Our response to Huon Aquaculture

Huon Aquaculture has responsed to the launch of the #FreshApproachToSalmon campaign with claims that statements being made by Environment Tasmania are fasle and malicious. Here is our response to the issues raised in the company's statement.

The claims made by Environment Tasmania (ET) (https://www.salmon.org.au/about) in its latest campaign are false and malicious. Huon believe the organisation should be held to account by being required to produce evidence to support its claims.

Environment Tasmania believes no false statements have been made and the claims made are fair and accurate. Environment Tasmania’s statements are based on a long term research project which commenced in 2018. Salmon company ratings have been based on a direct survey to salmon and salmon feed companies. The criteria for rating was emailed to Huon Aquaculture, Tassal and Petuna and Environment Tasmania had a number of meetings with Huon Aquaculture’s leadership to discuss the project. During the research phase of the project, populated data sheets were also emailed to Huon, Tassal and Petuna, for comment and review. During these discussions Huon’s leadership undertook to make available additional information not present on their website, which related to key sustainability and animal welfare measures. Environment Tasmania followed up on this offer a number of times, but the promised data was never released.

The data used for ratings was taken directly from company websites for the survey periods of March 2018 - March 2019. Additional information was taken from Tasmanian Government and IMAS publications relating to lease monitoring and marine farm development plans.

Company ratings were based on all information in the public domain during the survey period. Huon indicated to Environment Tasmania that they understood that if information for key sustainability and animal welfare criteria could not be found in the public domain, the company would receive a RED rating for transparency in the Environment Tasmania consumer guide. 

Benchmarks for GREEN, AMBER and RED ratings within the consumer guide were determined in line with published scientific literature and expert advice. These benchmarks and the references used to design them, can be found in the full Consumer Ratings Guide available at www.salmon.org.au/about.

ET’s current outburst has been designed to damage the brand reputation of one of Tasmania’s finest foods, produced by an industry that is more closely controlled and regulated than any other form of primary production.

The purpose of the campaign is protection of the Tasmanian marine environment. The campaign seeks to do this by increasing consumer awareness of sustainability and animal welfare concerns relating to salmon farming in Tasmania. GREEN ratings within our consumer guide have been developed with reference to salmon industry best-practice.

The purpose of our campaign to inform consumers and petition supermarkets is to encourage Tasmanian salmon companies to adopt industry best-practice across their operations, improving their sustainability and welfare practices where these do not already qualify for a GREEN rating. Our ratings will be reviewed annually to reflect these improvements to industry practices.  

More concerning is that despite numerous invitations to visit our farm sites, ET have refused to come for a farm tour and learn how we are continuously working to be world-leading in terms of environmental management, fish-health practices and biosecurity.

We have met the company leadership numerous times, and have never refused an invitation to attend a farm tour. If Huon are extending this invitation, Environment Tasmania’s team will be happy to attend.

ET has also actively refused to provide us with the criteria being used to measure the industry, which limits our ability to proactively respond or alter practices to achieve their “standard”. 

The measures to be reviewed were discussed extensively with Huon’s leadership. Ratings benchmarks are publicly available, based on published literature, expert advice and industry best-practice and can be found at www.salmon.org.au/about.

One of ET’s primary allegations is that the industry lacks transparency. As evidence to counter this claim, Huon Aquaculture was pleased to recently host The Project (Channel 10) on a tour of our farm leases. They asked to meet with us following concerns raised by ET and without hesitation we openly accepted. During the visit no topic was off-limits, and no restrictions were placed on The Project during the filming and interviewing of Huon sites and staff.

The Project’s report has yet to air, but it is our understanding that Huon has maintained a position of non-disclosure for key sustainability and welfare information including salmon mortality rates in hatcheries and marine farms and salmon escapes from marine farms. 

Furthermore, the constant claim we don’t disclose antibiotic use is false – we’ve been disclosing our antibiotic use for many years on our publicly accessible Sustainability Dashboard and website.

This statement is not accurate. Huon has disclosed antibiotic use in marine farms but not hatchery use. Huon has now added figures for their use of antibiotics in hatcheries to their website, in response to questions from journalists at The Project. While this will not change the company’s retrospective rating for the survey period in which the information was not made available to the public, Environment Tasmania will issue an update to supporters to inform them that Huon Aquaculture has released additional information in response to the campaign, and this information will inform future ratings updates. 

They claim we kill marine life under our pens – our leases in the Huon River / D’Entrecasteaux Channel have been subjected to extensive, independent broadscale monitoring for more than 20 years, and reports provided to government regulators indicate the exact opposite – seagrass beds are flourishing around these leases and we have located Handfish on a number of our oldest leases – information which is reported to IMAS and government.

The negative impacts of salmon farming in Macquarie Harbour on benthic flora and fauna under salmon pens is well documented through monitoring by IMAS and EPA reports. However, this level of monitoring is not publicly available for all salmon farming regions by lease. Tasmanian regulations do not stipulate any maximum limits for impacts on benthic flora and fauna within lease areas, only at 35m compliance points. The videos Huon have released on their website of full production demonstrate issues with feces and bacteria build up under pens. The best way for Huon to demonstrate the impact farming has on benthic flora and fauna would be to release benthic test results for their leases and enable comparison to pre-farming baselines.

Among many unsubstantiated claims from ET was the view that salmon farming is creating thick layers of fish waste on the seafloor. During the on-water tour with The Project, the journalist was invited to choose any pen in Storm Bay and in full view of the film crew, a ROV camera was lowered into the water.  We saw fish, seals, seaweed, sandy seafloor and the occasional fish faeces floating through the water; no layer of fish waste, no build-up of fish feed/waste. Storm Bay is one of the roughest stretches of ocean in the world and sediments of any description don’t remain in the same spot long enough to settle.

We were very clear with journalists that Storm Bay is a higher wave energy site than Huon’s other farms and fecal matter is not likely to build up under salmon pens in this area. Environment Tasmania’s concerns regarding fecal build-up relate to industry’s low wave energy sites. Videos released on Huon’s website demonstrate an issue with fecal build-up and bacteria at these sites. 

Not sure if ET undertook some simple research on both our website and Sustainability Dashboard because the facts are there! 

The information Environment Tasmania used for the survey period was taken from Huon Aquaculture’s website. Additional information was taken from EPA, DPIPWE and IMAS monitoring and marine farm development plans.