Published: 14 March 2017

Legislative Council Tuesday 14 March 2017

 93. MACQUARIE HARBOUR - ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEM

Ms  FORREST  asked the Leader of Government Business in the Legislative Council -

 With regard to the recent announcement of the Environment Protection Authority that there is an environmental problem in Macquarie Harbour -

 (1)  Can the Government confirm that -

      (a)     it has been a problem for some time; and

      (b)     it has been briefed by a major industry on no less than three occasions in the lead up to the announcement by the regulator? 

(2)  In light of the information provided by independent scientists to the regulator, can the Government acknowledge that immediate action is required to reduce biomass?

(3)  Is the Government satisfied that the actions of the regulator are both swift and sufficient enough to protect Macquarie Harbour and prevent a mass mortality incident?

 (4)  Can the Government -

       (a)     confirm its commitment to preventing a mass mortality event in the Harbour this summer; and

       (b)     identify what actions will be undertaken to achieve this?

(5)  (a)     Can the Government ensure the long-term sustainability of Macquarie Harbour in the interests of the salmon industry and the jobs of many Tasmanians in Strahan; and

       (b)     if so, what actions have been and will be taken?

 (6)  What is the effect of zero oxygen on the Maugean skate and other wildlife and fish in the Harbour?

 

 

ANSWER

The Environment Protection Authority - EPA - makes decisions regarding the environmental, social and economic impacts associated with setting a sustainable management system for Macquarie Harbour. 

(1)  In November 2016, the EPA completed its first assessment of monitoring data since the Tasmanian Government announced the transfer of environmental regulation of salmon farms to the EPA on 1 July 2016.  This assessment identified that four lease sites have significant visible impacts of increased sediment loading in the benthic habitat. 

       Data collected by DPIPWE since 2014 shows fluctuations in dissolved oxygen levels in Macquarie Harbour.  Water quality monitoring showed low levels of dissolved oxygen in the deeper parts of the harbour for much of the 2016 calendar year, reaching a record low.

      The Government supports sustainable growth in Tasmania's salmon industry and is in regular communication with all aquaculture companies about a range of industry development, environmental and regulatory issues relating to Macquarie Harbour, including stocking levels. 

(2)  The Government supports the evidence-based approach taken by the EPA to adaptively manage salmonid aquaculture in Macquarie Harbour.  Based on scientific information derived from a variety of robust sources, including IMAS, CSIRO and the EPA, a range of actions have been undertaken in response to the monitoring data, including the immediate progression of targeted research and increased levels of environmental monitoring in the Harbour on a spatial and temporal scale.

       Following consideration of the current dissolved oxygen levels, the Director of the EPA made a determination to reduce the biomass limit for Macquarie Harbour to 14 000 tonnes for the period from 14 February to 30 April 2017.  The director has deferred making the biomass determination for the period from 1 May 2017 to 30 April 2020 until the January 2017 benthic sampling data has been reviewed and after further consultation with the companies. 

(3)  Tasmania's salmon industry regulatory framework has operated very effectively for 20 years.  The Government strengthened regulation in July 2016 by transferring the environmental regulation to the independent Director of the EPA.  This brings together the environmental management and regulation of all salmon farming activities, both in marine and inland waters, under a single, independent authority.  The industry and the EPA are monitoring conditions in the Harbour carefully and the EPA will determine whether further management action is required.

(4)  The Government is committed to maintaining water quality at levels that sustain salmonid farming operations and the general environmental health and function of Macquarie Harbour.  The EPA requires all growers in Macquarie Harbour to have a Mass Mortality Plan as part of their normal contingency planning for extreme events. 

(5)  The Government recognises the importance of a sustainable aquaculture industry to Tasmania's brand and our economy.  We are committed to working with the industry to support sustainable growth and bring jobs and economic opportunities into regional areas such as Strahan. 

       The Government has acted to ensure that the salmon industry is being effectively managed using an adaptive management approach and by establishing the EPA as the independent regulator.  Regulatory oversight for Macquarie Harbour includes:

•   setting the biomass cap for aquaculture;

•   increased monitoring frequency;

•   fallowing of pen bays to restore environmental conditions; and

•   variation of lease biomass limits which are required to -

             (i)     maintain the benthic habitat such that it continues to provide for the processing and breakdown of biological material deposited on the bottom, both as a result of salmonid farming and in addition to natural ecosystem function;

            (ii)    maintain and, where possible, improve the habitat that supports the Maugean skate and broader World Heritage Area values; and

            (iii)   maintain water quality that supports sustainable salmonid farming operations.

(6)  Low dissolved oxygen concentrations are considered limiting for the Maugean skate and potentially their prey.  However, Maugean skate in Macquarie and Bathurst Harbours are most prevalent within the 6-12 metre depth range, where the water temperature and salinity remains relatively constant and dissolved oxygen concentrations generally remain above 30 per cent.

       Salmonid farm leases in Macquarie Harbour are situated in the deeper regions which, given the skate's preference for shallower depths, means there is minimal overlap between core skate habitat and the marine farm lease sites.

        Notwithstanding this, the overall environmental health of Macquarie Harbour is identified as an important factor in the future wellbeing of the Maugean skate population and the Government is continuing to support further research to understand the skate, its habitat in Macquarie Harbour and its interaction with the aquaculture industry.

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