This is a hemisphere away from world’s best practice, and shows the Liberal government’s willingness to prioritise cost-cutting for salmon corporations over the protection of Tasmania’s marine environment and brand.
The Tasmanian Inquirer* revealed nearly 1.1 tonnes of antibiotics were added to fish feed by Tassal and Huon in a crude attempt to stop outbreaks of vibrio bacteria in their leases earlier this year. The news excessive antibiotics levels persisted above reporting thresholds in native fish and marine sediment for weeks and months was effectively buried from fishers and the wider community. Without the accidental discovery by the Tasmanian Alliance for Marine Protection of an online report to the EPA, this information would still be secret.
Wild fish identified as being contaminated at high levels with broad-spectrum antibiotics included flathead, jack mackerel, blue mackerel and barracouta. The impact on natural marine microbial activity in the benthic layer under salmon pens, and beyond, has been disregarded and unresearched by the EPA.
Concerns about the broadscale over-application of antibiotics in animal feed, and the creation of drug-resistant superbugs, have been voiced for decades. It appears Tasmanian salmon is lagging far behind industry standards in failing to rule out wider environmental impacts.
Antibiotic use in the salmon industry is highly regulated in Norway, which mandates mechanical vaccination of salmon against diseases like Vibrio. In Tasmania, it appears our only regulations involve monitoring for gross threshold exceedances after the fact, and then quietly hiding the report.
The Minister for Primary Industries, Jo Palmer, needs to end all antibiotic use in salmon feed, and require companies to vaccinate fish. This is world’s best practice, and essential to ensuring wider environmental harm is not caused by salmon multinationals’ current indiscriminate use of antibiotics.