Will Maugean skate plan be road to recovery or ruin?

  • Maugean skate roadmap will hold all stakeholders to account for skate’s survival
  • Salmon needs to be removed from Macquarie Harbour earlier – Conservation Advice said this summer and roadmap has pushed back to mid-2024
  • Macquarie Harbour salmon threatens Tasmania’s reputation for clean, green produce
  • Submissions into federal review of Macquarie Harbour salmon farming close today

The Maugean skate national recovery team’s “roadmap of agreed actions” will enable the public to hold all stakeholders to account for their responsibility to save the skate, the Australian Marine Conservation Society and Humane Society International Australia (HSI Australia) said after the plan was released by the federal government today.

Oxygen levels have collapsed in the skate’s only home, Tasmania’s Macquarie Harbour, because of intensive salmon farming, with the skate on the verge of extinction with fears fewer than 1,000 remain. Since December two adults have died in the captive breeding program, highlighting the urgency to restore the health and resilience of the harbour.

The plan is a comprehensive strategy that examines and provides advice on addressing all factors impacting the skate, including critical actions to reduce salmon biomass in Macquarie Harbour, as well as a captive breeding program and an oxygen pumping trial.

Key measures outlined in the roadmap include up-to-date and ongoing modelling to support management of river flows that maximise oceanic recharging of oxygen in the harbour, and monitoring the skate’s population.

AMCS Fisheries and Threatened Species Campaign Manager Alexia Wellbelove said: “The Maugean skate roadmap is an encouraging step forward that will inform the public and hold all stakeholders to account for their responsibility to save the skate.

“However, the federal government must improve the roadmap because any reductions in salmon biomass would only be considered from mid-2024, when the government’s Threatened Species Scientific Committee clearly identified the reduction of salmon biomass was needed as an urgent priority to take place ahead of this summer.

“The oxygen pumping trial is a necessary complementary measure but it is just a trial. No one knows if it will work, and the public as yet doesn’t even know how it will work. You can’t put a bandaid on a leg with gangrene in the hope the infection won’t spread in the meantime. Salmon biomass has to be removed from Macquarie Harbour immediately.

“Tasmania’s famed reputation for clean and green produce will be forever tarnished if the skate becomes extinct. There is a ‘catastrophic’ risk that it will be the first time aquaculture has been the primary cause and directly driven the extinction of a marine fish.”

HSI marine biologist Lawrence Chlebeck said: “The captive breeding program is an emergency measure and will only be successful if skates and their eggs can be collected from and returned to a healthy Macquarie Harbour. The recent deaths of two adult skates in the program highlights how precarious their existence is. We need to urgently restore the health and resilience of the harbour by addressing the root cause – salmon farming. It is imperative that the government accelerates the timeline to save the skate.”

Following letters sent by the Environmental Defenders Office on behalf of AMCS and HSI, federal environment minister Tanya Plibersek is reviewing the future of salmon farming in Macquarie Harbour under Australia’s nature laws, opening a public consultation period that ends today.

Alexia Wellbelove said: “Federal environment minister Tanya Plibersek must take action and end salmon farming in Macquarie Harbour, and address the root cause to both save the skate and provide resilience to a World Heritage Area. What use are our nature laws, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, if they don’t have the teeth to do exactly what the title of the act says?”

/Public Release. View in full here.