Tasmanian Times

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Economy

The mess we’re now in: The leaked TASSAL document …

*Pic: Fish farming in Macquarie Harbour. Rodtuk, Flickr

First published November 17

Senator WHISH-WILSON (Tasmania) (20:10): I rise this evening to talk about salmon aquaculture in my home state of Tasmania and, in particular, the job prospects associated with plans to expand the salmon industry. The salmon industry grows and sells fish. For all intents and purposes, this is the industrial production of protein, with an eye on growing protein at the lowest possible unit cost, to remain competitive and outcompete other forms of protein. There are big plans to expand the industry. The industry is experiencing growing pains, polluting the environment and riding roughshod over local communities, mostly thanks to weak Tasmanian state Liberal and Labor governments, who have stubbornly refused to properly regulate the industry.

The industry is also at war with itself and in the courts over this poor regulation. Huon Aquaculture, the nation’s second-biggest salmon farmer, is suing the state and federal governments over poor regulation and allegations of regulatory capture, or favouritism towards the No. 1 player, Tassal. It’s hard to fathom a private company taking a state or federal government to court over lack of regulation, but that’s exactly what’s happening. Public support for and trust in the industry are at an all-time low. The expansion of fish farming, with its impact on the environment and local communities, is now a significant election issue, and we are expecting a state election in Tasmania by May next year.

I will say here tonight that the Greens are the only political party who have consistently held the government and the industry to account. The Senate inquiry that I initiated in 2015 was very important in shining a light on the impacts of the industry and why it needed significant independent regulation and checks and balances. If some of the Greens’ recommendations had been adopted, we probably wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in now. We’ll continue to stand with Tasmanian communities and we’ll continue to protect the environment.

We are opposed to the expansion of the industry on the east coast of Tasmania and want farming at Macquarie Harbour wound back to pre-2012 expansion levels given the significant environmental damage we’ve seen in that beautiful part of the world. We want to see the industry go onshore, using sustainable closed-loop farming methods, powered by renewable energy, or we want to see the industry go way offshore rather than expanding around the beautiful inshore waters in our state of Tasmania.

Against this background, the government and Tassal are spruiking jobs as the basis of their social licence to operate, and the industry continues to expand, especially on the east coast. Thus it has always been in Tasmania, starting with hydro’s expansion and the damming of the Franklin—jobs. Then it was the Wesley Vale pulp mill —jobs; the Tamar Valley pulp mill—jobs; propping up a failed forestry industry —jobs; and now controversial salmon farm expansion—jobs, jobs, always jobs. In the case of salmon, how much of this promise is just a jobs mirage? Last week a document was sent to my office. It was sent anonymously. As such, I declare from the outset that I’m not able to verify its status. It doesn’t say ‘commercial-in-confidence’, ‘private’, ‘confidential’ or ‘internal’, but it looks very much to me like an investment proposal to either invest company funds or seek finance to upgrade technology to enable the replacement of unskilled feeding jobs on salmon lots with much fewer skilled jobs and new technology.

It clearly suggests that this is the future of the industry—it says ‘exciting’ future of the industry—if the industry is going to thrive and compete with offshore salmon companies.

After doing my own research and having discussions with stakeholders, I’m confident that the information is genuine and that it raises legitimate questions that demand answers—questions and answers clearly in the public interest.

It would be a very elaborate exercise to have falsified this document. It has very detailed analysis of very specific subject matter, including detailed cost tables and technical specifications. Even though there is no indication that it is sensitive or commercial-in-confidence, I have assumed that it is and have therefore redacted any data not directly relevant to public and, indeed, political claims about Tassal’s future employment of Tasmanians.

The document I talk of is authored by the head of aquaculture and the CIO, chief investment officer, at Tassal, entitled Future Feeding. It sets out a proposal to automate Tassal’s feeding program. The document states:

This project will provide an overarching feeding solution across the company by embracing state-of-the-art cameras, feed systems, communications and software to enable the feeding of our fish across all zones from one central location.

It goes on to say:

This project underpins 50 per cent of all cost reductions for MOPs (meaning marine operations)—in the new strategic plan for the company.

The document also states:

The payback is significant. If we don’t act, we will fall behind targets and competitors.

And:

… capital and operating costs are already included in the strategic plan.

So why is this automated feeding program such a good investment? Because it involves job cuts. The document states:

Leveraging centralised feed systems and technology means that it will be possible for one feed operator to concurrently feed nine pens, whereas the current max is three.

The detailed tables set out labour cost savings and show a projected increase in feed staff under Tassal’s current feeding method from 65 to 105 by 2025. However, using the automated feed system method, instead of an increase in staff over coming years, the number of feed staff in 2025 will be just 35, nearly a third. The document even sets out planned redundancies for workers who have yet to be employed by Tassal. The document helpfully explains that this land-based central feeding will result in a reduction in the number of feeders to a third of existing method requirements.

So, again, why is Tassal’s feeding strategy and its commercial considerations of interest to this Senate and a matter of public interest? It is because Tassal, with the full-throated support of both the Liberal and state Labor parties, have been telling Tasmanians that their salmon farm expansion in Tasmania will create jobs—jobs in regional centres like Triabunna, adjacent to the pristine Okehampton Bay. When announcing their plan to put 800,000 fish into Okehampton Bay, the Tassal CEO said that it could create up to 40 local jobs.

But this document sets out a very different reality. The document clearly shows that Tassal is at least planning to cut jobs if it upgrades its automatic feeding systems. This information document clearly outlines a loss of 20 jobs directly at Okehampton Bay under this future scenario, associated with upgrading to higher-skilled, better-paid workers, mostly based in Hobart.

So my question to the state government, who are spruiking a job-rich salmon industry as a basis for a social licence for the Okehampton Bay project, is: are you aware of a plan to cut jobs and use technology? Are you aware if it has been accepted by the Tassal board? Are the 40 jobs stated by the Tassal CEO in his public statements net of the 20 jobs to be lost as forecast in this document, or is it only likely to be 20 jobs at Okehampton Bay — half the figure publicly stated by stakeholders?

Ultimately, it is up to a company if it wants to invest its shareholder funds or seek finance to restructure, upgrade or innovate and replace labour with technology. That’s a sad fact of the commercial world, especially for workers.

Indeed, it is the future of work, which we all have to face, across many industries. Fine, if that’s your decision. I just don’t want to see Tassal or Jeremy Rockliff or any other politicians running around telling porky pies, giving communities a false sense of hope and using misinformation to win political campaigns. It’s important this is cleared up and, if it proves that this document is the future pathway for the salmon industry in Tasmania, it must be factored into social, economic and political debate on salmon farm expansion in Tasmania. In my last 10 seconds, I seek leave to table a document that I’ve referred to in my speech.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Ketter ): Is leave granted?

A government senator: No.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Leave is not granted yet, Senator Whish-Wilson. Perhaps you could circulate that to the whips and we’ll have a look at it.

• John Biggs in Comments: … Not surprisingly perhaps this completely backs up Christine Milne’s claims ( TT HERE ) that corporate donations and like with Gunns, corporate mates and to hell with the public interest. Christine’s claims that the Greens are the only party that put public interest first. That message is so obvious yet so deliberately avoided and distorted by the major parties and some minor ones, and the press. This so easily may be taken further to systemic levels: that is, that the Westminster system and its reliance on two party government and opposition is so easily open to corruption. A multi-party and power-sharing system is so much less open to corruption because the voting keeps shifting issue by issue. While we are unfortunately a long way from that, one easy step of major importance would be to ban corporate donations both local and foreign to political parties …

• Geoffrey Swan in Comments: … despite all our efforts (and yours at the 2015 Senate Inquiry) Huon Aquaculture continues to this day, now 10 plus years on, to discharge 26 million litres every day of the year of fish poo, fish sewage, fish effluent, fish shit … into the once-pristine Russell River in Lonnavale. This company is showing no interest in protecting this river …

Jeremy Rockliff, Elise Archer: Tassal shift to oceanic farming welcomed

Rosalie Woodruff: Tassal’s “Off-Shore” Spin Tassal’s so-called “commitment to Tasmania” in moving their operations apparently “off-shore” is simply a PR exercise. It seems to be designed to secure their share price and water down the intense public scrutiny of their activities, and the current court hearings. What they are proposing is just to move from several tiny and environmentally damaged sites in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel and Huon Rivers, as they consolidate and intensify operations at Long Bay near Port Arthur. The Long Bay lease is 45m from the shore in a relatively shallow and unflushed bay. Despite an implicit apology in Tassal’s statement about the environmental harm they caused in Macquarie Harbour, the company might “accept the lessons learned”, but clearly haven’t learnt from them …

Labor: Labor welcomes Tassal’s off-shore move

• Wining Pom in Comments: … #4 … ‘For Christs sake, what do the Greens and their supporters want’. Sustainability.

21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. John Biggs

    November 16, 2017 at 11:57 am

    This speech, and the Government’s reaction to it, says it all about crony capitalism and the damage it is doing, both to the environment and to government credibility. Here we go again and again, forestry, pulp mills, and now Tassal or Gunns-upon-sea.

    The jobs, jobs mantra was used by Gunns and now by Tassal when it all a bloody great government backed lie, whether Liberal or Labor.

    Not surprisingly perhaps this completely backs up Christine Milne’s claims (http://oldtt.pixelkey.biz/index.php?/weblog/article/extract-christine-milne-an-activist-life-/) that corporate donations and like with Gunns, corporate mates and to hell with the public interest. Christine’s claims that the Greens are the only party that put public interest first. That message is so obvious yet so deliberately avoided and distorted by the major parties and some minor ones, and the press. This so easily may be taken further to systemic levels: that is, that the Westminster system and its reliance on two party government and opposition is so easily open to corruption. A multi-party and power-sharing system is so much less open to corruption because the voting keeps shifting issue by issue. While we are unfortunately a long way from that, one easy step of major importance would be to ban corporate donations both local and foreign to political parties.

    Easy in principle that is, but the major parties who thrive on corporate bribes and the corporate world itself would never allow it. But the behaviour of the parties and the business world in this respect is corrupt all the same.

  2. Geoffrey Swan

    November 16, 2017 at 12:06 pm

    Excellent speech Peter. I hope you had the numbers to listen at 8pm last night. Shocked they would not grant you leave.

    FYI … despite all our efforts (and yours at the 2015 Senate Inquiry) Huon Aquaculture continues to this day, now 10 plus years on, to discharge 26 million litres every day of the year of fish poo, fish sewage, fish effluent, fish shit … into the once pristine Russell River in Lonnavale. This company is showing no interest in protecting this river.

    Its latest ploy in its March 2017 report is that the downstream eutrophication is in part due to the ducks on their settlement ponds and the platypus that “supposedly” live in these poo ridden settlement ponds. This company doesn’t seem to realise Platypus eat the equivalent of 50% of their body weight every day, and as there is nothing to eat in the ponds they must trot out each day to the river then back again …

    IMV Frances Bender’s image as an environmental warrior is a huge joke.

  3. john hayward

    November 17, 2017 at 12:17 am

    It’s hard to see Sen W-W’s speech as anything less than a frontal attack on the kleptocracy that defines our state. Shame!

    John Hayward

  4. Robin Charles Halton

    November 17, 2017 at 10:39 am

    For Christs sake, what do the Greens and their supporters want, Tassal is moving offshore as an example for acting on increasing concerns of the effects of fish pen salmon production overcrowding in river estuaries and inshore operations!

    Along with increased forest production due to demand for mainly woodchip production from HWP’s to China and Japan what do these Greens and their supporters want.

    Soon it will be dairy, beef cattle and sheep production next in line!

    Politically nor in a practical sense can I see the Greens being of much use as a political party in the future.

    No political party is perfect, politics is already on a low ebb in Australia, the Greens in particular offer no solutions as they dont represent the majority of Australian’s views.

  5. Steve

    November 17, 2017 at 8:41 pm

    #4 … You appear not to have read the article, Robin. For your benefit I’ll paste a portion below to save you the trouble of looking.

    “We want to see the industry go onshore, using sustainable closed-loop farming methods, powered by renewable energy, or we want to see the industry go way offshore rather than expanding around the beautiful inshore waters in our state of Tasmania.”

  6. Geoffrey Swan

    November 18, 2017 at 12:02 am

    #5 … Very well emphasised Steve … the Green blinkers mean some people just do not read and absorb … too ready to attack.

  7. Wining Pom

    November 18, 2017 at 12:06 am

    #4 … ‘For Christs sake, what do the Greens and their supporters want’

    Sustainability.

  8. Robin Charles Halton

    November 18, 2017 at 9:38 am

    #4 Highly unlikely given the massive demand for salmon throughout the nation.

    The scale of economics drives the current industry but it is a good move for them to go outside semi enclosed waters.

    The greens talk about sustainability but never bother to actually put into practice what they preach.

    If they had their own way Tasmania pulic land would be only Reserves and the surviving population would be put out on pasture.

  9. Tony Stone

    November 19, 2017 at 12:00 pm

    #4 and #8 … it would be great to get rid of the beef and dairy industries which contribute to the huge environmental destruction of Tas, and they are extremely detrimental to the population’s health outcomes. Sheep could go too if we grew hemp for cloth and developed it.

    If people want to eat red meats, then eat native meats for a better environmental and health outcome, rather than imported bovine environment and health destroying crap.

    Moving fish pens off shore is an environmental disaster waiting to happen. We get horrendous seas of our coasts and we only need one pen to break free and wash ashore to create a disaster. We already see junk from the farms being washed ashore regularly.

    With climate change the seas will get even more dangerous, yet these fools continue along as if nothing is happening and all that matters is their profit growth.

    Then there is the pen waste which drops to the bottom, kills life there and is finally washed ashore, creating more environmental disasters and the destruction of sea life.

    When are people going to stop believing they can continue to dump crap into the seas and it will go away? Can’t get any more insanely deranged that that form of logic.

    Next we have the fact it takes over 18 kg of caught wild fish to produce 1kg of farmed salmon. Unless you have an illogical ideological mind, the sustainability of this industry under it’s current regime is a disaster.

    I live near a number of Tassal farms and the surrounding waters for kilometers around are dead. Now they want to put fish pens in the middle of Storm Bay, our major shipping and boating lanes and one of the most volatile ocean areas around Tas.

    The associated yearly algal blooms from the farms are increasing, as is the incidence of diseased pen fish, so they continue to increase the amount of antibiotics they feed to the fish, which creates mutations.

    The only way for this industry to operate responsibly, is to move it onshore and stop feeding it wild caught fish. As it is our native salmon tastes thousand of times better than the drug and chemical saturated Atlantic salmon.

  10. Bart Roberts

    November 19, 2017 at 4:23 pm

    I am surprised that a Senator of Peter Whish-Wilson’s calibre has the capacity to do research and engage with stakeholders and then not reveal that Huon Aquaculture is already doing exactly the same thing as Tassal in relation to feeding strategies. It would seem that the Senator’s research didn’t extend as far as it could.

  11. Geoffrey Swan

    November 19, 2017 at 6:06 pm

    Frances Bender, who is now also behind the next Huon Valley “pie in the sky” tourism boom (IMV) http://geeveseffect.com/ was heard on radio last week saying the Huon Valley can no longer depend on Aquaculture for jobs.

    At a town hall meeting last week she said local employment can no longer be reliant on Aquaculture.

    The concept of feeding their pens via tubes and computers (from anywhere in the world) is not new information. It is already happening overseas and you can be very sure the Benders are right across this cost saving concept.

  12. MjF

    November 19, 2017 at 9:06 pm

    I think Australian salmon is one of the poorest eating fish in the sea. Sooner eat mullet.

    Good to catch but crap table fare even when bled.

    There’s no accounting for taste it seems.

    Not that I eat farmed Atlantic salmon either but for different reasons.

    When will someone farm stripey trumpeter ?

  13. Richard Kopf

    November 21, 2017 at 4:42 pm

    #12 … Farmed salmon is not on my menu either.

    Firstly add artificial colour so it looks like salmon.Then add antibiotics by the tonne, yes tonne, then add herbicide. Realise that the Okehampton salmon are living in waters regularly plagued by Red Tides caused by microscopic algae that produce toxins that kill fish and make shellfish dangerous to eat. Crayfish currently are not to be taken from the East Coast –
    but Salmon is fine?

    Finally, feed them on poultry offal, feathers and all. Enjoy!

  14. Philip Lowe

    November 21, 2017 at 11:49 pm

    Tassie is a great place,but why is it that when somebody gets the dollar signs in their eyes they go at it hammer and tongs,turn it into a monster export business,at the expense of the charm and the environment?Once you start to export primary produce the home market price goes up,intrusive infrastructure invades and people start to talk of how it used to be.Did someone mention Stripey Trumpeter?Best tasting fish I ever ate.

  15. MjF

    November 22, 2017 at 6:46 pm

    #13

    Thought it was mainly wild caught fish that went into salmon feed.

    #14

    Or ever will.

  16. Bart Roberts

    November 22, 2017 at 7:34 pm

    #13 … Do you actually believe these untruths Richard or are you just sowing confusion by continuing to cite these no-facts in order to scare people? I hope it’s the former. If so, then let me explain:
    1. A coloured pigment is added to salmon feed. This pigment is a carotenoid called astanxanthin which is an essential anti-oxidant. Salmon require this in their diet with the side effect that it makes their flesh pink. In the wild Atlantic salmon would get their dose of astanxathin from eating small crustaceans like krill. In farmed feed the astaxanthin is extracted from red algae.
    2. Tassal used the most antibiotics of any Tasmanian salmon farmer last year. Tassal used 301.12 KILOGRAMS (not tonnes) in 2016.
    3. Herbicides? Really?? What would be the point? What plants living inside a salmon would there be to kill???
    4. Toxic algal blooms do not kill fish, either salmon, shellfish, or crayfish. Shellfish eat the algae and the toxin builds up in their flesh and effects us if we eat them. Salmon do not eat algae so there are no toxins in their flesh and therefore they are safe for us to eat. The big affect of algal blooms on farmed fish is the local depletion of oxygen at night time when plants respire. In the day time algae add oxygen to the water.
    5. Red Tides? Ironic that red algae is the source of astaxanthin.
    6. Feed them poultry offal and feathers? I must say that I quite enjoy a chicken liver pate, and yakitori chicken hearts are delicious. Have you never eaten a bit of chicken feather that remained in a barbecued chicken wing? Did it kill you? I think not.

  17. Richard Kopf

    November 24, 2017 at 11:06 am

    #1 … Yes, Tonnes.

    “CONOR DUFFY: Figures published by the fishing industry show that in the years 2006 to 2008 almost 18 tonnes of the antibiotics oxytetracycline and amoxicillin were fed to Tasmanian salmon. The majority appears to have been used by the dominant company Tassal. The only other significant company, Huon Aquaculture, says it only used two of the 18 tonnes.” Source — ABC.

    Has antibiotic use lessened? Nobody knows. Oh, and be careful eating chicken. The industry is just starting to phase out antibiotic supplements.

  18. A Sinking Ship

    November 27, 2017 at 3:28 pm

    The ecological demise of southern Tasmania over the past decade or so is obvious.

    Native blackfish are now rare in the Huon when they were once historically common. The region’s small creeks were once filled with trout, now there are just a few. The problem is clearly not overfishing, it is something else.

    The once famous Huon whitebait run is only a patch on what it was. This run would have been a huge input into the river’s ecosystem.

    There’s no shortage of small escaped Atlantic salmon in the river and endless wads of slimy weed carpeting the bottom.

    The Huon must be one of the most under-utilised rivers in Australia in terms of fishing. From what I hear, this wasn’t always the case.

    Studies have shown the demise of shellfish in the nearby Bruny channel, and we all know what happened to Hobart’s Derwent estuary and the lost kelp forests.

    Overall, it’s a disaster.

    On land things might be going the same way. The swift parrots seem to be gone. They were here five years ago.

    Maybe it is just seasonal where we are, but bumble bee numbers are down this year, and honey bees too. It has been hot and humid in November, and the hay season is possibly the earliest ever.

    Can there be restoration of the rivers? Is hope warranted?

    Will the salmon pens eventually be moved offshore to help the Huon River breathe again?

    Given that aquaculture jobs will disappear with automation it would be unfair for a select few salmon farmers to continue to profit at the expense of the river.

    I can only guess at whatever things other than salmon farms and changing weather affect southern Tasmania’s ecology, but agriculture was likely far more intense historically than it is now.

    A lot has gone bad in just one decade, and it’s only going to get worse without decent leadership.

  19. Richard Kopf

    November 27, 2017 at 8:48 pm

    #16 … Sorry Bart, I could not complete a response to your ignorance in the one session.
    From Tassal’s own Fact Sheet: “By working with Australian terrestrial farmers and using the rest of chicken that is not used for human consumption we are utilising valuable natural resources that went into that chicken.”(read guts and feathers)

    A highly toxic pesticide, emamectin benzoate, is being used in the industry to control sea lice Lepeophtheirus salmonis infestations in Atlantic salmon. Many references … just Google.

    Yes, I said herbicide. I meant pesticide.

    Algal blooms harmless to salmon? Chiloé Island in Chile is currently facing a crisis. In the last month alone, thousands of marine animals including birds, crabs and seals have washed ashore, dead, on Chiloé’s beaches along a phenomenon known as ‘red tide’, or toxic algal blooms.

    http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/makingwaves/crisis-chiloe-chile-marine-life/blog/56433/

    Plenty more references.

  20. Bart Roberts

    November 29, 2017 at 12:53 pm

    #19 Dr Karl says that Google is like a drunk man down the pub. If you use it judiciously you will find that sea lice are a Northern Hemisphere problem and not an issue in Tasmania. Hence no need for pesticides, which in any case are being phased out in the Northern Hemisphere in favour of biological treatments such as lumpfish and wrasse.

  21. Richard Kopf

    November 30, 2017 at 12:28 am

    #20 … Sea lice are a problem for the industry in both hemispheres. The trialed use of wrasse as cleaner fish in the Northern hemisphere began because of their great concern with the overuse of dangerous pesticides.

    I spent time in Chiloe, a now devastated island with a similar latitude to Tasmania.

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