The red handfish, arguably Australia’s most endangered fish species, could be at risk from a plan to move Atlantic salmon pens near to their only known habitat, environmentalists say.
Environment Tasmania wants any move to put potentially diseased salmon into the bay to be reviewed by the Federal Government.
“I think they’re relying on old leases which were granted many years ago and I don’t think the science or the assessments can be held valid today,” strategic director Philip Cocker said.
The area the salmon pens would occupy is just south of the only known surviving habitat of the red handfish, and adjacent to one of the few areas the spotted handfish can be found.
It is believed there might be as few as 80 red handfish left in the wild.
Huon co-owner Frances Bender aid the “temporary and short-term harvest operation” would not affect other species.
“Huon does not believe there will be an impact on endangered species, inclusive of the handfish,” she said.
The move to Norfolk Bay is driven by an outbreak of POM-V at Huon’s nearby Storm Bay leases.
An Evironment Department map shows in dark pink the site of the red handfish environmentalists are worried about. (Supplied: www.environment.gov.au)
The disease, along with low oxygen levels, killed 1.3 million fish in Macquarie Harbour, on Tasmania’s west coast earlier this year.
Huon said the fish being moved were no longer infected but Environment Tasmania still has concerns.
“The argument seems to have been they might be sick but we’re not sure whether they’re sick so we will take them into a pristine environment,” Mr Cocker said.
“I just think that makes no sense to me at all.”
In a statement, the Department of the Environment said it was aware of the proposal and it was “considering the available information”, but that Huon’s planned move and possible impacts on the handfish “has not, at this stage, been referred to the Australian Government”.
Environment Tasmania has called on Huon Aquaculture to refer its plans for assessment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.
If it doesn’t Mr Cocker wants Minister for Environment Josh Frydenberg to step in.
There has been scepticism in some quarters about the ability of the Tasmanian Government to manage the salmon industry.
Problems with the industry in Maquarie Harbour in recent years have led to fish deaths, breaches of lease conditions, dramatic reductions in stocking levels and concern for native fish species.
The proposed movement of salmon to Norfolk Bay is still subject to sign-off from Tasmania’s Environment Protection Authority.
If approved, Huon plans to start moving fish at the end of next week.
Local scientists are understood to have concerns about the impact of salmon pens. (Supplied: CSIRO)