One of the original salmon farmers on Macquarie Harbour on Tasmania’s west coast says expanding the industry was always a “disaster waiting to happen”.
The head of the state’s Environment Protection Authority (EPA) admitted on Friday that the science behind the decision to massively expand fish farming in Macquarie Harbour was wrong.
The harbour on Tasmania’s west coast has seen a series of mass fish deaths and stock reductions over the past two years.
One third of the harbour is inside the World Heritage area.
Ron Morrison said he wrote to the marine farming branch of the state’s planning authority in December 2011 to express his concern over the proposed expansion of marine farming.
Mr Morrison said he was now disappointed to say ‘I told you so’.
“This was a disaster just waiting to happen,” Mr Morrison said.
“It was never going to be successful.
“I stated that if the expansion went ahead as proposed, that was 29,500 tonnes, then aquaculture in Macquarie Harbour would completely collapse within seven years.”
Mr Morrison welcomed the EPA’s proposal to wind back the biomass limit, but was disappointed it had taken so long.
Ron Morrison says he warned that an expansion of fish farming would collapse. (ABC News: Rhiannon Shine)
He worried de-stocking would lead to job losses.
“A lot of people have moved to Strahan, invested here, have kids at the school,” he said.
“And unfortunately someone can come here, treat the environment like it is has been treated, and just move out of town and the locals are left with a mess and reduced employment.”
Mr Morrison questioned the modelling conducted by Malaysian company DHI, which paved the way for the expansion.
“It is difficult to say what could have been avoided because they had a 1,500-page document that said that everything was going to be okay,” he said.
“I’ve read it a couple of times and it was a very technical document. You give it to the average person and they wouldn’t have been able to understand it.
“People didn’t really get a chance to ask questions, the comments period was very short. Perhaps it was designed that way.
“But from what I read it was very flawed. The science just did not stack up,” he said.
DHI have been approached for comment.
Jobs the main issue
Strahan tourism operator Guy Grining said any job losses in the town would be a massive hit.
“Without even thinking, there are 10 young fellas with young families that live in the town here,” he said.
“Their wives shop here and they’ve got kids in the school, and they are reliant on the [fish] farms for their employment.
“Hopefully it can be set up to a sustainable level so it goes for the future.”
Mr Grining said while the issue had not affected tourism in the town, it was a major concern among locals because the industry was a massive employer.
“There is plenty of talk at the pub about it,” he said.
“As long as we get a sustainable level set and farming can continue and the harbour gets looked after, that’s the main thing.
“The biggest fear is that the stocking is too high and something major happens and then the stocking has got to be removed permanently or for some time to let the Harbour recover — what happens to the jobs then?”
West Coast mayor Phil Vickers said any employment cuts would be a blow to the community.
West Coast Mayor Phil Vickers says every job loss is a hit to the region. (ABC News: Rhiannon Shine)
“It is unfortunate if there will be any job losses out of this,” he said.
“But it is all about sustainability and the health of the Harbour.
“One job loss in our district is a hit and we as a council don’t like to see anybody lose work.
“As a council we’ve put our faith in the EPA as the overseer of fish levels in the harbour and the harbour’s condition.
“I don’t think they would take that decision [to reduce further stocks] lightly, so we would support whatever decision they make.”