Changes to the regulation of Aquaculture in Tasmania

On 9 July, the Tasmanian government released the long-awaited draft Finfish Farming Environmental Regulation Bill 2017 which is set to overhaul the regulation and enforcement of marine farming in Tasmania. The State government has invited comments on the draft Bill until 28 July 2017.

The purpose of the Bill is to:

“[F]urther strengthen existing regulatory processes to ensure that they keep pace with industry growth and meet community and market expectations.”

Which Aquaculture activities will be affected?

As the name suggests, the amendments will only impact farming of finfish, not other aquaculture activities, so abalone, mussels, oysters remain unaffected. However, it will impact both marine and freshwater finfish farming activities, including inland hatcheries.

Importantly, the changes will affect both proposed and existing marine farming activities. Current operators will be required to hold an environmental licence (EL) under the Environmental Management and Pollution Control Act 1994 (EMPCA). However, all existing authorisations, including marine and inland fish farm licences, permits and environment protection notices, will remain in force until the Director of the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) grants the operator an EL.

Environmental licence (EL)

A key aspect of the amendments is the creation of an EL which aims to consolidate environmental conditions into a single instrument. Some points to note about the proposed EL are:

  • It will be required in addition to any marine farming lease, licence or development permit that may be required for the operation.
  • Fees will be imposed but the quantum of those fees is yet to be determined.
  • ELs will automatically be granted for all existing authorised finfish farms with substantially similar conditions, but the EPA may impose additional environmental conditions. Where an operator is dissatisfied with the new conditions, the operator may appeal to the Resource Management and Planning Appeal Tribunal.
  • Conditions can include limits on biomass, monitoring and reporting obligations, security bonds for remediation, and restrictions on the volume or source of water used in the operations.

How will marine farming activities be assessed?

The following key changes to the assessment process are proposed:

  1. The introduction of a “Level 2 activities” classification under Schedule 2 of EMPCA for finfish farming operations.
  2. Applications for ELs for inland finfish farm activities or related land-based activities must be referred to the EPA Board for assessment.
  3. For marine farming activities in State waters, the EPA Director will have a discretion as to whether the application requires a full assessment by the EPA Board.

How will these changes affect your operation?

The most significant changes are the introduction of third party appeal rights, avenues for third party enforcement and the ability to exclude marine farming in some areas. These powers are common in development assessment processes for other activities but are new to the assessment and regulation of marine farming in Tasmania.

  1. Third party appeal rights – the proposed level 2 activity assessment of finfish farming operations will involve a process whereby the assessment will be publicly advertised, which will invite public representations and give rise to third party appeal rights.
  2. Enforcement orders – the changes also propose that any person with a “proper interest” can seek civil enforcement orders against a finfish farm operator who is not complying with EL conditions.
  3. Exclusion zones – the declaration and revocation of marine farming exclusion zones, which are areas where marine farming is essentially prohibited. The Bill proposes an exclusion zone for Mercury Passage (excluding the existing Okehampton Bay lease), but also allows for additional exclusion zones to be declared in future. This seems to indicate an intention to exclude marine farming in areas that are controversial or where considerable public concern arises.

Public comment on the draft Bill is open until 28 July 2017 and given the potential impact of the proposed changes, industry participants and stakeholders should give this careful consideration.

To read the Bill and the explanatory paper visit the DPIPWE website here.

If you are interested in detailed advice or if you have any other queries about this article, please contact:

Catherine Scott
Partner
M: 0438 283 129
E: cscott@pageseager.com.au

Sarah Wilson
Associate
M: 0428 102 712
E: swilson@pageseager.com.au

Published: 19 July 2017

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