Food retailer’s promotion and stocking of Petuna seafood challenged


Leading Tasmanian fine food retail business Hill Street Grocer is facing calls to stop selling salmon and ocean trout produced in Macquarie Harbour, after scientific advice warned fish farming is a leading factor driving the critically endangered Maugean skate to extinction.

Hill Street shops recently featured large billboards that said Petuna's Atlantic salmon and ocean trout were "sustainably, ethically grown & processed in Tasmania" and "available in Hill Street stores". Petuna operates four of the ten fish farm leases in Macquarie Harbour on Tasmania's west coast.

Kelly Roebuck, a representative of SeaChoice, a non-profit group promoting consumer awareness about seafood sustainability said it was "greenwashing at its worst. Consumers would not expect a 'sustainably, ethically grown' product to be harming an endangered species. These environmental claims are particularly misleading for any salmon and trout products sourced from Petuna's Macquarie Harbour farms," Roebuck said.

The role of the salmon industry in the plight of the Maugean skate has been under renewed focus since scientists warned in May that the ancient species, which has survived since the time of the dinosaurs, could be one extreme weather event from extinction. The skate is found only in Macquarie Harbour and its population is estimated to have almost halved between 2014 and 2021.

The Australian government's Threatened Species Scientific Committee advised the state and federal governments in September that it was an urgent priority before summer to "eliminate or significantly reduce" the impact of fish farms on dissolved oxygen levels. "The fastest and simplest way to achieve this is by significantly reducing fish biomass and feeding rates", the committee said.

Roebuck said: "No supermarket should be stocking a product that is contributing to the potential extinction of a species."

SeaChoice is part of a global coalition of environmental groups that has called on major supermarket chains Coles, Woolworths and ALDI to stop stocking Tasmanian salmon.

Salmon from Macquarie Harbour is particularly contentious. The RSPCA signed a commercial endorsement deal with Huon Aquaculture for its salmon products in July 2018, but refused to extend its support to fish from the company's three leases in Macquarie Harbour due to concerns about the environmental impact.

Nish Humphreys, a campaigner at the global consumer group Ekō, said the fish farming industry needed to get out of Macquarie Harbour for the skate to survive. "Consumers can't tell which products are tied to extinction, but the supermarkets can," she said. "Woolworths, Coles and ALDI can come to the skate's rescue by ceasing all sales of salmon and trout sourced from Macquarie Harbour".

Salmon Tasmania, the lobby group representing the state's three fish farming companies, recently responded to the increased pressure to deal with low oxygen levels by announcing up to $6 million in funding for a two-year trial of injecting oxygen into the water at the bottom of the harbour in a bid to reduce the impact on the skate.

"Place that kind of activity in an environment as sensitive as Macquarie Harbour? It's totally irresponsible," Jessica Coughlan, Neighbours of Fish Farms.

Petuna would be the worst affected company if the federal or state government required the destocking of fish farming leases in Macquarie Harbour, as it has only one lease elsewhere. The company, which is a subsidiary of Sealord, a major New Zealand fishing company, has lobbied the state government to accelerate approval of a new lease southeast of Clifton Beach, near Hobart.

Tasmanian Inquirer 10 October 2023