A Tasmanian salmon farmer is taking the state government to court for failing to protect the environment

Salmon for sale at the Sydney Fish Market. Photo: Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images

ASX-listed salmon farming business Huon Aquaculture has launched legal action against the Tasmanian government for failing to protect World Heritage-listed Macquarie Harbour.

The company alleges two key government bodies have failed to enforce environmental regulations to keep the local fishing industry sustainable.

Company co-founder and executive director Frances Bender said they lodged the case to ensure the long term future of their industry in Macquarie Harbour.

Bender says the company is not seeking damages, but the “appropriate application of the legislation and regulation as it applies to marine farming” on Tasmania’s remote west coast.

Huon Aquaculture filed proceedings in both the Federal Court and Supreme Court of Tasmania seeking stronger regulation and enforcement of marine farming regulations, at both the federal and state levels. Last year the industry was hit with growing concerns about its sustainability and transparency amid fears that the pristine region, famed for the Gordon-below-Franklin dam protests of the early 1980s, was under stress due to salmon farms.

The company alleges that the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE) and Environment Protection Authority (EPA) failed to comply with conditions set down in 2012 by the federal minister to protect the local environment, and approved salmon stocking levels higher than the harbour can sustain.

Proceedings have been lodged against EPA director Wes Ford and Tasmanian primary industries minister Jeremy Rockliff over the EPA’s decision last month to implement a reduced biomass (stocking level) cap of 14,000 tonnes for Macquarie Harbour.

After increasing stocking levels in the previous two seasons, concerns about dissolved oxygen levels in the harbour’s deeper waters as well as the appearance Beggiatoa bacteria in the second half of 2106 led the EPA director to cut the biomass to below 2013’s cap of 15,437 tonnes. The EPA also ordered that “non-compliant sites” on the harbour should be left unused for the time being, acknowledging that all three companies had recently reduced stocking levels.

Huon argues that even the new cap is more than the harbour can cope with and threatens both the waterway and the industry’s sustainability.

The company says the EPA changed the allocation method between the three marine farmers, Huon, Tassal and Petuna, from a “tonnes per hectare” to a “percentage of current stock” each farmer has when it set the biomass cap last month.

Bender says that disadvantages Huon after they reduced stocking levels more than their rivals and wants the Supreme Court to set aside the EPA’s biomass decision.

“Our view is that the recent biomass determination made by the EPA Director fails to properly regulate marine farming in Macquarie Harbour and will cause ongoing deterioration of environmental conditions in the harbour,” Bender said.

“We believe the biomass should be set at or below 10,000 tonnes to give the harbour the best chance to recover.”

Tasmania’s salmon farming industry is currently worth around $700 million annually.

Huon Aquaculture Group is majority privately owned and produces around 17,000 tonnes of fresh salmon annually, with pens also based south of Hobart. It employs around 550 people.

The Tasmanian salmon industry has become a major political issue in the state since Bender featured on ABC TV’s Four Corners program, accusing the state government of ignoring warnings about the condition of Macquarie Harbour.

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