Tassal, Bob Brown court action kicks off in Federal Court

Tassal’s court battle with environmentalist Bob Brown and entrepreneur Graeme Wood over its controversial Okehampton Bay lease has begun in the Federal Court in Hobart.

The Bob Brown Foundation and Mr Wood’s companies Spring Bay Mill and Triabunna Investment have brought a court action against both Tassal and federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg, questioning why the minister granted the aquaculture giant approval for its East Coast fish farm.

Mr Wood is developing a woodchip mill at Triabunna, near Okehampton Bay.

He has been a frequent donor to the Greens.

Tassal was granted federal approval for its Okehampton Bay lease in August 2017.

It was noted by Tassal’s counsel on Tuesday that the company had recently experienced two “mortality events” at its Okehampton Bay site – an 84 per cent survival rate is now forecast for the current harvest, as opposed to 90 per cent.

Tassal later released a statement seeking to clarify its counsel’s comments.

“There was a single mortality event caused by human error which Tassal has previously disclosed,” the statement read.

“The other event was not a one-off event, but rather a balance of mortalities that occurred over an extended period – fish survival rates are usually lower over the summer months.”

Dr Brown and Mr Wood’s counsel Brian Walters argued that Tassal’s original referral to the Environment Department was “varied” after its initial submission.

“If the notice is erroneous, it must indicate that the decision itself is erroneous,” Mr Walters said.

“All that the public would have known from this process were the original advertised proposal and the wording in the decision itself.”

Justice Duncan Kerr expressed doubt that the varied proposal could be considered a new proposal altogether.

He said the final proposal may have taken into account public submissions and the minister’s consideration.

“That doesn’t make it a new proposal,” he said.

There was some dispute between the parties over the technology Tassal used to prevent fish escaping from the lease and to stop marine debris from washing up on shore.

Mr Walters was of the view that such “mitigating measures” were not sufficiently mentioned in the initial referral and should therefore throw the minister’s ultimate decision into question.

Mr Walters noted the potential impact the Okehampton Bay lease could have on threatened and vulnerable species, including wedge-tailed eagles, southern right whales and great white sharks.

“The applicants raised the matter of the southern right whale as a real concern,” he said.

The action was adjourned until Wednesday.