon cause then there is only one way to go then! If you survive that is.