Call to save Maugean skate – State Government plans to make a plan, or something . . .


As reported in the Mercury (21 June) the Australia Institute has called for the urgent removal of all salmon farming from Macquarie Harbour, to protect the last habitat of the endangered Maugean skate. Macquarie Harbour is the last place in the world the species – dubbed the Tasmanian tiger of the seas – is known to exist.

The think-tank has written to Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek, urging her to revisit a 2012 federal government decision allowing an expansion of fish farming in the area. Numbers of the Maugean skate have fallen by 47 per cent since 2012, according to a study by the University of Tasmania's Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS).

Australia Institute Tasmania director Eloise Carr said Ms Plibersek was obliged by the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to take action to prevent the extinction of the species.

"Macquarie Harbour is part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and the Maugean skate is one of the World Heritage Area's values."
"The federal government can't just keep passing the buck to the Tasmanian government. The federal minister has obligations to act to protect the skate under the EPBC Act, the World Heritage Convention, Australian World Heritage management principles and the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area Management Plan."

The 2012 decision to expand salmon farming operations in Macquarie Harbour was made on the understanding it would not adversely affect the species. The skate has been listed as endangered since 2004. Senate estimates hearings last month heard Ms Plibersek intended writing to the state government "urging extreme intervention" on behalf of the skate.

IMAS researcher Professor Jayson Semmens said the skate was particularly vulnerable. "The environmental changes in the harbour have increased the skate's vulnerability to sudden high-impact events, such as water column turnover driven by westerly winds, which can happen at any moment and potentially decimate the population," he said.

Funding for monitoring the skate runs out this year.

Meanwhile, State Minister Jaensch is planning a plan, or something . . .

The state government was working with the federal government to help ensure the endangered Maugean skate does not go extinct, Environment and Climate Change Minister Roger Jaensch said:

  • The Tasmanian government has provided funding and in-kind support for research into the Maugean skate since 2014
  • A range of short and longer-term management and conservation actions needed to recover the skate have already been undertaken
  • Actions already undertaken or underway included developing a Listing Statement that records species knowledge and identifies threats and provides a basis for future management actions
  • The government was also establishing measures to minimise the risk of interactions between recreational and commercial fishers and Maugean skate and supporting an initial pilot study on surrogacy techniques, a form of captive breeding and further non-invasive monitoring
  • In 2022, the Director of the EPA provided a statement of reasons which include the status of the Maugean skate as a factor in setting a total dissolved nitrogen output cap for Macquarie Harbour
  • The state government is also developing a Conservation Action Plan to identify and prioritise research priorities and management opportunities and delivering a community engagement and awareness project to help the public better understand the Maugean skate.