Tasmanian EPA rejects request for real time disclosure of antibiotics at fish farms


Tasmania's environment regulator has rejected a request that it notify the public in real time when salmon companies use antibiotic-coated feed at fish farms in the state's waterways. The Tasmanian Inquirer asked the Environmental Protection Authority to disclose details of antibiotic use at fish farms so recreational fishers and the public would be aware of where and when medicated feed was occurring.

The agency's refusal of the right to information request occurred shortly before a scathing Integrity Commission review criticised Tasmanian government agencies' "unnecessary delays" in disclosing information.

The commission found Tasmania's RTI regime was "marred by noncompliance with the letter and the spirit of the law, evidenced by an over-reliance on exemptions, unnecessary delays and general poor practices".

The EPA discloses details of antibiotic use at fish farms only when residue monitoring reports are published. However, it publishes these reports long after the use of antibiotics has concluded. Details of antibiotic residue detected in March 2023 in wild fish at a Tassal salmon farm at almost five times the allowable level for human consumption were made public only in January this year.

The EPA's information disclosure policy states information should be considered for routine disclosure when it is "significant, relevant and meaningful to the community" and when it promotes "transparency and accountability of the agency's decisions and operations".

EPA Director Wes Ford defended the agency's practice of delayed disclosure of antibiotic use. "The current EPA process provides information to the community in a timely manner to demonstrate that antibiotic residues in the environment are adequately monitored," he wrote.

John Stanfield, secretary of the Tasmanian Amateur Sea Fisherman's Association and an administrator of the 7800-member RecFishTas Facebook group, has previously called for public disclosure at the time antibiotics are in use.

During the election campaign, neither Labor nor Liberal party leaders committed to notifying the public when an antibiotic was in use at fish farms.

Concern about EPA secrecy is shared by a coalition of crossbench MPs in both houses of the Tasmanian parliament. They want an independent inquiry into the authority's performance in protecting the state's environment.

Neighbours of Fish Farming (NOFF) initiated the call for an inquiry. The group is particularly concerned about what it believes is the authority's failure to protect the endangered Maugean skate from the impacts of fish farming in Macquarie Harbour. NOFF's president, Peter George, said the authority was known for its secrecy.