Justice Duncan Kerr has asked the state’s three major salmon companies to consider their future should he decide to find invalid a determination by the federal Environment Minister to allow salmon farming in Macquarie Harbour to be expanded.
Huon Aquaculture last year brought action against the Commonwealth against the decision, saying the harbour has suffered environmentally as a consequence.
Its competitors in the harbour – Tassal and Petuna – joined the action last year to support the expansion.
Justice Kerr has to decide if the minister’s determination on the expansion was sufficiently clear to the companies and Environmental Protection Authority or whether he failed in his statutory task to divulge to the state specifications over its regulation.
If Justice Kerr finds in favour of Huon, salmon companies face several scenarios: returning production to levels before the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Act was legislated in 1999, pre-expansion levels, or to seek a suspension as they negotiate an outcome among themselves.
The court has heard this week that conditions in Macquarie Harbour had worsened in 2014.
The Environmental Protection Agency has since imposed biomass limits to pre-expansion levels.
Tassal head of sustainability Linda Sams said once a review of the expansion was delivered in 2013, Tassal believed a requirement by the Environment Minister the harbour only be stocked at a 52.5 per cent limit was removed.
Under questioning from Queens Counsel Adrian Galasso, Ms Sams said she believed the review, conducted by Tasmanian Salmonid Growers Association chief executive Adam Main and the harbour’s three operators, was sufficient enough for the cap to be abandoned.
Though she admitted just three of five steps had been completed before Tassal took that action, with the smolt and capital capacity to do so.
Tassal and Petuna did not act immediately to increase stock.
Correspondence from 2014 sent by Huon to the minister and co-signed by Petuna raised concerns about the harbour’s operating conditions, however, a year later the joint position was not maintained.
Chief financial officer David Wood said while there were concerns over the dissolved oxygen levels, both companies were working through it.
He was asked what would happen in salmon farming was ceased in Macquarie Harbour indefinitely.
“It would, in effect, bring the company as a going concern into question as a majority of our production comes from Macquarie Harbour,” Mr Wood said.