Protest targets Australia's environment minister over salmon farming in Tasmania

A group of protesters with signs to save the Maugean skate
Neighbors of Fish Farming have erected a billboard targeting Australian Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek over her decisions on salmon farming in Macquarie Harbour | Photo courtesy of Neighbors of Fish Farming
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An environmental group pushing for the government of Tasmania to stop salmon farming in Macquarie Harbor has erected a billboard targeting Australian Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek, claiming her decisions on salmon farming is pushing the Maugean skate to extinction.

The billboard is the latest move in an ongoing push by Neighbors of Fish Farming (NOFF) to remove salmon and trout farms in Macquarie Harbor, Tasmania.

The organization has also urged seafood certification bodies GlobalG.A.P. and the Global Seafood Alliance to withdraw certifications from farms in Macquarie Harbor over their potential impacts to the skate. 

The Maugean skate is endemic to Macquarie Harbor and has existed as a species for over 60 million years, but its population has been in decline in recent years. NOFF says commercial aquaculture is to blame and is demanding Plibersek reverse federal approval for aquaculture expansion in the bay. 

"Minister Plibersek's had more than enough time to review federal approval for the industry's expansion 12 years ago and has the power to reverse that decision and stop production right now," NOFF Campaigner Jess Coughlan said. “We expect the minister to have the courage to stand up to the giant multinationals that run the industry in Tasmania and act to safeguard Tasmania's coastal waters and Australia's marine heritage.”

Besides the billboard, the push made by environmental groups to save the species has included a senate inquiry on 23 May, at which environmentalists claimed supermarket chains Coles and Woolworths are “greenwashing” salmon farmed in Macquarie Harbor by claiming its salmon is responsibly sourced. 

“Both Woolworths and Coles are knowingly misleading consumers. If you walk into a supermarket right now, there is no way to tell if you are purchasing salmon that is causing the extinction of a species. It's unthinkable that a supermarket would be so willing to hide the truth,” Bob Brown Foundation Marine Campaigner Alistair Allan said in a release. 

Campaigners with the Bob Brown Foundation have engaged in a guerilla campaign at Coles and Woolworths, placing stickers on Tasmanian farmed salmon reading “Warning: Extinction Risk,” Yahoo News reported.

Additionally, environmentalists have pointed to a University of Tasmania study that links the decline of the Maugean skate to aquaculture as a major reason why Plibersek should take action against farming salmon in the bay.

Salmon Tasmania, which represents the salmon industry in the Australian state, said companies have farmed salmon in Macquarie Harbor for 37 years and that the volume being sourced from the area has actually diminished. According to the organization, 9,500 metric tons of salmon will be produced in the harbor in 2024, less than half of what was produced in 2016.  The salmon industry is also working with the government on conservation efforts, Salmon Tasmania said.

“For our part, the salmon industry has announced a partnership with the Australian Government’s Fisheries Research & Development Corporation (FRDC) in a major initiative beginning this summer to stimulate dissolved oxygen [DO] levels in Macquarie Harbor,” Salmon Tasmania said. “The Macquarie Harbor Oxygenation Program will see an oxygenator positioned on Macquarie Harbor, injecting very high concentrates of DO into depth. The oxygen will be released through miniscule nano- and micro-bubbles, meaning the oxygen is retained within the harbor system.”

The program may help the skate population, too, as low DO levels represent one of the main threats they face, the University of Tasmania study found.

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