A salmon farm in Macquarie Harbour operated by Tassal, which is now owned by Canadian fish farmer Cooke. Salmon farming has been blamed for reduced dissolved oxygen, which is impacting a rare skate.

Tasmanian MPs defend continued salmon farming in Macquarie Harbour

Collaborative programme is best way to save threatened Maugean skate, say parliamentarians


The Tasmanian parliament has called for Australia’s federal environment and water minister Tanya Plibersek not to take any unilateral action that would prevent salmon farming continuing in Macquarie Harbour, a major farming area, as part of efforts to save a threatened species.

Salmon farming has been identified as a reason for reduced oxygen levels which are threatening the survival of the Maugean skate, a species that is only known to exist in the harbour. The skate relies on dissolved oxygen, which has had a recorded decline from 2009, coinciding with a significant increase in salmon farming. Downstream dams and warming ocean temperatures due to climate change are also said to contribute to the harbour’s oxygen debt.

Farm licences are due for renewal this month, and environmentalists and Green politicians want authorities to use non-renewal as a way to remove farms. All three of Tasmania's main farmed salmon producers - Tassal, Huon and Petuna - operate in the harbour.

'Decline until extinction'

“Unless action is taken to remove salmon pens from Macquarie Harbour, we can expect a continued decline of skate numbers, until extinction,” Tasmanian Greens MP Vica Bayley told ABC News in September, after Plibersek announced A$2.1 million for a captive breeding programme for the Maugean skate.

Tasmanian environment minister Roger Jaensch said at the time that the government was satisfied with current measures, including previous salmon farm stocking reduction limits, and dissolved nitrogen levels.

“This is a complex challenge. We know for the Greens it’s very simple, you just shut down industries and abandon the field,” he said.

“We work with industries, and with governments, and with scientists, and researchers, and communities, in areas where we have our economy intersecting with the natural environment to find a way to meet the needs of all species including humans, including skate.”

A Maugean skate.

Bipartisan support

Yesterday, members of the Tasmanian parliament backed a bipartisan motion in defence of salmon farming. The motion calls for the federal government’s continued collaborative work with Tasmania, to both protect the Maugean Skate and its habitat, and continue to support salmon farming and the West Coast community in the island state.

The motion noted that:

  • Aquaculture in Macquarie Harbour directly supports the livelihoods of hundreds of Tasmanian families
  • The salmon industry and its workers directly and indirectly support many of the local businesses and community organisations
  • All levels of government, industry stakeholders in Macquarie Harbour, and the science community are working collaboratively and proactively through the National Recovery Team for the Maugean skate, on measures including the establishment of an ex-situ insurance population and breeding programme, improved water quality monitoring, and trialling oxygenation to improve oxygen levels in the harbour
  • The uncertainty over the future of Macquarie Harbour aquaculture and attacks by environmental activists are impacting the mental health of many salmon farming workers and their families, and the communities and businesses that rely on them.

The motion also stated that the Tasmanian parliament rejects calls by activist groups to remove salmon farming in Macquarie Harbour as an unreasonable and unnecessary response to the effort to secure the Maugean skate.