A popular ingredient in sushi and sandwiches is sending an Australian marine creature towards extinction. The dire situation the maugean skate faces is due in part to our love of Tasmanian salmon which is farmed in the fish's last remaining territory.
The creature resembles a small spotted stingray, and its ancestors can be traced back 66 million years. Today, it is found only in Macquarie Harbour on Tasmania’s rugged west coast. In less than a decade it could be wiped out.
Conservationists are warning the state faces an embarrassing repeat of history, as it was home to the 20th century's most infamous extinction — the state-sponsored eradication of the Tasmanian tiger.
Is it just salmon farming that's the problem?
Salmon aquaculture projects can foul water because of the high levels of effluent and feed associated with raising captive fish. Altered river flows from hydroelectric energy generation have also been linked to the changed water conditions.
How bad is it for this Tasmanian fish?
Over the last 15 years, oxygen has been depleted from the skate's waters, leading researchers from University of Tasmania to warn they have “extreme concern for the persistence of the species”. They have linked the problem with the construction of large-scale aquaculture ventures, as well as changing river flows.
Between 2014 and 2021 the species declined by almost 50 per cent. The majority of losses occurred during mass mortality events in 2019. The University of Tasmania paper urges the government to reassess the maugean skate which was already listed as endangered.
Report author Dr David Moreno said while the federal government has the “commendable ambition” of no new extinctions, it risked “falling at the first hurdle” as the maugean skate is under threat.
Salmon Tasmania represents the industry’s major producers. It did not respond directly to questions from Yahoo News Australia about salmon farming’s alleged link to the decline of the maugean skate. “The salmon industry is underpinned by a level of scientific research and regulation that is unprecedented in the agriculture sector,” it said in a statement.
Are there other fish species facing extinction?
Dr Leonardo Guida, a shark scientist with Australian Marine Conservation Society, warned if the maugean skate is wiped out it would be the first extinction of a shark or ray in modern times from human activity.
“The maugean skate has been around since tyrannosaurus rex roamed the earth but is now literally being choked to death in its home that man has turned into a putrid bathtub. If the Australian government does not act now, it may disappear on our watch,” he said.
But it is just one of a number of fish species on the brink of extinction in our oceans. Some species of sharks and rays have declined by 70 per cent over the last 50 years, largely due to overfishing.
Yahoo has reported on Mexico's vaquita, a tiny porpoise believed to be the world's rarest marine creature. In 2022, it was believed less than 10 survived. Researchers from Sea Shepherd are set to release an update in June.
Many species of tuna have also plummeted in number, but a recent survey found many Australians are confused by which products are environmentally sustainable.
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