Interaction of state and federal laws and regulations
While there are a number of areas where Commonwealth laws apply to the
Tasmanian aquaculture industry, submitters focused on the interaction of state
and Commonwealth laws in relation to the expansion of farming operations in
Macquarie Harbour. This chapter provides an overview of relevant Commonwealth
legislation before addressing the issues related to Macquarie Harbour.
Commonwealth regulation is applicable to the Tasmanian fin-fish aquaculture
industry in three areas:
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999
water quality standards;
marine biosecurity; and
agriculture and veterinary chemicals.
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999
The Department of the Environment plays a limited role in regulatory
activities affecting the aquaculture industry, as the industry is primarily
regulated under relevant state and territory legislation. However, projects
require approval under the EPBC Act if they are likely to have a significant
impact on any matter of national environmental significance (as defined by the
Act). The nine matters of national environmental significance protected under
the EPBC Act are:
world heritage properties;
national heritage places;
wetlands of international importance (listed under the Ramsar
listed threatened species and ecological communities;
migratory species protected under international agreements;
Commonwealth marine areas;
the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park;
nuclear actions (including uranium mines); and
water resources, in relation to coal seam gas and large coal mine
Actions that may have a significant impact on a matter of national
environmental significance must be referred to the minister. The minister may
decide that an action:
is a controlled action because it is likely to have a significant
is not a controlled action if undertaken in a manner specified;
is not a controlled action and therefore does not require
One-stop shop policy in Tasmania
The Department of the Environment submitted that the Commonwealth
Government is committed to the development of the one-stop shop policy to
create a single environmental assessment and approval process for nationally
protected matters. The one-stop shop policy will see the accreditation of state
and territory approval processes to meet environmental standards required by
the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth and Tasmanian Governments signed a new assessment
bilateral agreement on 22 October 2014 and a draft approval bilateral
agreement was released for public comment in August 2014.
The Department of the Environment commented that 'the reform may not
result in accreditation of all Tasmanian planning processes immediately, as
some of these processes do not currently meet the standards required by the
In relation to the Living Marine Resources Management Act 1995 (Tas)
and the Marine Farming Planning Act 1995 (Tas), the Department of the
Environment stated that the Acts:
...are currently not accredited under the existing assessment
bilateral agreement and are not proposed to be accredited under the draft
approval bilateral agreement released for comment in August 2014. In the
absence of either an assessment or approval bilateral agreement that accredits
the relevant Tasmanian process, the Commonwealth will continue to have an
assessment and approval role in relation to any aquaculture projects likely to
have a significant impact on nationally protected matters.
While the primary responsibility for water quality management and water
quality data lies with the state and territory governments, the Commonwealth
engages with the jurisdictions to improve water quality in waterways, particularly
through the National Water Quality Management Strategy (NWQMS). The NWQMS aims
to protect water resources, by improving water quality while supporting the
businesses, industry, environment and communities that depend on water for
their continued development.
The Department of the Environment added that the Strategy is the
principal policy that provides guidance on the environmental suitability of
waste discharges to the receiving environment and applies in all states and
Under the NWQMS, the Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and
Marine Water Quality (2000) provides material on a range of matters
including aquaculture and human consumers of aquatic foods.
The guidelines are currently under review.
Through the application of the NWQMS, the Commonwealth is working in
collaboration with the states and territories to develop Water Quality
Improvement Plans (WQIP) to reduce pollution being released into aquatic
ecosystems with high ecological, social and/or recreational values. WQIPs seek
to deliver significant reductions in the discharge of pollutants to agreed
hotspots. A WQIP provides an ecosystem based approach to integrated water cycle
management, supported by science. Currently, the Derwent Estuary is a listed
Water Quality Hotspot.
Exotic marine species can enter Australian waterways through biofouling
(the accumulation of pests attached to vessel hulls) and ballast water (water
carried in vessels to maintain their suability).
In relation to biofouling, the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture
noted that, in November 2013, the National biofouling management guidelines
for the aquaculture industry were published. The guidelines were reviewed
following the first 12 months of operation. The Department of Agriculture
commented that the aquaculture industry had advised the review that anti-fouling
paints are no longer used on moveable aquaculture structures and biofouling is
generally acquired from the local area. On this basis:
...it was proposed and agreed by relevant jurisdictions and
agencies that moveable aquaculture structures (including those used in finfish
aquaculture operations in Tasmania) be removed from the guidelines.
The aquaculture industry is also subject to Commonwealth quarantine
legislation in relation to biosecurity risks associated with imported
commodities such as feed for fish, farming equipment, live broodstock and
genetic material. The Department of Agriculture noted that 'Commonwealth
quarantine legislation operates concurrently with state and territory
quarantine legislation, including the management arrangements in Tasmania'.
The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA)
regulates the use of agriculture and veterinary (agvet) chemicals by Australian
aquaculture industries. Chemicals used by the aquaculture industry include
antibiotics, vaccines, hormones to induce spawning and for production of female
stock, anaesthetics and biocides to control fouling on equipment.
The APVMA regulates chemicals up to, and including, the point of retail
sale and is based on 'rigorous independent scientific assessments of the
potential risks the chemicals pose to the environment, as well as to human
health, occupational health and safety, and trade in products associated with
the use of these chemicals'.
The states and territories are responsible for regulating the use of agvet
chemicals after the point of retail sale through control-of-use legislation.
Residue monitoring and environmental management issues relating to the use of
agvet chemicals are also primarily the responsibility of state and territory
As part of the Commonwealth Government's commitment to decrease the
regulatory burden on producers, the Department of Agriculture stated that it
continued to consult with the aquaculture industry to improve agvet chemical
regulation and access.
Expansion of farming in Macquarie Harbour and application of the EPBC Act
The committee received evidence regarding the expansion in Macquarie
Harbour in relation to threatened species such as the spotted handfish and
Maugean skate, the possible impact on the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage
Area and the requirements contained in the Commonwealth referral decision which
was made under the EPBC Act.
Matters related to threatened and endangered species have been canvassed in
Expansion of operations in Macquarie
Aquaculture has been conducted in Macquarie Harbour for more than
20 years. In 2010, Tassal, Huon Aquaculture and Petuna began exploring the
potential for expansion in the Macquarie Harbour region. A draft amendment to
the Macquarie Harbour Marine Farming Development Plan (MHMFDP) was submitted to
the Marine Farming Planning Review Panel for assessment.
The Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and
Environment (DPIPWE) commented that proponents of marine farming developments are
notified by DPIPWE of the prescriptions of the EPBC Act when development proposals
are presented to the Department and when marine farming leases are granted.
DPIPWE commented that 'it should be noted that a marine farming lease must be
granted to a proponent before any action can be undertaken and hence any
referral made to the Minister administering the [EPBC Act]'.
Approval was given in May 2012 for the industry to increase the number
of leases in the Harbour from 2 per cent to 3.3 per cent (924 hectares) of the
total water space.
The TSGA stated that the percentage of the harbour taken up by the industry is
less than 3.3 per cent of the harbour with the actual fish pens taking up 20 hectares.
The TSGA noted that there are no farms in the World Heritage Area in Macquarie
Harbour. Rather, the World Heritage Area is at the top of the Macquarie Harbour
body of water, upstream of salmon farming and is protected from adverse
environmental impacts of farming by the environmental limits set by DPIPWE within
the compliance zone for farming.
Application of the EPBC Act
The expansion of marine farming at Macquarie Harbour was referred to the
Commonwealth in 2012 on behalf of Huon Aquaculture Group, Tassal Operations and
Petuna Aquaculture. This has been the only instance of an aquaculture operation
in Tasmania being referred under the EPBC Act.
The Commonwealth Department of the Environment noted that the proposed
action did not require assessment and approval under the EPBC Act if undertaken
in accordance with the Macquarie Harbour Marine Farming Development Plan
(MHMFDP). The MHMFDP included specific measures to protect the Maugean skate
and the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and involved monitoring and
targeted management responses to protect the species habitat and water quality.
The Department of the Environment stated that the action was
consequently able to proceed, subject to relevant state or local government
In relation to monitoring, the Department of the Environment noted that,
as the expansion in Macquarie Harbour was a 'not a controlled action–particular
manner' decision under the EPBC Act is subject to monitoring by the Department
in accordance with the EPBC Compliance Monitoring Plan 2014/2015. A monitoring
inspection of the project was undertaken by the Department on 18 September 2013.
No evidence of non-compliance with the particular manner requirements
identified in the decision was found. The Department stated that no current
compliance matters are being investigated by the Department.
Submitters noted that the referral decision contained conditions to ensure
that there are no significant impact to the Maugean skate as a result of
changes to the benthic environment (condition 1) and no significant impact on
the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and the Maugean skate as a result
of water quality changes (condition 2). In particular, submitters pointed to the
following monitoring and targeted management responses in relation to water
quality, including dissolved oxygen; benthic changes; and the imposition of the
52.5 per cent cap on total biomass (condition 2f).
Issues in relation to waterway
health in Macquarie Harbour
The environmental importance of Macquarie Harbour was identified by
Environment Tasmania which stated that:
Macquarie Harbour is unique within Australia, with highly
unusual physical and hydrological characteristics, including highly stratified
waters, a darkly stained brackish surface layer, and relatively deep basins
separated from the sea by shallower areas.
Ms Rebecca Hubbard, Environment Tasmania, added that it is one of only
two estuaries of its kind in Australia and that 'it is the property of the
Tasmanian public and our future generations and is therefore a significant
concern for our community'.
However, submitters commented that there are environmental and fish
health concerns in Macquarie Harbour. This includes a downward trend in
dissolved oxygen, an increase in visual impacts from fish farming sites beyond
lease boundaries–that is an increased abundance of Dorvilleid worms, disease
outbreaks in farmed fish and mass mortalities of farmed fish.
Dr Elizabeth Smith commented:
The waters of Macquarie Harbour are recognised as being low
in nutrients and therefore more vulnerable than other waterways to the
increased nutrient levels that will be unavoidable if expansion of aquaculture
Environment Tasmania also stated that DPIPWE has exposed listed
endangered species and World Heritage Area values to 'considerable threats in
Macquarie Harbour, without full understanding of how bad the impacts are or a
management strategy to avoid them'.
Dissolved oxygen levels in
The levels of dissolved oxygen (DO) in Macquarie Harbour were raised in
a number of submissions with two issues identified:
the historically low levels of DO in Macquarie Harbour and its
depletion over time; and
the fish kill event in 2015.
Dr Adam Main, Chief Executive Officer, TSGA, commented that it has been
known for 20 years that Macquarie Harbour is a low DO harbour. As part of the
environmental impact statement for the amendment to the MHMFDP, the consulting
company, Aquadynamic Solutions, undertook extensive work on the Macquarie
Harbour environment. This included assessing all historical data sets to
develop 'the best understanding of what the dissolved oxygen was and also what
that would mean going forward with a biomass increase in the harbour. So we
actually modelled according to the best available data at that time in regard
to oxygen availability in the water'.
Monitoring by the industry and the Tasmanian Environment Protection
Authority (EPA) observed a decline in bottom water DO in Macquarie Harbour.
Dr John Whittington, Secretary, DPIPWE indicated that government agencies
and the industry saw the need to improve understanding of the drivers of the
changes to DO levels.
As a consequence, the Macquarie Harbour Dissolved Oxygen Working Group was
established in February 2014 'to look at the science behind the oxygen levels
in Macquarie Harbour'.
The Working Group comprises the industry (Huon Aquaculture, Tassal and Petuna),
Hydro Tasmania, CSIRO, IMAS and DPIPWE.
The CSIRO was commissioned to review available data and recommend
additional monitoring to assist industry, stakeholders and government to
determine possible cause of the reduced DO.
The report was received in late 2014. Aquadynamic Solutions undertook further
work to update the study to look at changes in DO from August 2014 to May 2015.
This study was reviewed by IMAS, CSIRO and TSGA.
The CSIRO's October 2014 report was made public by the Macquarie Harbour
Dissolved Oxygen Working Group on 13 August 2015. The report indicated that
there was a clear downward trend in the DO levels of the deep-waters (greater
than 15 metres) of Macquarie Harbour over the period 2009 to July 2014. It was
also found that the 'while our analysis suggests that aquaculture may be
responsible for 3–12% of the benthic BOD (below 15 m), the implications for DO
levels throughout the harbour are less clear'. In addition, it noted that river
flow plays an important role in replenishing deep-water oxygen. Other factors
such as wind, tidal height and atmospheric pressure also play significant roles
in regulating oxygen replenishment. The report added that further data will
clearly be required before the decline in DO can be definitively attributed.
Aquadynamic Solutions provided the committee with the details of the main
results of the CSIRO study and the update study. The results of the update
study included that, at many depths, DO levels appear to have recovered to
nearly the same levels as those observed at the start of the monthly monitoring
program in late 2011 (based on May 2015 DO data). It was found that water level
was a key factor in determining harbour dynamics. The key driver of water level
elevation is the harbour was found to be air pressure (responsible for more
than 40 per cent), followed by tide and then river flow.
Aquadynamic Solutions commented that a better understanding of the
processes operating within Macquarie Harbour and the physical forces driving
oxygen recharge had been gained through the update study.
Aquadynamic Solutions added:
Although a full understanding of attribution is still elusive
the current update clearly identifies some of the causes for the historic DO
depressions, oxygen recharges and the expected outcomes under a range of
conditions both natural and farm/Hydro driven.
Dr Neil Hartstein, Project Manager, Aquadynamic Solutions, explained the
causes of changes in DO in greater detail:
I think a lot of that has been about the climatic mechanisms
or the environmental drivers behind recharge inside Macquarie Harbour. One of
the interesting things that we have been doing working with CSIRO and IMAS over
the last year or so is looking at essentially what are the driving mechanisms
for providing fresh dissolved oxygen into Macquarie Harbour. We have identified
the driving mechanisms and it relates essentially to climate forcings. You need
certain kinds of climatic forcings to occur to get a recharge of dissolved
oxygen into Macquarie Harbour in the bottom waters. Over the last six years,
those recharge mechanisms probably have not been occurring as often as they
have in the past, and one of the easy analogies to relate to that is in regard
We know that there is a very strong relationship in bottom
waters in Macquarie Harbour. When you have high salinity in the bottom waters
you also generally get high dissolved oxygen. We know that in five of the last
six years salinity in the bottom waters has gone down rather than stayed stable
or gone up, which essentially means that oceanic water from offshore that comes
through Hells Gate and into the harbour has not been entering the harbour as
often as it has in the past, and we have noticed in the last year that, when
the dissolved oxygen has increased, salinity levels in the bottom waters have
also increased along with that. So understanding these dynamics has been one of
the most interesting and probably the most obvious changes in the harbour. This
relates to the decrease in dissolved oxygen that we did see. But, as I said, it
is now recharged again because the forcing dynamics, the climatic dynamics,
have changed in the last year or so.
Dr Hartstein added that for oceanic water to come through Hells Gate:
...you need to have strong north-westerly winds, you need to
have a low pressure system, you need to probably have a spring tide and the
wind needs to be sustained for a certain period of time as well. You need a
combination of those things to all align at the same time. We have looked at a
23-year data set and we have observed that it has not been so frequent in
recent years as it was in previous years, and just in the last year or so it
has come back because the frequency has increased.
Dr Donald Ross, IMAS, also commented that the studies provided
information about the Macquarie Harbour DO system 'in terms of what the drivers
are, but in terms of assigning attribution the data just is not there for us to
Dr Whittington noted that the CSIRO study had included some hypotheses
about how the harbour operated and added that:
...consistent with those hypotheses, with certain climatic
events and changes in the operations of the Gordon River, the harbour has
responded in a way that is consistent with that report.
Dr Whittington further noted that the oxygen concentrations in the
bottom waters are approximately equivalent to what they were four or five years
ago. Dr Whittington concluded that the research that has been undertaken provides
DPIPWE with 'some confidence that we are understanding the harbour' and
'confidence that the environment in Macquarie Harbour is being appropriately
and adequately managed'.
In addition, he stated 'the CSIRO report talks about the various things that
cause and contribute to low dissolved oxygen. Salmon farming is only a small
part of that'.
The TSGA reported that it had significantly increased monitoring and
sampling of DO. Further, the industry is working with the CSIRO, UTAS and
Sense-t on developing an 'innovative and world first Decision Support System
(DSS) with a particular focus on oxygen'. The project will involve international
sensor experts and will require 'some creative networking solutions due to the
remoteness of the west coast'.
It also stated that additional work has been undertaken and completed in
relation to the recommendations contained in the Working Group report.
However, Environment Tasmania refuted the evidence from Dr Whittington
that DO levels had increased back to the long-term normal level. Environment
Tasmania stated that the industry and the government had 'been promoting one
month's percentage increase in dissolved oxygen levels through media, when a
detailed look at the leaked reports shows system-wide changes outside the
long-term trends, with the harbour potentially moving to "a new
equilibrium" – meaning a catastrophic shift in the ecosystem'.
In its supplementary submission, Environment Tasmania provided IMAS
datasets for Macquarie Harbour to support its claim and stated that the 'data
loggers are in the World Heritage Area and should therefore be taken with extra
In response to this evidence, the TSGA commented that harbour-wide,
DO levels in bottom and mid waters have returned to, or are approaching,
those recorded at the start of the industry monitoring period in 2011. In
relation to the World Heritage Area, the TSGA provided an extensive response on
monitoring outcomes and concluded that 'the observed fluctuations in DO levels
within the [World Heritage Area] over many years would appear to be of little
significance to the ecology of the [World Heritage Area] and the primary concern
has been addressed with a positive outcome'.
Fish kill event
In May 2015, approximately 85,000 fish (3.7 per cent of fish stocks)
farmed by Petuna in Macquarie Harbour were killed. Dr Whittington noted that
the fish kill was the result of very low DO concentrations which occurred
during an extreme climate event:
...we had extremely high north-westerly winds blowing down the
harbour for a number of days, coupled with very low pressure. Essentially, that
caused water in the harbour to get blown to the bottom end—the south-eastern
end of the harbour—which then caused or enabled a significant recharge of ocean
water into the harbour. That oceanic water is dense, so it slides in at an
appropriate depth in the harbour, and that can cause, essentially, waves
internal to the water body.
Dr Whittington went on to emphasise that the low DO water that upwelled
resulted in the mortality event at a single lease in the harbour.
As noted above, the referral decision contained a condition in relation
to total biomass in Macquarie Harbour:
The total biomass held across all lease areas must not exceed
52.5 percent of the modelled maximum sustainable biomass until limit levels are
reviewed in mid 2013, and must not exceed any such altered levels as may be
identified thereafter by the Tasmanian Government.
The committee received evidence that the condition in the referral
decision was an interim measure to enable the Tasmanian Government to set a new
biomass limit for Macquarie Harbour.
Dr Main stated that the 52.5 per cent cap was:
...an interim measure set by the EPBC [Act] until industry and
government could sit down and review what we would have as appropriate trigger
limits going forward for the industry and appropriate biomass limits and a
whole range of other variables. It was an interim measure to give the process
the time it required to come up with a workable solution going forward for the
longevity of Macquarie Harbour. So it was a point in time interim measure.
It was noted that the review was undertaken and Dr Whittington stated
that the 'condition fell away with the submission of a review which occurred'.
As a consequence, 'the companies were then operating under the Tasmanian
legislation and were acting in accordance with that'.
The DPIPWE indicated that the biomass condition lapsed on 18 October 2013.
In setting a new biomass limit, as well the research conducted by CSIRO
and others over the last two to three years, Dr Main commented that the
Tasmanian Government has engaged a third party to help set new biomass limits
for Macquarie Harbour. He went on to state:
They are going through a process right now of getting peer
reviewed international scientists to look at the issues, all facets of the
issues, all the information from a range of different sources. There is a broad
church of people contributing to the review.
The result of that review will be provided to the state government. Dr
Main added that the state government will then provide the companies with the
outcomes which 'the companies are prepared to accept'.
Dr Main further noted that the current stocking levels are similar to
the 52.5 per cent cap and the industry is undertaking 'a step-wise
increase of expansion into Macquarie Harbour'.
Alleged breach of the 52.5 per cent
On 3 March 2015, Mr Kim Booth, the then leader of the Greens in the
Tasmanian House of Asssembly, tabled a leaked email sent to the Tasmanian
Premier from Mr Mark Porter, Chief Executive Officer, Petuna, and Mr Peter
Bender, Managing Director, Huon Aquaculture.
The email, dated 19 September 2014, detailed concerns about the water
quality in Macquarie Harbour. The email indicated that fish farmed by Tassal
had been treated with antibiotics to control a disease outbreak. Mr Porter and
Mr Bender commented that this represented a 'clear warning sign that the environment
we are growing fish in is becoming compromised'.
The email also commented on the 52.5 per cent cap, with Mr Porter and
Mr Bender stating that Government advice that there was no cap in place as
of October 2013, was contrary to the industry's understanding. Further, the
email included comments on a predicted breach of the cap in October 2014 by
In response to questions concerning the conditions in Macquarie Harbour
at the time of the comments from Mr Porter and Mr Bender, Dr Whittington
These were complicated times. There was a fair bit of
concern, both within the agency as a regulator and within the companies, on
what was happening in the harbour.
Dr Whittington also stated that he had no knowledge of any breach
of the cap prior to the submission of the review.
In relation to the comments in the leaked email, Dr Whittington stated
that the cap had fallen away by the time the emails were circulated, 'so there
was no cap to be breached at that point in time. The companies were producing
salmon in accordance with the regulatory requirements that we were imposing at
that stage'. Dr Whittington also stated:
The assertions in that email are factually incorrect, in my
view. It is not appropriate for me to speculate because that is factually
incorrect. As I have said, when that cap was in place before it fell away with
the submission of the review it was in the context of the total production in
the harbour; it was not apportioned between companies. Each company was at
liberty to grow within the context of their licence conditions.
The TSGA was also questioned about whether the cap was removed because
one of the companies in Macquarie Harbour was going to breach the cap. Dr Main
Absolutely not. It was a specific finite time frame. The life
of the cap had a specific time frame. It was to allow a review by both industry
and governments in order to make a decision on how to proceed forward from that
point. At that particular time, the lifting of the cap would have allowed the
industry to then go ahead and put into the harbour the biomass that we modelled
for and that had been approved through the EIS process. We are actually nowhere
near that limit at the moment. We are taking a far more conservative stepwise
approach to putting biomass into the harbour.
Dr Main also noted that the email was a 'point-in-time communication'
and what was in the email 'is just not what is apparent now in the current time
frame'. He emphasised that the salmonid industry was very united.
Ms Feehely, EDO Tasmania, commented on the timing of the removal of the
cap and noted that it was to be reviewed to identify a sustainable biomass
In relation to when the cap no longer applied, Ms Feehely stated that 'arguably
it cannot exceed 52.5 until it is reviewed and an altered level is set'.
A further issue raised by submitters was the increased abundance of
Dorvilleid in Macquarie Harbour. The Australian Marine Conservation Society
stated that Dorvilleid are 'opportunistic polychaete worms, abundance of which
are known to increase in stressed or polluted conditions'. Dorvilleid have been
recorded within the World Heritage Area.
The TSGA commented that Dorvilleid were not identified during the
initial processes under the EPBC Act for the expansion of marine farming at
Macquarie Harbour. Dr Main stated that the Dorvilleid debate and
discussion arose after the decision that the expansion was not a controlled
action. Dr Main went on to comment that:
...the dorvilleid worms in Macquarie Harbour are actually a
naturally occurring species. People have a perception that they are a result of
industry or that they have been introduced. We have even heard a range of views
about their having been introduced by industry. They are a naturally occurring
species in Macquarie Harbour. Nor is there any evidence or suggestion that they
have never been in the world heritage area. These are a species that occurs
harbour-wide. The actions of the worms are absolutely critical for Macquarie
Harbour. They break down stuff. They get rid of the stuff that comes down
through the catchment, and from salmon farms, as well. Dorvilleid worms have a
part in the ecosystem of Macquarie Harbour.
Dr Whittington, DPIPWE, commented that the presence of Dorvilleid in
Macquarie Harbour did not indicate a breach of the EPBC Act conditions. He went
on to state that Dorvilleid numbers are monitored, particularly through remote
operated cameras. They have been used by regulators for a number of years as a
bioindicator and by industry to gain an understanding about 'what is going on in
marine farming operations'. Dr Whittington noted that 'numbers have increased
considerably in lease areas and well outside of lease areas in Macquarie
Harbour. We do not understand at this point in time exactly what that means for
Dr Whittington stated that, as it is not understood exactly the reason
for the increase, a study has been commissioned to gain further information on Dorvilleid
in Macquarie Harbour. He concluded, while there are Dorvilleid present, 'that
in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is certainly something we
would like to understand'.
IMAS provided the committee with an outline of the project to review the
current understanding of Dorvilleid ecology and in particular, their response
to organic enrichment as well as their current use as indicator of the impacts
of fin-fish farming. IMAS commented that preliminary results 'suggest that
Dorvilleids can be effective indicators of sediment condition in Macquarie
Harbour, although some considerations need to be taken into account when using
them for monitoring'.
Role of the Commonwealth
While noting the Commonwealth's involvement in the aquaculture industry
through the EPBC Act, many submitters considered that the regulation of the
industry was a state matter. For example, the Australian Workers' Union
We do not believe that role should be expanded any further.
We think that the Commonwealth should confirm with the Tasmanian government
that it recognises that this is a matter properly regulated by the Tasmanian
However, EDO Tasmania commented that the Commonwealth Government should still
have a role in monitoring the environmental impacts of fin-fish farming in
Macquarie Harbour. Ms Feehely stated that:
Clearly, aquaculture management in interstate waters is
principally a state issue. However, where aquaculture activities impact on
matters of national environmental significance, whether that is threatened
species, water quality, Ramsar wetland's or heritage places, that is a matter
for the federal government. To the extent that the federal government
effectively delegates its responsibility for managing these impacts to the
state government, whether through the prescribed manner—the decision in
relation to Macquarie Harbour—or any future bilateral agreement, the
effectiveness of Tasmania's regulatory framework is something that should
concern the federal government.
EDO Tasmania noted that the expansion in Macquarie Harbour was
determined to be not a controlled action and, as such:
...the Federal Minister is now unable to intervene to address
significant impacts, unless the Minister is satisfied that the action is not
being carried out in the manner described. This unduly restricts the Minister's
ability to take action to protect threatened species and World heritage values.
However, pursuant to section 78 of the EPBC Act, the Minister may revoke
this decision and replace it with a decision that the matter is a controlled
action that requires assessment, if satisfied that this is warranted because:
substantial new information about the impacts of the action is
a substantial change in circumstances has occurred that was not
foreseen at the time of the decision.
Ms Feehely went on to comment on the conditions contained in the EPBC
Act referral decision and action that could be taken if those conditions were
not met. She stated that most conditions were iterative, that is once a problem
was identified, an action would be required to address it. However, the biomass
cap was a firm decision that could be breached. Ms Feehely went on to state:
Where an operation is not being conducted in accordance with
the prescribed manner that is set out in a decision, the minister has the
opportunity to reconsider that decision and decide that it is in fact an action
that should be controlled under the EPBC Act and that enforcement action is
able to be taken by the federal minister. Equally, even where the prescribed
manner is being complied with, but there is evidence either through changed
circumstances or significant new scientific information about the impacts,
there is also the opportunity to reconsider whether in fact those impacts are
more significant than originally anticipated and significant to the extent that
it should now fall within the EPBC Act and the federal minister should have
some role in regulating that activity.
Ms Feehely concluded:
Irrespective of whether the conditions themselves or the prescribed
manner is being complied with...there is also the opportunity under the EPBC Act
for that decision to be reconsidered if the impacts are seen as being
significantly higher than they were anticipated. So, information in relation to
water quality might be a reason for the minister to reconsider whether or not
it should be controlled under the EPBC Act.
EDO Tasmania argued that the Minister should consider revoking the
original decision in the light of evidence of nutrient issues, low DO levels
and concerns regarding expected water flows. In addition, as a controlled
action, the Minister would be able to take enforcement action where Tasmanian
Government regulators have failed to do so.
Similarly, Environment Tasmania stated:
The failure of the Tasmanian regulator to adequately protect
those matters is an excellent example of why it is so important that the
Federal Government maintain oversight for species and areas recognised by the
EPBC Act as having special importance.
The committee notes that the expansion of aquaculture in Macquarie
Harbour has been the only Tasmanian aquaculture matter referred to the
Commonwealth under the EPBC Act. The expansion was found not to be a controlled
action under the EPBC Act if undertaken in accordance with the Macquarie
Harbour Marine Farming Development Plan. The Commonwealth has maintained a
monitoring role and as such, the Department of the Environment undertook a
monitoring inspection in September 2013.
The committee acknowledges the importance of the health of the marine
environment in Macquarie Harbour given that it is only one of two stratified
water systems in Tasmania, its proximity to the Tasmanian Wilderness World
Heritage Area and as habitat for the endangered Maugean skate.
Evidence from environmental groups raised concerns about recent changes
to dissolved oxygen levels in the Macquarie Harbour. The committee notes that
in 2013 fluctuations to the levels of dissolved oxygen were observed. Given the
impact of low levels of dissolved oxygen on the marine environment, fish health
and thus the sustainability fish farming in Macquarie Harbour, the Tasmanian
Government and the industry sought expert scientific assistance to identify the
drivers of these changes.
Research commissioned by the Macquarie Harbour Dissolved Oxygen Working
Group, undertaken by CSIRO, has provided greater understanding of the Macquarie
Harbour marine environment, the causes of changes to dissolved oxygen levels
and has indicated that dissolved oxygen levels have returned to those
previously observed. Further, the harbour has responded in a way consistent to
that predicted by the CSIRO research. The committee also notes that, in
response to concerns about dissolved oxygen levels, the industry has increased
monitoring and sampling the results of which are reported to the Department of
Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment. The industry is also
responding to the recommendations of the CSIRO research.
The committee notes the government's and the industry's commitment to
ensuring the ongoing health of Macquarie Harbour. The committee considers that
there has been a timely and appropriate response to issues related to
fluctuations of dissolved oxygen in the harbour. Further, that ongoing research
and adaption of farming practices as a result of that research will ensure that
the environmental impacts on the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area are
Evidence was also provided about the research undertaken to improve
knowledge of the Maugean skate and the increased abundance of Dorvilleid in the
harbour. The committee notes the preliminary findings that there appear to be
more Maugean skate in the harbour than originally suggested (see chapter 4 for
There was considerable discussion in evidence in relation to the biomass
cap for farming operations in Macquarie Harbour. The committee also notes that it
was the leaking of an email from the chief executives of Petuna and Huon
Aquaculture concerning, among other matters, the biomass cap which led to the
reference of the inquiry to the committee.
The biomass cap of 52.5 per cent was contained in the Commonwealth's
referral decision. It was set as an interim measure until a review was
undertaken in mid-2013 and the Tasmanian Government identified an altered
level. The review was completed in October 2013. The committee notes that at
that time, changes in dissolved oxygen levels were observed which resulted in further
research being undertaken by CSIRO. The Tasmanian Government also sought an
international third-party scientific review to inform its decision about the
allowable biomass for Macquarie Harbour. In addition, the industry commented
that the biomass has remained close to the cap contained in the referral
The committee considers that the Tasmanian Government's approach to an
altered biomass in Macquarie Harbour is sound. As well as the initial review,
the Government has sought a further third-party review to assist it identify an
altered biomass level. The committee notes that industry has stated that it will
abide by the findings of the third-party review.
6.85 The committee
concludes that the current monitoring and regulatory regime provides adequate
oversight of fin-fish farming operations in Macquarie Harbour and addresses
emerging issues in a timely way as required by the referral decision. In
addition, much research has been undertaken recently to understand changes in
the harbour. As a consequence, the committee does not believe that, at the
present time based on the evidence before it, there is a need to consider the intervention
of the Commonwealth as provided for under the EPBC Act.
Nonetheless, the Department of the Environment has an ongoing monitoring
role for Macquarie Harbour. However, the committee observes it was unclear from
the evidence received as to the extent of the engagement with the Department
that was undertaken by the industry as issues with the marine environment in
Macquarie Harbour emerged. The committee therefore encourages the Department to
consider a further monitoring inspection as part of its next year's annual
compliance monitoring plan.
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