- Say No
- This rating applies to Atlantic salmon farmed by Tassal.
- Atlantic salmon is a non-native species that is farmed in sea cages off the coast of Tasmania.
- Significant environmental impacts of salmon farming have been recorded in Macquarie Harbour, which is a unique and sensitive waterway adjacent to a World Heritage Area. Nutrient and antibiotic pollution impacts have also been detected outside Tassal farm site boundaries in other farming areas.
- Low levels of oxygen and dead zones have been found in the Harbour, which scientists believe are linked to high salmon production. Pollution impacts from salmon farming have impacted the Macquarie Harbour Wilderness World Heritage Area.
- Management actions to minimise the effects of salmon farming include reducing the amount of salmon that can be farmed and temporarily destocking some areas. It is not yet clear if these measures will be effective.
- There are concerns that a dramatic expansion of the amount of salmon farmed in other areas of the Tasmanian coastline are not suitably cautious and could lead to high environmental impacts.
- Tassal uses wildlife controls in a way that is having lethal impacts on protected seals.
- Salmon farms in Macquarie Harbour pose a serious extinction risk to an endangered marine species called the Maugean skate, probably the world’s rarest skate.
- Atlantic salmon are carnivorous fish that are dependent on wild caught fish that is manufactured into fish feed. Tassal has made significant improvements in the sourcing and efficient use of wild marine feed ingredients.
Note: Imported farmed Atlantic salmon is available in Australia but has not been assessed in Australia’s Sustainable Seafood Guide. For more information on imported product, look for country of origin labelled on the packaging and refer to seafood guides produced in that country. King salmon farmed and imported from New Zealand is rated green, ‘Better Choice’ in the Guide.
- Tassal (38,956t in 2021/22)
Atlantic salmon is a non-native species farmed by three major companies in Tasmanian waters. Farmed Atlantic salmon is the highest value and volume fishery product in Australia. This rating applies to Atlantic salmon farmed by Tassal.
Atlantic salmon are farmed in sea cages that are open to the ocean, with any waste from the farm washed into the surrounding water. Tassal farms Atlantic salmon throughout southeastern Tasmania and the D’entrecasteaux Channel, and in Macquarie Harbour on the west coast of Tasmania. Serious environmental impacts attributed to salmon farming have been recorded in Macquarie Harbour in recent years, which scientists believe are linked to increased volumes of waste from the salmon farms (fish faeces and excess fish feed). These impacts include declines in the amount of oxygen dissolved in the waters of the Harbour, as well as pollution of the seafloor that extends into the World Heritage listed area.
Other impacts on the wider environment including the detection of antibiotics (used to treat disease outbreaks in the farmed stock) in wild fish populations, and ecological impacts to rocky reef ecosystems significantly distant from Tassal farming sites have been detected.
Management actions taken to reduce the impact of salmon farming on Macquarie Harbour have included reducing the amount of salmon that can be farmed in the area significantly from a period in the mid-late 2010s when salmon farming companies were allowed to grow far more salmon in the Harbour than that unique and vulnerable environment could tolerate. The Harbour is additionally impacted by climate change, historical mining in catchments and hydro power generation. The increase in salmon farming, in addition to these other stressors, resulted in pollution that drove severe depletion of oxygen in deeper Harbour waters. This created ‘dead zones’ throughout the Harbour, including in a World Heritage Area, and caused over a million farmed fish to die from environmental stress and related disease outbreaks. Though a cap on the amount of fish able to be farmed in the Harbour has been reduced since this time, in recent years companies were able to modify their production in a way that slightly increased the level of fish farming and resultant nutrient pollution. To address this, a new form of production limit is being introduced in 2023. Oxygen levels in Macquarie Harbour have shown some signs of recovery since the permitted production was reduced, but remain problematic despite favourable environmental conditions in recent years, and potentially dangerous deoxygenation events have continued to occur.
These impacts from salmon farming in Macquarie Harbour pose a serious threat to a marine species which is likely the world’s rarest skate. The Maugean skate is categorised as ‘Endangered’ under Australia’s national environment law. It is unique to Tasmania, and is now only found in Macquarie Harbour. Scientists consider that the species is at serious risk of imminent extinction; and while the skate’s population is poorly understood and very difficult to study, there is evidence that serious impacts to the population have occurred. Significant and welcome conservation efforts are underway, and restoring the health of Macquarie harbour as soon and as much as possible must be an urgent priority to avert extinction of the Maugean skate. GoodFish is aware of no other Australian aquaculture industry contributing this degree of conservation risk to an endangered species.
Salmon is also currently farmed in other areas that are better flushed with water than Macquarie Harbour; the effects of waste around these sea cages have been studied and appear to have minor and short-lived impacts on seafloor-dwelling species; sea cages are also rotated so that areas below the cages are allowed to recover. Tassal operates salmon farming sites in some inshore areas where the ability of the marine environment to assimilate and disperse fish farm waste are likely lower, and significant ecological impacts associated with increased nutrient have been identified at locations unacceptably distant from fish farm boundaries.
A significant quantity of antibiotics was deployed to treat a disease that could have been prevented with vaccination in 2022 at a Tassal salmon farm site. Residues were detected in wild fish populations and in seabed sediments significantly beyond farm site boundaries, which is of concern.
Tassal is expanding farming operations into other areas around the Tasmanian coastline, including dramatically increasing the production of salmon farmed in Storm Bay in southeastern Tasmania. The management of this expansion by the Tasmanian government has been seriously concerning, with environmental experts on a panel tasked with reviewing the approval of this expansion resigning in protest at the lack of implementation of environmental and biosecurity protections, and tools that enable careful monitoring and management of fish farm pollution impacts. Management and monitoring of the industry is not considered by experts to be sufficiently precautionary or independent from industry to deliver confidence that the industry will expand without causing further serious environmental impacts.
For example, if salmon production in Storm Bay is increased to planned full capacity, the additional nitrogen (a key fertilising nutrient) load to the local marine environment, could be equivalent to more than the total output of all Tasmania’s sewage outfall. If production is scaled up to full production levels, the nitrogen load would eventually be equivalent to the entire sewage outfall of NSW and Victoria. It is unknown what impact this would have on the marine environment. It is concerning, given the environmental impact of salmon farming in Macquarie Harbour, that rapid expansion is planned without a highly precautionary level of environmental protection in place.
Seals pose a safety and production risk at some Atlantic salmon farming sites in Tasmania, where they seek to break into sea cages to feed on farmed stock. Tassal has ceased translocating seals since this practise was banned in 2017, and introduced more durable sea cage designs, which is welcome. However, the operation continues to use wildlife controls in a way that is having a lethal effect on seals, which are a protected species in Australia. This does not accord with best practice internationally.
Atlantic salmon is a carnivorous species, and the fish require moderate amounts of fish protein in formulated fish feed. Feed manufacturers use fish caught from the wild as a part of the feed used in salmon farms. Tassal has made significant progress in reducing the dependence of their salmon farming on wild fish ingredients and their feed manufacturers have greatly improved the sustainability of these ingredients in their sourcing policies. This is welcome, and shows a level of innovation that, if applied to other environmental impacts of their operation, has strong potential to improve the GoodFish ranking of Tassal’s farmed salmon in future.