A crop circle is a pattern created by the flattening of a crop, usually a cereal. Though some consider them the work of aliens, they are in fact created by the wind or pranksters with too much time on their hands. While crop circles can occur almost anywhere in the world, the D'Entrecasteux Channel in Southern Tasmania is home to circles of a different kind – crap circles.
Considered by some to also be the work of aliens.
I fly over the channel frequently and have stopped counting at 300. Each plastic circle holds anywhere up to 120,000 fish at various stages of growth. A production line. Fingerlings going in, fillets coming out. The fish is known as Salmo Salar, being Latin for 'leaping salmon'.
Not only do they leap a lot, they also crap a lot. The Tasmanian salmon industry has a production target of 80,000 tonnes per annum (TPA), and it takes around 1.73kg of feed - harvested wild fish, along with poultry remnants, and a cocktail of chemicals - to grow 1kg of salmon.
That many fish produce more anally than a city of one million people does annually!
Thing is, there's no flush button. It just sits there. Should we be worried? Well, think about this, the biggest lease in the state is in Macquarie Harbour and is next door to a World Heritage Area. Due to overstocking it's officially declared a 'dead zone'.
Salmo Salar is also known as Atlantic Salmon, which is a fair indication that it's not a native of the Southern Ocean. Their natural habitat covers an area of the North Atlantic from as far south as Spain, north to Russia, and west to Canada. Each year, adults spawn in river beds feeding into the North Atlantic and the Baltic Sea before returning to sea. After hatching, the juveniles reside in their natal river for up to two years before commencing their annual migratory cycle. The oldest salmon is recorded as fifteen years of age and the largest ever caught was some fifty kilograms.
Representing one hell of a lot of Omega 3 fillets on a barbie!
Atlantic Salmon first arrived in Tasmania in the early 1860s. Not by swimming, but on a timber ship driven by the wind. Their ova were collected from streams throughout England and Scotland as part of a business venture. As an afterthought, trout ova were included in the consignment that was packed in wooden crates and covered with charcoal, moss, and ice, to keep them alive during the three month voyage. Upon arrival, the ova were hatched at the purpose built Salmon Ponds, on the Plenty River just north of New Norfolk. When released, the salmon did what salmon do, they swam out to sea and headed back to the North Atlantic.
The trout, however, were on a different mission. Being a freshwater fish, they headed up the River Derwent. Seeing the opportunity to create a wild fishery, milk urns full of fingerlings were then transported by horseback into Tasmania's central highlands and released into the vast network of rivers and lakes. During the summer months this highland region is subjected to huge hatches of insects and the young trout grew rapidly - gorging themselves to the gills on bugs. They'd landed in Trout Nirvana.
The motivation behind stocking the lakes and rivers with trout, was to supply the prey for a predator. Another species from the North Atlantic; one with a piscatorial bent and a rod. And the predator thrived, because today, Tasmania is acknowledged as trout fish central, drawing anglers from all around the planet and hosting world titles. It's considered a best practice industry that generates a lot of jobs, is sustainable, and has social licence - the likes of which must make the salmon industry's gills turn green.
Tasmanians have long been closet greens. They first started coming out in the 1920s over what was known as 'Ogilvie's Scar'. The idea of Albert Ogilvie, the premier of the day, a road was carved across the face of Kunanyi [Mount Wellington] during the Great Depression as a Work for the Dole scheme. During the 1972 Lake Pedder Campaign they came out in droves and formed the world's first political green party, the United Tasmania Group. A decade later, with the support of spy planes over the Franklin River, we saw the rise to prominence of Bob Brown and the Federal Green party.
In this day and age, social licence is a number one priority for any developer wishing to gain access to our natural resources. Especially if they want them for nothing. So, in order to appear to be clear and transparent, our leaders developed a practice known as 'commercial in confidence'.
Which means: We're not going to tell you!
Local history is writ large with crap examples of 'commercial in confidence'. As stakeholders, we simply aren't in the loop when it comes to how much corporations pay for unrestricted access to our commonwealth. Like, what royalty does a milled tree, ingot of zinc, or fillet of fish attract? "Sorry, commercial in confidence." Nor are we told what they can do to the environment along the way. Let's not forget, they did drown a sizable chunk of a national park!
The fact that the Tamar Woodchip Mill couldn't pump toxins into Bass Strait, was ultimately due to its lack of social licence. So was logging native forests. So was the dumping of jarosite off Tasman Island. So why are salmon farmers allowed to accumulate piles of crap in our waterways?
Is it because that, to date, common minds have lacked a common voice?
There are three major players in the local salmon game. Tassal, being the largest, Huon Aquaculture, and Petuna. The Bender family became industry pioneers when they established Huon Aquaculture in the 1980's with stock from Canada. Since then the industry has gone ahead in gigantic, unbounded leaps. Farms now clog the waters of Macquarie Harbour, Nubeena, Port Arthur, and Oakhampton Bay and the spin machine is working on leases in Bass Strait, off Burnie, and Martha Lavinia on King Island. And, they need a lot more real estate, since the industry plans to double production by 2030.
Rather than staying with an exclusive boutique market, the growers have chased volume by taking over the fridges of major supermarkets. As a consequence, the industry is now driven by market forces and in order to supply that market, is creeping out of exhausted sheltered waterways - into what they call 'deep water'. What the rest of us call, the ocean.
For several years, Huon Aquaculture has been operating the state's first deep water lease, just off Bull Bay on North Bruny, in Storm Bay. Storm by name, storm by nature, the bay has already served it up to them several times, resulting in hundreds of thousands of escapees, some gracing local dinner tables, and giant mounds of plastic nets and pipes pissing off local beachgoers.
But that's just the beginning. A second lease has been granted to Tassal on the other side of Storm Bay. It's around 900 hectares and extends 1.8 kms west of Wedge Island with a production target of up to 40,000 TPA. While only one pen is in place at the moment, eventually there will be hundreds - creating a plastic wall that not only sits in the path of ocean swells as they journey up Storm Bay, but in the path of the commercial shipping and recreational boats as well.
The bulk of the surf ridden in Southern Tasmania comes via Storm Bay and has been the focal point for Hobart surfers for half a century. It's our playground and we're a stakeholder. Apart from what happens to all the crap, our questions are: How will this barrier affect our local surf breaks, and how many white pointers will patrol the lineups?
Last year the board of Surfing Tasmania (STAS) decided it needed to become recognised as having skin in the salmon game. After all, it's an environmental issue that has consequences for all surfers, be they past, present, future, STAS member or not. Needing to know more, some six months ago we attended an online forum, 'Salmon Farms – Fact, Fiction or Spin', run by a group of local independent scientists.
Our take away from the forum was: the industry is growth driven; the Government is jobs and growth driven; and even though there is a watchdog in the form of the EPA, with little funding for either enforcement or research it's both toothless and ineffective - the Macquarie Harbour fiasco being a clear illustration of that. Collectively, the scientists agreed that a moratorium should be placed on 'deep water' farming while further consideration of the environmental impacts was undertaken. They also agreed that the chances of this happening was Buckley's to none!
We then wrote to the Salmon Growers, the Government, and the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS), expressing our general concerns along with our specific questions. We received one reply, a minister congratulating us on our Facebook shark alerts. He gave no answers to our queries, but directed us to links telling us what a grand job they're all doing!
So where to from here?
If history is any indication, the only way our coastlines won't be smothered by crap circles, is if the salmon growers are denied social licence. It's a powerful cartel with a lot to lose, and like the electricity and timber barons before them, capable of spin that would do Shane Warne proud.
Surfers are not against jobs, indeed some of us work in the salmon industry. We all have to earn our living. No, what surfers are against is how the local industry goes about it! While globally, the industry is transitioning to land-based farms and processing its waste into fertiliser, we're transitioning to our coastal waters and expecting nature to deal with the crap.
It's not easy being small fry in a big pond, however even though our numbers may be small, we do share a common mind with other stakeholders, like recreational fishers, divers, local residents, and yachties. We're now reaching out to them, to see if we can collectively come out and form a common voice. Even better, make our voice louder by becoming a STAS social member. It costs less than half a slab of beer, your voice gets to be heard - and surf accident insurance comes as a bonus.
In the meantime, get your Omega 3 hit by eating Tassie trout. They're clean, green, sustainable - and they don't crap in circles!
// MICK LAWRENCE
Mick Lawrence is the President of Surfing Tasmania Inc.