Certifier refuses TASSAL’s underwater anti-seal explosives, RSPCA asked to impose similar ban

Seal near salmon pen
Seal near salmon pen

Plans by industrial salmon company, Tassal, to continue using thousands of underwater explosive seal deterrents in Tasmanian waters have been dealt a blow by a leading international certifier. The Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) has refused to issue Tassal with exemptions from its global ban on the devices.

ASC's refusal states Tassal's request did not "provide credible evidence for the risk of harm caused to seals, or their populations, as a result of using seal crackers".

The decision follows intervention by Tasmanian environmental and animal welfare groups which revealed that Tassal had used almost 60,000 so-called "seal bombs" in the past six years, despite ASC bans. Use of the explosives to deter seals has been shown to cause injuries ranging from hearing damage to death from the impact of underwater shockwaves.

Tassal, owned by Canadian multinational Cooke Aquaculture, is part of the Tasmanian industry that claims "world's best practice" but its eight farms which are ASC certified would have been the only ones in the world where such damaging devices could have been used.

All eyes are now on the auditor, SCS Global, to suspend Tassal farms based on the ASC decision. For nearly ten years the auditors failed to penalize Tassal for their use of seal bombs. In December, SCS regranted ASC certification for Tassal's Creeses Mistake and West of Wedge farms despite finally acknowledging seal bomb use.

When the environmental groups uncovered Tassal's request for exemption earlier this month, the company and Primary Industries minister, Jo Palmer, defended the practice as necessary for worker safety, despite nowhere else in the world being permitted their use under ASC requirements.

Call on RSPCA to ban underwater explosives

The groups are now calling on RSPCA Australia to withdraw approval of underwater acoustic and explosive deterrents under its certification scheme from which it derives an annual income from Huon Aquaculture, owned by Brazilian multinational JBS.

The groups say it is unconscionable that an organisation dedicated to animal welfare could continue to condone aggressive devices that cause injury and death.

The are calling on RSPCA CEO, Richard Mussell, and Chair, Jan Edwards to immediately review its scheme and withdraw approval of the devices. In December, the president of Britain's RSPCA described the growing Scottish Atlantic salmon industry as "catastrophic" for fish welfare and Scotland's environment.

"TPMP applauds the long awaited decision. This decision will directly affect Tassal's operations in Storm Bay off Nubeena. The industry claims "worlds best practice" but it wanted to continue maiming seals and harming marine life which is permitted under Tasmania's lax Nature Conservation Regulations 2021. TPMP now calls on Tassal, to abide by the umpire's decision and for Jo Palmer and NRE to respect that Tasmania's marine wildlife deserve better respect."

- Trish Baily, Tasman Peninsula Marine Protection (0499 787 299)

"Living Oceans welcomes the ASC decision. It demonstrates that the changes made to ASC's variance approval process, to include technical and stakeholder input, have resulted in a credible decision by the ASC committee – unlike requests in the past that bypassed such scrutiny. These changes were made due to our SeaChoice program's global analysis of the ASC certification that found salmon farming companies around the world were utilizing variances as loopholes to gain certification. We stand with our Tasmanian allies in calling for the RSPCA to remove their endorsement of seal bombs."

- Kelly Roebuck, SeaChoice representative from Living Oceans Society (0432 660 064)

"Now that the ASC has refused Tassal's request for exemption, Tassal is obligated to stop using seal bombs and crackers if they want to retain ASC certification. Anything less would show the public that Tassal does not follow "worlds best practice" and consumers could no longer have any trust or faith in the ASC certification."

- Alistair Allan, The Bob Brown Foundation (0432 352 329)

"For years, Tassal has clearly been flaunting regulations imposed on the global industry by ASC, yet continued to claim world's best practice. It is another example of the company's carelessness when it comes to animal welfare and marine life generally. NOFF has already called on RSPCA Australia to end its certification scheme because of Huon Aquaculture's unacceptable practices but the least it can do now is to live up to its charter and prevent the use of such cruel devices against animals."

- Peter George, president, NOFF (0426 150 369)

Joint statement by