Voter Backlash…

This is my bay.

It also belongs to many other people – the people of Tasmania. These are State waters, a beautiful sea that has provided occupation, recreation and ambience for many lifetimes of both indigenous people and newcomers.

When I talk of occupation, I talk of professions. I talk of fishermen – generations who have caught wild fish for a living. I had an uncle who was a professional fisherman. He would take his boat out and fish between the continental shelf and the shore of Tasmania, catching all manner of fish for the markets. But he fished sustainably and treated the ocean and what lived in it with respect, knowing that to over-fish would be cutting his nose to spite his face.

Today, a young family friend is also a professional fisherman, but thanks to climate change and an ecology altering by the day, his catch is sporadic and difficult.

Times have changed…

And to rub salt into the wounds of those of us who love our sea or who wish to make a good living from it, the Tasmanian Liberal government has given the green light to Tassal, a salmon farming company, to place 28 pens in the bay with over 800,000 artificially bred, grown and fed fish.

The science, the government claims, is solid and points to a healthy end-product.

This despite Chile, Norway, Scotland, New Zealand and Canada (to name just five countries) whose populations and whose science decry intensive salmon farming as one of the greatest threats to wild fish populations, to regional ecology and to those deriving their incomes from the sea – be it from fishing or tourism. It’s astonishing to think that anyone can google the disasters happening across global fisheries caused by intensive salmon farming and yet this government, headed by William Hodgman, the Premier, and Jeremy Rockliff, the Minister for Primary Industry, remain ignorant of the damage the fisheries have caused.

Amazing too, that residents within those global fisheries email to say ‘fight for what you cherish, because this too will happen to you!’

In my island home of Tasmania last year, 3000 people signed an initial petition against the move.

Within hours of a website and Facebook page going live, analytics showed a hit-rate of 6000 –  within hours! A fighting fund was established with substantial donations, and a TV ad was run, submissions were made to government, pressure was bought to bear through meetings with stakeholders and with media involvement. In fact, one national investigative current affairs programme, Four Corners, revealed corruption within a sick industry, in particular with Tassal.

Tassal has since been found to have fouled the waters of the iconic Macquarie Harbour and has been required to empty its lease on the edge of the World Heritage area. In addition, an ethical superannuation fund has withdrawn its investment in Tassal because of its unenvironmental processes and its lack of social licence – that withdrawal was worth $A10 million.

Despite this, the Liberal state government still wants Tassal to go ahead with establishing its industry on our coast.

They say:

“Tasmania is rich with pure air, clean water, a cool temperate climate – and has a significant proportion of its energy generated from renewable resources. Tasmania has significant levels of biodiversity and forests protected in World Heritage Areas, national parks, reserves and private sector conservation schemes.”

They also say of our east coast:

“Tourism is also growing. In 2014-15, at least 23 per cent of international and interstate visitors spent a night on the East Coast, a figure that has grown by 47 percent in the past three years. Tasmania’s east coast offers long, white beaches, clear waters and secluded coastlines that are perfect for walking, kayaking, diving and sea cruises…With its spectacular national parks, wildlife and many maritime experiences, this route takes you through a temperate natural paradise.”

So they are prepared to push the image but are not prepared to safeguard it from damage. They have a perverted view that tourists want to travel to a salmon farm on the way to magnificent and historical World Heritage-recognised Maria Island, knowing that as those same tourists sit watching the salmon fed chemicals, dyes and pieces of chicken bones and feathers, the vessel on which they travel is floating over tonnes of salmon poo that will ruin our coastal heritage within three years.

And you know why they want to do this?

For a mere twenty jobs which will require specific, limited  qualifications.

 Despite a massive outpouring of public anger across the state, Government has refused to listen or engage with the large numbers of people against this. The stakeholders are ratepayers, they are professional fishermen, recreational fishermen, tourism operators, and people with a vested emotional interest in the region. At a recent local meeting, the Mayor disparaged them, calling them ‘shackies’.

Further, he has called the town of Triabunna, close to the proposed industrial development, a town that has no tourism – this despite the fact that a sea-based eco-tour, East Coast Cruises, operates out of the town and is wildly successful and that the Maria Island ferry operates up to five times a day, seven days a week.

It’d be fair to say that this mayor is not only blind but also wears blinkers…

(comments from Dr. David Booth, professor of Marine Ecology and director of the Centre for Environmental Sustainability at UTS and President of the Australian Coral Reef Society)

One wonders where the vast numbers of stakeholders can turn next to make their voices heard. It seems the ballot-box might just be the place for anyone who thinks Tasmania’s east coast waters are not the place for an ecologically explosive industry.

In the meantime, the current government needs to know Grass Roots are not going away any time soon.

The fight has only just begun!

NB: For an excellent article on how Tassal and the salmon industry are riding rough-shod over the Tasmanian environment – click here