Macquarie Harbour salmon farming may face pause amid ‘reconsideration’ of licence, Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek warns

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Salmon farming operations at Tasmania’s Macquarie Harbor could be temporarily halted, federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek has warned, amid a push to protect the endangered Maugean ray.

The harbour, on the west coast of Tasmania, is the only place where the ray is found.

But numbers have declined due to low oxygen levels in the harbor – mainly due to “unsustainable salmon farming”, but also from hydropower operations and climate change, Ms Plibersek said.

Earlier this month, the Tasmanian government announced $2.1 million in funding for the skate to “ensure its long-term survival”.

That money is intended for a captive breeding program, but environmentalists want more action and are calling for the closure of the salmon pens in the harbor.

There are 11 salmon farm leases in the harbour, managed by Petuna Aquaculture, Huon Aquaculture and Tassal.

Last month it was revealed that the Australia Institute, the Bob Brown Foundation and the Environmental Defenders Office have called on the federal government to “reconsider” whether the salmon farm has full environmental permits under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC).

Now Ms Plibersek has written to Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockliff saying if “any of these are valid requests” the law requires her to undertake a “reconsideration”.

Ms Plibersek wrote a letter to the Tasmanian Premier warning she may have no choice but to temporarily halt farming operations.(ABC News: Billy Cooper)

“If the review finds that the Macquarie Harbor salmon industry does not have the necessary environmental permits, the EPBC Act would require operations to be halted while approvals are in place,” she wrote.

“But I will look at any action I can take, in accordance with my legal obligations under the EPBC Act, to support the Tasmanian Government regulator and the salmon farming industry to put their operations on a truly sustainable footing.”

The letter says environmentalists have also asked the Tasmanian Environmental Protection Authority not to renew salmon farming permits for Macquarie Harbor when they expire this year.

A broad, flat fish depicted just above the ocean floor.

Maugean ray is threatened by poor water quality.(Supplied: Neville Barrett)

Reducing salmon stocks could be key to approvals

Ms Plibersek’s letter also revealed that the National Ray Recovery Team would test oxygen equipment in the harbor over the summer to “help offset the loss of oxygen in the water caused by salmon farming”.

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