The Hobart

Bad Salmon

by Sarah Aitken
Bad Salmon

Richard Flanagan is angry.

He’s angry and he’s sad, and that anger and sadness emanates from every single page of his latest release, Toxic: The Rot­ting Underbelly of the Tasmanian Salmon Industry.

Written quickly (his previous novel only came out in September), Toxic is a passionate call to arms for citizens to fight back against a litany of abuses Flanagan says the salmon farming corporations have inflicted upon not just the marine ecosystems of Tasmania but also against locals, the larger environment and villag­es half way across the world. And then there’s the fish.

The Tasmanian farmed salmon industry is worth approximately $796 million (more than our dairy and beef industries combined) and has grown exponentially over the past three decades. Over that time Flanagan has watched the “slow destruction” of the waters near his Bruny Island property. The pristine water turned murky, fish and plant species disappeared and a sliminess and algal growth visibly increased. “I thought I would write some­thing about this, just a short article, and then I started talking to scientists, to peo­ple in other communities and I discovered one story of horror after another, after another,” he recently told the ABC. “I realised that Tasmanian Atlantic salmon is just one big lie. It’s not clean, it’s not green and it’s not even healthy.”

The result is this small but mighty book, overflowing with facts and case studies from all over the world but concentrating on the work of industry behemoth Tassal, and to a lesser extent Huon Aquaculture and Petuna. Despite the heavy statistics it remains a readable and at times even graceful book. And yes, it will definitely put you off your salmon dinner. There are stories of near-ruined ecosystems from Hobart to the west coast, where, Flanagan writes, “the sludge pouring out of the floating feedlots in the form of fish faeces, uneaten food and urea can destroy marine ecosystems by overloading them with excess nutrients”.

Alarmingly, there is Hobart’s compro­mised drinking water supply: “it should be self-evident that using Hobart’s drinking water catchments as — in the words of one scientist with extensive experience working with the aquaculture industry — sewage settling ponds for salmon hatcheries is not just wrong but profoundly dangerous,” he said. Flanagan covers animal cruelty in gruesome detail. “Fish farms are falsely named. In reality, they are gigantic floating feedlots,” he summarises. “Even that image is inade­quate to convey the cruelty.” He describes intelligent creatures who have worn off their fins on one side after swimming in one direction en masse for so long, and who are chromosomally altered to grow fatter, faster. Then there are the mass fish deaths (1.35 million salmon died in their pens in Macquarie Harbour 2017, and an as yet unconfirmed number died at Okehampton bay last December).

Flanagan describes the dyeing process used to make the salmon look like…well… salmon. The whole process sounds far too much like taking a trip to Mitre 10 to choose a paint colour for the house – there is even a colour wheel from which to choose the most salmony salmon tone. There is the intense use of antibiotics, and the carcinogenic additive (invented as a pesticide by Monsanto) used to stabilise the oily fishmeal as it is transported across the world to the Tassie feedlots. This additive – ethoxyquin – is not permitted for human consumption, but it is allowed to be eaten by the fish we consume.

Flanagan shares stories of corruption, of the opinions of intelligent and experi­enced experts being ignored by regulato­ry panels, and of local councils going into debt to pay for water infrastructure for salmon companies.

Understandably, the industry has pushed back against Toxic. A spokesperson for the Tasmanian Salmonid Growers Asso­ciation, representing the three companies, said Tasmanians should be proud of the “strong, highly regulated, longstanding” industry, and that Flanagan’s claims would be “deeply felt by the more than 2,000 people we directly employ and their families, as well as thousands of contractors”.

“I’m sorry (he) felt upset when his beach house views were disturbed by work­ers doing something productive for the Tasmanian economy, their families and regional communities,” an Australian Workers Union spokesman said.

The industry hopes to double in size by 2030. The areas slated for expansion have not yet been made public. Flanagan argues that the salmon farms should be moved out of the coastal waters altogether and into land-based tanks, something he says the international salmon industry is already looking at.

I couldn’t put this down. I read it late at night, gasping at each new revela­tion. And I’m not the only one – Fullers announced that in 101 years of trading, they’d never had a book sell so many copies so quickly. Within two days the book had become their #1 bestseller for the year. It is resonating with readers be­cause it is a neat and tidy snapshot of an enormous industry where, like in so many cases, it seems corporations come first, government comes second and people and places come a hard last.

Love this

Cold Water Wake Up Call
It seems everywhere I turn someone is talking about or participating in cold water swimming right now.
A Short Geelong Getaway
Since the Spirit of Tasmania terminal moved from Melbourne to Geelong late last year, a visit to Geelong has been on the radar.
27 Hobart Friends Get Snipping For One Off Wine
The borders were declared shut in Tasmania on the 30th of March, 2020; the first stare to do so amid the COVID- 19 pandemic and hard lockdown of Hobart followed.
Danphe Nepalese and Indian Food + Peppermint Bay Bar and Bistro
Nepalese food is a comfort in our house. Having spent much time trekking and mountain climbing in Nepal as a younger man, Nepalese food is something I always love to go back to.
That’s DR Hannah Gadsby To You
From Smithton to Netflix and the Emmys stage, Tasmanian stand up comic Hannah Gadsby has forged an unlikely path. Following on from the massive success of her shows Nanette and Douglas, Hannah brings her new show Body of Work to Hobart this month.
PODCAST: Incat founder Robert Clifford on why electric boats are the future
Robert Clifford is the founder of Incat, a Hobart company building fast ferries for the world. Always looking to future opportunities, he has identified where Hobart sits in the next wave of transportation. For more of this interview listen to The Hobart Magazine podcast.
Is Tourism Ready For More Forestry Wars?
Tasmanian forests are special. They’re home to centuries-old trees, including the tallest flowering trees on the planet, and support unique native species. Yet not everyone agrees on how these forests should be managed.
Hobart Chefs: When The Obsession Becomes Real
Tasmania’s brand as a foodie haven is cemented. But within the local hospitality industry there are those who love to use local produce...and those who are next-level obsessed with it. We spoke to a bunch of Hobart chefs who are top of the game when it comes to fostering relationships with local farmers and growers.
Did You Know Australia’s First Female Doctor Was Hobartian?
Tasmania, despite its small size and population in comparison to the mainland, has produced more than its proportionally predicted percentage of significant figures and heroes of Australian history. 
Return Travellers Adding Pressure to Hobart Housing
For all of us 2020 was a year like no other, punctuated by rapid change and plenty of new challenges. For vulnerable people in Tasmania, including people facing homelessness, those on low incomes and those facing increasingly higher rents, it was very challenging. We are seeing a growing demand for homes in Tassie from international travellers returning home, people moving for work and others seeking the lifestyle that our Apple Isle has to offer.
AboutContributeAdvertiseNewsletter Sign UpContact
February 2024

Stay up to date with everything happening at the Hobart Magazine.

Thank you to Luke Brokensha for mobilising his friends and local residents recently to host two rubbish clean ups along the Hobart Rivulet after heavy rains.
The warm weather returns...hello summer.
Need a laugh? Check out @theinspiredunemployed feed on Instagram.
Moto Vecchia Cafe in Bellerive and Czegs Cafe in Richmond have joined the Clarence City Council dementia program, creating dementia-friendly spaces for all patrons.
It’s hard to believe it’s not standard practice to have a working phone in every aged care room - shared phones make private conversations impossible and increase the risk of spreading COVID-19.
Tacks on the tracks. Mountain bikers beware of tacks being left on certain tracks on the mountain.
Just when you think your cousins are alright. NZ Opposition Leader Judith Collins took aim at Tassie during her recent (unsuccessful) campaign, calling us Australia’s “poor cousin.” She also seems worried about us nabbing tech businesses, “It’s a lovely part of the world but do you necessarily want to go there with your high- tech business? Possibly not,” she said. We beg to differ!