Plibersek could force salmon operations in Macquarie Harbour to pause


Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek has indicated that salmon companies could be forced to pause farming operations in Macquarie Harbour as part of a broader effort to protect the endangered Maugean skate (Mercury, 7 Nov 2023, paywalled).

Ms Plibersek wrote to Premier Jeremy Rockliff on behalf of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Monday, in response to a letter the Premier had sent to Mr Albanese in September regarding salmon farming in the harbour and the plight of the skate.

Ms Plibersek has told the Premier that the scientific evidence has shown that tougher regulation and monitoring of lower salmon farming loads will be an important action. "As you are aware, Macquarie Harbour is the only place on earth where the endangered Maugean skate still exists," she wrote. "This last remaining population is under enormous pressure due to the low oxygen levels and poor water quality in the harbour. Urgent action must be taken to change this. Failure to do so will have implications for the long-term viability of important regional industries and jobs, especially in tourism and aquaculture."

The Albanese government has received three requests under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, asking for a review into whether the salmon industry in the harbour has all the required environmental approvals required under the act. Ms Plibersek said if any of the requests were ruled to be valid, she would be required to reconsider the approvals and that this would involve broad consultation with stakeholders.

"If the reconsideration finds that the salmon industry in Macquarie Harbour does not have the necessary environmental approvals, the EPBC Act would require operations to pause while approvals are sought," she wrote. "But I will look at any action I can take, consistent with my legal obligations under the EPBC Act, to support the Tasmania government regulator, and the salmon farming industry, to put their operations on a truly sustainable footing."

On Monday, Salmon Tasmania signed off on a $6m investment into an oxygenation program in the harbour designed to aid the recovery of the skate population.

  • NOFF adds that oxygenation has been widely criticised as unproven, insufficient and too slow. 
  • We also note that so far Ms Plibersek has not included any conservation groups in her widespread "consultations".