Woolworths and Coles are the focus of an online campaign calling on consumers to think twice about buying salmon farmed in Tasmania.
Large-scale fish farming remains a hot-button issue in the island state, with Environment Tasmania accusing the industry of dumping “thousands of tonnes of faeces" on the seafloor and contributing to the deaths of seals and seabirds.
The group’s campaign which began last October, garnering 16,000 signatures, but Environment Tasmania’s Jilly Middleton said it has now been "scaled up", asking supermarket customers to demand improved farming practices.
They have also raised questions about the "unnatural" diet they say the fish are fed.
“Australians love eating salmon, we want the salmon companies to make a better product that the consumer can trust,” she said.
“So we’re asking them to sign the petition to create action and change.”
While Coles said their house-brand seafood undergoes “certifications and assessments” and Woolworths added that theirs must meet “environmental and licensing regulations”, Environment Tasmania argue industry regulations must be reformed.
They say they have worked with the industry in the past but it hasn’t resulted in the change they “need to see”, leading them to focus their campaign on the retailers.
“The current regulations are not fit for a large industry,” Ms Middleton said.
“They were suitable for the original boutique-size industry which the salmon started up, but now they’re growing over 63,000 tonnes a year and planning to double in size.”
Salmon farmer working with RSPCA to improve welfare
Yahoo News Australia understands that representatives from Tasmania’s three salmon farming companies, Huon, Tassal and Petuna will be meeting tomorrow, with ongoing criticism of the industry set to feature as a topic.
Tassal and Petuna did not respond to questions by deadline, but a spokesperson from Huon said claims by detractors that there are metre high piles of fish poo underwater are false, and added that unlike human excrement, fish waste does not contain eColi.
Addressing criticism about industry impact on wildlife, they said Huon have ceased using deterrents such as scare caps and bean bag bullets.
Huon said they are currently Australia’s only seafood farmer to be certified by the RSPCA, adding they are working closely with the charity to “(protect) the welfare of both the stock and native wildlife”.
A key component of their harm minimisation program will be installing what are known as fortress pens, which are designed to restrict seal and seabird access.
“We have a dedicated wildlife team who actively work to minimise animal interactions on our farms,” a spokesperson said.
“This team spend a lot of time checking equipment and pens making sure everything is maintained to a high standard.”
With the Earth's population growing and wild fish stocks diminishing, they argue that their farmed product is a responsible choice and that the diet fed to their stock is considered safe by the government.
"Farmed salmon has the lowest feed conversion ratio than any other protein and lowest carbon footprint," they said.
Supermarkets say salmon farming 'heavily regulated'
Coles and Woolworths did not respond directly to questions about Environment Tasmania’s campaign, or the specific concerns raised by the group.
Woolworths indicated that their seafood sourcing policy has been developed in partnership with World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Australia and that all farmed seafood must be third party certified or independently evaluated.
“Tasmanian salmon production is heavily regulated with a wide range of checks and balances in place to ensure local operators uphold the highest standards at all times,” a spokesperson said.
“Salmon is a popular item in many Australian households and we’ll continue to work with the industry to promote sustainable practices in line with evidence-based research.”
Coles said farmed seafood allows them access to year-round Coles-brand seafood which “compliments” wild-caught meat.
“Coles brand seafood is responsibly sourced and we make use of a range of certifications and assessments,” they said.
Environment Tasmania are not convinced and say they are hoping to garner 60,000 signatures over the next two months as their campaign continues.
"We think that consumers need to see both sides of the story," spokesperson Jilly Middleton said.
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