The EPA Director has advised the three salmon companies operating in Macquarie Harbour of his intention to further reduce the fish biomass in the Harbour to 12,000 tonnes for the next year.
Director of the Environment Protection Authority (EPA), Mr Wes Ford, released his latest draft Determination for Macquarie Harbour today, lowering the total peak biomass of fish from the current 14,000 tonnes to 12,000 tonnes for the period from 1 June 2017 to 31 May 2018.
Mr Ford said that he had reviewed all of the scientific information available to him, and the submissions from the companies, before making his decision. This included the latest monitoring results provided by the companies, the most recent surveys and research conducted by the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS), and the EPA’s analysis of nutrient data for the Harbour over the past three years and environmental impacts in the WHA.
"The January compliance monitoring provided by the companies showed an increase in both the level of non-compliance and the extent of the Beggiatoa mats – a key visual indicator at compliance points adjacent to the salmon leases," said Mr Ford.
"Additional monitoring by the companies in late February and early March pointed to improvements at some locations and preliminary advice from IMAS suggests that a number of areas across the Harbour surveyed for benthic fauna have stabilised and show some early signs of improvement," he said.
"However, the preliminary surveys by IMAS also show that benthic fauna numbers have declined in other areas, and the reduction in extent of Beggiatoa mats may relate to more complex environmental factors.
"These variable results are concerning to me as they show the Harbour is under a level of stress that may not be sustainable in the longer term if current production levels exceed or are maintained at 14,000 tonnes.
"The EPA’s analysis of the available data and potential environmental impacts on the WHA, suggest we should proceed with precaution.
"To ensure the environment has the capacity to stabilise and recover to a point where it can sustainably manage the inputs from marine farming, particularly benthic impacts, I believe it necessary to set a maximum limit of 12,000 tonnes for the period of the determination," said Mr Ford.
In addition to lowering the maximum biomass limit for the Harbour, Mr Ford said a number of other changes are being considered for its future management, which include moving the management of the Harbour to a lease by lease management framework with a set of environmental performance measures for each lease.
"This approach will take time to design and implement as part of the proposed legislative changes to introduce an environmental licence for salmon farming," he said.
"Some of the companies are also exploring fish waste collection systems, and if they wish to proceed with these proposals, the EPA will work with them to develop and assess applications for approval of these systems," Mr Ford said.
Mr Ford also advised the salmon companies of his intention to release information to the public regarding his draft determination, including the reasons for his decision and the relevant correspondence between himself and the companies.
"Given the high level of public interest in the environmental management of Macquarie Harbour, I have advised the companies that their final submissions (excluding any commercial in confidence material) will be subject to public disclosure," he said.
"I will also update the Macquarie Harbour compliance information, publish a copy of my letter to the companies with the draft determinations and statement of reasons, and publish supporting information on the EPA website today.
"The scientific research report by IMAS will be published on the EPA website when a final copy has been made available by the researchers," said Mr Ford.
For more information and to download copies of: the EPA Director’s letter to the three salmon companies, the draft Statement of Reasons, the submissions by the companies, the EPA’s Macquarie Harbour Nutrient Review 2013-16 and the Macquarie Harbour WHA Environmental Status Report 2017, go to the Macquarie Harbour Management Determinations page.