Read part one of this story here.
In the 1980s, Tasmanian governments started to put out feelers for new industries as the old ones started to pale. Fish farming was one possibility, salmon in particular. Salmon are the Russian crims of the fish world — ‘roid-raging upstreamers. When caged they just fatten — to six or seven kilos. Good, lean food, high protein, omega 3, good fat. Fish farming had always been the food of the future.
For a while, the nascent industry stayed within bounds, in part because of a lack of demand. Remember what a sign of luxury smoked salmon was in the ’80s and ’90s? Now it’s piled high in supermarkets with the hummus; a universal food. Salmon became big business, demand soared.
Dealing with it should have been simple enough. The salmon pens lodged in bays, with 50,000-80,000 salmon in each, should have been relocated to the ocean, or on land, as their numbers increased. Guess what happened? New laws and loopholes allowed the density of fish farming to expand. Later, at a meeting of fishing industry dissidents at Hobart’s boho hangout Fern Tree Hotel, it’s generally agreed that it really went bad in 2013.
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“In 2013, they doubled the capacity of the pens in Macquarie Bay,” said Matthew Morgan, aka Mr Crayfish. A big man, brown-bearded, perched on the edge of a retro-chic chair as a fire crackled and a dozen fishies, academics and activists nodded along to an oft-told tale. “State Labor wanted it, and Tony Burke signed off on it. In 2016 it was doubled again!”
By now, each pen contained up to 300,000 salmon, jammed as one writhing mass. “Ron Morrison was a pioneer of fish farming in Tasmania. He said with that volume, Macquarie Bay would be dead in five years. It took three.”
The killing of Macquarie Bay — swamped by salmon shit, jellyfish attaching to pens, salmon escaping (up to 100,000 at a time) and eating out the habitat. The water turned black, the beaches were destroyed. The bay’s destruction caused some pause, but not much. Salmon is now a $900 million industry, controlled by three firms — Tassal, Huon and Petuna — with profits of 30-40%. The battle is now around Tasmania’s Eastern bays, and to pause a massive expansion in the north-west.
“The arrogance of how they behave,” said Craig Garland, Tasmanian Senate candidate, gripping the wheel, with the first trace of actual anger in his voice. “They’re not allowed to farm round seal habitats — so they move the seals in trucks, dump ’em in our fishing grounds.”
Over the past three decades, he’s seen a sustainable native fishing industry decimated by commercial overfishing, out-of-state trawlers, and now a farming that was meant to be sustainable — and still could be if moved on land, or out to the ocean, for some slight reduction in profit. Years on, the state’s scale fish advisory council convinced Garland that wilful ignorance was as much a factor as profit. Profit, though, is pretty big.
“The state’s being locked up — Cradle Mountain, Lake Malbena, places everyone used to be able to go.”
High price park passes, exclusive luxury accommodation, police and rangers used to seal off sports events — Tasmania’s beauty is being sold to the highest bidder.
“People have asked me about my religion in this election, and I’ve said, well, the ocean is my church,” Garland said, as we turn into Dodges Ferry, the closest coastal town to Hobart. I hint at doing some campaigning at the dock, but that’s not going to happen. “People know me, they’re either going to accept me or not.”
He’s not recommending preferences, has some beefs with the Greens (he wants selective, sustainable logging in the Tarkine, which the Greens say is a contradiction in terms) and there’s no love lost on the other side. “We don’t know what the hell he’d do if he got in,” a veteran Green tells me at the party’s state launch a day later, a very uncoastal affair in the centre of town.
That is unlikely to be a worry, sad to say. Tasmanian politics can be relaxed, but Jacqui Lambie has been barrelling round the state with her black and yellow caravan, turning up at every fete and opening. “Jacqui’s not campaigning for the last week,” her media rep tells me. “People started to joke they were sick of seeing her.”
That’s saturation, and it may get her the sixth spot, which would be better served by Garland (presuming the Greens get the fifth). The man’s knowledge of the issues is encyclopedic, love of his home total, and he reaches people the Greens currently can’t.
Perched on the shore, between sea and land, thongs kicked off, he has the appearance of driftwood, formed by water and weather. For decades, he was made of work; lately he’s had time to do some deep thinking. Walking barefoot through the corridors of power, he’d be nobody’s man but his own.
That would be a great thing to see. But if, by contrast, his non-preference strategy elevates Liberal, Labor and Lambie, knocking out him and the Greens, then Tasmania’s party dissidents will need to do some hard thinking about strategy as they head back into the wilderness.