Draft Finfish Farming Environmental Regulations 2017

28 July 2017

EPA Tasmania
GPO Box 1550
Hobart TAS 7001

Email: epaenquiries@environment.tas.gov.au

Draft Finfish Farming Environmental Regulation Bill 2017

The State Government did not consult the broader Tasmanian community prior to developing the Draft Finfish Farming Environmental Regulation Bill 2017 (Draft Bill) and this renders it fundamentally flawed. We assume that the State Government developed the Draft Bill solely through consultation with the finfish farming industry and it shows.

Overarching recommendation

The TCT recommends that the Draft Bill be abandoned and that a consultation process be commenced to ask the broader Tasmanian community what concerns them about finfish farming and that legislation be drafted that addresses these concerns.

What the Draft Bill does not address

The critical flaw of the Draft Bill is what is omitted. The Draft Bill addresses issues related to how finfish farms operate and the environmental impacts but ignores issues related to where finfish farms are allowed to operate, the community’s influence over these decisions and the community’s concerns regarding recreational amenity and scenic beauty. The Draft Bill proposes no changes to the functions and operation of the Marine Farming Planning Review Panel, retaining it as the body that prepares and approves marine farm plans. While the Draft Bill requires that the EPA Director has input to marine farm plans, it does not propose that the Director have any role in determining whether particular places are appropriate for marine farming. The state government’s policy in drafting this legislation is solely too address how environmental impacts from fish farms are dealt with, giving the EPA an expanded role in regulating them, and to ignore other issues that are of concern to the community.

There has been wide spread community concern about salmon farming, in particular in regard to the Tassal proposal to farm salmon at Oakhampton Bay. Many opponents, the TCT included, believe that the entire east coast is unsuitable for salmon farming. The community wants a meaningful say over where fish farms are allowed to occur but the state government has, in drafting this legislation, ignored this concern and instead insists on making changes that, the government believes, will ensure fish farms have less impact on the environment and be acceptable to the community. The community is concerned about pollution from fish farms but it is also concerned about the impact on recreational boating and fishing, tourism and scenic beauty.

The state government has heard these concerns before and yet has 100 per cent ignored them. The overwhelming majority of submissions to the Marine Farming Planning Review Panel’s review of proposed Salmonid Farming Operations at Okehampton Bay, in September 2016, opposed any fish farming at this site. Many, including the TCT, recommended against any fish farms in the east coast. These concerns were ignored by the panel and the state government.

Many submissions to that review, the TCT included, told the state government that the MFPRP was a flawed body and that a new approach to allocating areas for fish farming was needed. The TCT has been telling successive state governments for many years that the way areas are allocated for fish farms, by the MFPRP, is fundamentally flawed. The MFPRP has existed for nearly twenty years and has only once refused a marine farming lease - and that refusal was not in response to community concerns. The MFPRP has never taken community interests regarding recreation and scenic impacts seriously. Decisions of the MFPRP have never been appealable or subject to review by any other government body. It serves the interests of the aquaculture industry only.

The approval of Tassal’s Oakhampton salmon farm contrary to massive opposition and the government’s white-washing of that decision through the 2016 review by the MFPRP, has lead to the community realising that the problem is bigger than the Oakhampton Bay proposal. The opponents of the Oakhampton proposal know that the way marine farming areas are allocated is fundamentally flawed and they want fundamental changes so that the community has a meaningful say.

The Draft Bill must be withdrawn and redrafted to address these concerns. The TCT recommends that the Marine Farm Planning Review Panel be abolished and its role in preparing and/or reviewing marine farm plans given to DPIPWE. However, there needs to be a clear process for the public to have input to thepreparation of draft plans and that plans must take into account a range of social and recreational issues as well as environmental issues. As with reserve plans and water management plans, the Tasmanian Planning Commission should have a role to review draft marine farming plans and DPIPWE's responses to public comments.

Need to remove EPA Director’s discretion

The major concern we have regarding the content of the Draft Bill is that the EPA Director will have discretion as to whether or not an application for a fish farm licence requires full assessment by the EPA Board. Applications referred to the EPA Board will be subject to public consultation and be appealable but decisions by the EPA Director will not. There is nothing in the Draft Bill stopping the Director from using his discretion in regard to all licence applications. There is no guarantee that any licence application will be subject to public consultation and be appealable.

The TCT recommends that the Draft Bill be amended to remove the EPA Director’s discretion or that the discretion be allowed only in very limited circumstances that are defined in the legislation. 

Finfish Marine Farming Exclusion Zones

The TCT is perplexed by the proposal in the Draft Bill to allow parliament to declare areas as Fin Fish Marine Farming Exclusion Zones. There is no process proposed by which the Tasmanian community will be consulted on, or can make nominations for, further exclusion zones. The Draft Bill does not propose any criteria for areas to be considered for exclusion zones. Finfish farming may be excluded but not other types of fish farming.

While we support the exclusion of the majority of the Mercury Passage from finfish farming, it does seem to be a very cynical exercise to exclude this area but not Oakhampton Bay, which has been the target of so much community concern. The Government seems to be crudely trying to buy off the opponents.

The TCT recommends that the Draft Bill be amended to: provide a clearly defined process for the community or government to nominate further exclusion zones; includes criteria for areas to be proposed; and public consultation is required in regard to proposed exclusion zones.

We encourage the state government to consult further on what the criteria for exclusion areas should be. The state government should consider the excellent criteria in the Tasmanian Marine Protected Areas Strategy as a starting point for criteria for exclusion zones.

If the state government does not support the above recommendations, the TCT recommends that the Draft Bill be amended to include the entire east coast as a Fin Fish Marine Farming Exclusion Zone.

Yours sincerely,

Peter McGlone