Op Ed: Beyond Salmon - a Deeper Look

Op Ed: Beyond Salmon - a Deeper Look

Anna Bateman's op-ed in the Mercury from July 7th - is the dispute over salmon an opportunity for community decision making over all Tasmania's waterways?

Richard Flanagan’s book "TOXIC | The rotting underbelly of the Tasmanian Salmon Industry" has been a boon to the many community activists who have been trying to raise the alarm for decades.

However, to focus solely on salmon farm expansion would be to overlook deeper issues Tasmanians need to address. We need a holistic plan for how we want to care for our waterway’s conservation, for how we want our marine environment to be, for how we share with each other be that business or community. And how do we protect the marine environment so that we all enjoy it’s bounty for years to come? We need a new way to make decisions in partnership with Tasmanians, not shallow ‘consultation’.  One proven way for the government to achieve this, would be to hold Citizen Juries. Too expensive and time consuming you say? - Look at the money, time, business and forests wasted on the Gunns battle I say. 

If we can achieve a new way of government and community decision making, we would have a template for future challenges rather than just resorting to the well-worn battle lines that sideline community, line the pockets of a few shareholders and secure seats in parliament for polemicists. 

I used to love smoked salmon, when I was a little girl it was a treat. Something that would appear on triangles of brown bread but only on very special occasions. Like many Australians I didn’t really think about where it came from, or how it was grown. When smoked salmon became more available – cheaper, I did not think about why that was. I would usually choose salmon over bacon with my Sunday eggs and even ask if what I was eating was farmed salmon. I thought that was better, I had seen images of the salmon farms in Tasmania’s pristine waters and again like many Auatralians, I did not think about what was under the water – it looked fine from above.

Then I came to Tasmania, where I met scientists, farmers and fisherman – all of them said the same thing – that the salmon I was wolfing down on a weekly basis was not clean or green. That that it was a high-volume low-quality product that was fouling the waters and threatening Tasmania’s food brand.

I met sailors who told hair-raising stories about close calls with aquaculture debris, nets tangled around outboards motors, lengths of poly pipe floating free in Hobart’s busy Storm Bay waterways.

I met people in the channel who were kept awake all hours of the day and night by an industry that throbbed 24 hours a day. I met farmers who held the first licenses for salmon farms, they talked about low density farming, how they would rotate and fallow the pens. I met Channel residents who remembered fishing with their grandparents – pulling up flathead after flathead.  When fishing now with their kids, the lines rarely leave the water, the flatties are small and few and far between.  The same people talked about the slime around the Channel beaches and spoke wistfully about what Conningham and Snug beach used to be like. 

The salmon companies will tell you that any change is not them. There was no scientific base line taken on the Channel or Dover or Macquarie Harbour, so a simple comparison of conditions before and now is not possible. That does not ring true for people with lived experience of the change. It’s also an unacceptable cop out and a very convenient one for the Salmon Companies.

State Governments of all persuasions, responsible for the absence of monitoring in the first place, continuing to be promoters of the industry, rather than fulfilling their role as regulators.

I have also talked to current and former employees of the salmon companies. I have listened to stories of shocking work practices that impact employees and the environment. One involved crews cutting off large-tangled balls of rope, letting them sink or drift, rather than taking them away and disposing of them properly. A particularly chilling story involved a marketing person asking if they could show representatives from the World Wildlife Fund pre-recorded pictures showing a healthy environment under a pen rather than the foetid reality.

What came through all the stories was the love that Tasmanians have for their waterways. 

From Tuna fishers to abalone divers, to surfers and kayakers, Tasmanians are standing up to show their concern in growing numbers. The Government has an opportunity to use the salmon dispute as a template for making decisions on seemingly intractable problems. The salmon problem could be a turning point for Tasmania to go forward with a new shared view of what sharing our resources looks like. We could harness this community energy and ask them what they want for the future of our marine environment. The State Government could and should hold a citizens jury so that the people of Tasmania can decide the future of our waters.

The Local Network will be holding a one-day symposium on marine planning and citizen juries in Hobart on July 24th, 2021 

 Anna Bateman is an award-winning TV producer and was Senator Lambie’s media advisor in 2019/20. She co-founded  the Local Network with Leanne Minshull in 2021.