Testing the waters

Petuna Aquaculture has set up environmental monitoring equipment in coastal waters between Stanley and Woolnorth to measure wave height, current speed, water temperature and salinity, part of the process of exploring the potential for salmon farming in the north west. The Macquarie Harbour operation (pictured) on the west coast employs more than 50 workers, a local operation is expected to require similar numbers.

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Industry. Petuna Aquaculture continues to explore the potential for salmon farming in Circular Head.

This follows the release of a report by the Circular Head Regional Economic Development Working Group in August and the launch of the state government Sustainable Industry Growth Plan for the Salmon Industry last month.

Following the release, Petuna Aquaculture indicated a desire to explore the prospects of expanding the industry into the area and has since gained an environmental monitoring permit.

David Wood, chief executive officer at Petuna Aquaculture, says this allows the company to collect data throughout the next 12 months and decide if an expansion into north western waters is feasible.

Currently, the company is looking at water temperature, salinity levels, current flows and wave height, all conditions that need to be factored into choosing a salmon farm site.

“Biosecurity issues will ultimately decide what the farm looks like,” he says.

“There are a lot of natural filters that are applied . . . and certainly we want to avoid conflicts with established fishing grounds so we’ve just been refining the map, which shows quite a large area of water, and trying to narrow it down to something more realistic.

“And in addition to what we are doing out in the water, we also have to consider a land base.”

The company is also taking part in community consultation through conversations within the local industry.

Di Maynard, the environment and sustainability general manager at Petuna Aquaculture, says the process of researching the area is a lengthy and complicated one.

“We have to steer completely clear of seagrass and rocky reef, sponge gardens that kind of thing.

“We need depth, our nets on our existing farms are between 10 and 18 metres in depth and ideally we would be looking at water in that 20 to 25 metre range for a farm.

“Most of that permit area is actually quite shallow and so we are looking quite a way off shore, certainly around the bottom end of Hunter Island and parts of Hope Channel, the tide that rips through there would be too strong.

“In a spacial mapping sense it is a fairly complex and busy area when you start looking at all the boats that are operating out there and those natural filters, so we are sort of narrowing down where we are likely to [put] concentrated effort in.”

Factoring in these conditions, Petuna has narrowed down the area viable for salmon farming to roughly 27,000 hectares.

The company currently operates four 100 hectare farms across the state and looks to instigate a similar sized operation in the north west, perhaps spread across several smaller areas.

Should the company find a viable site and receive the required permits and approvals, a consultative committee of locals would be established to work alongside and advise Petuna.

“At the moment there is a lot of questioning of what is the future of salmon farming? For us, the more we can communicate, the more we can build trust and be transparent about the process,” Mr Wood says.

“I think the initial concern that came through to us was almost a vision of farming cages going from the islands all the way across to Stanley. I don’t think people really understood, and to be fair no one had told them so how could they be expected to understand, exactly the scale of operations and the process that we need to go through.

“It is a huge area on a map but it is a fingernail space in reality.”

Mr Wood said he believed it would be three or more years before an operation was established, this timeframe includes a construction period.

The Sustainable Industry Growth Plan for the Salmon Industry includes the transfer of all environmental regulation from the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment to the Environment Protection Authority as well as introducing increased penalties for breaches in regulation. The plan identifies grow zones and restricted areas, and includes the implementation of an industry reference group.

For more information on the Sustainable Industry Growth Plan for the Salmon Industry go to www.dpipwe.tas.gov.au/salmonplan.


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