The Tasmanian government is proposing changes to legislation that would hand control of aquaculture research in Commonwealth waters to the state.
Primary Industries and Water Minister Guy Barnett said the amendment would enable marine aquaculture research in Commonwealth waters adjoining state waters to be managed under Tasmanian fisheries and aquaculture legislation.
Changes to the Bill would see the Living Marine Resources Management Act 1995 amended to allow the state to enter into an arrangement with the federal government through the Commonwealth Fisheries Management Act 1991 to conduct the research.
The proposed amendment forms part of a Memorandum of Understanding between the two governments signed in September that would allow the state to expand its aquaculture operations into federal waters.
At the signing of the MOU, Forestry and Fisheries Assistant Minister Jonno Duniam said research to be conducted in the Bass Strait over the next 12 months would assess environmental and economic issues, as well as the feasibility of developing deep ocean fish farms in federal waters around Tasmania.
Mr Duniam said the research would be undertaken by the Blue Economy Cooperative Research Centre at Newnham.
Blue Economy CRC chief executive Dr John Whittington said the research phase would determine if fish pens deployed in the deep ocean were viable options, but said changes to legislation were required before a permit could be granted to conduct the research.
"There is no way of getting a permit under the current regulatory arrangements and that's what is stopping us from doing finfish research in Commonwealth waters," he said.
"There is no pathway for us to apply for a permit so that's why this bill, even as small as it is, is a really important step to the industry moving offshore."
The Bob Brown Foundation's fish farm and marine campaigner Rebecca Howarth said the move by the Tasmanian government to seize Commonwealth waters for offshore salmon factories was alarming.
She said, to date, the state government had shown itself incapable of acting as a responsible custodian of public waters.
She said the waters around Australia would suffer further environmental harm and degradation if the research went ahead.
Dr Whittington said the amendment to the legislation only extended to research and development activity and did not apply to the commercial developments of the state's aquaculture sector.
University of Tasmanian professor of environmental law Jan McDonald said the agreement between the governments was the first instance she was aware of where fisheries legislation could be amended to allow state control over federal waters, but confirmed there other precedents existed.
"The model under the Commonwealth Environment Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act is for the Commonwealth to accredit state approval processes under certain state statutes," she said.
"That's a very common arrangement."
Professor McDonald said arrangements in the past had drawn opposition from parties who felt it was improper for governments with an invested interest to be handed oversight control.
"It's fair to say that for decades, those who advocate for strong environmental protections feel that where state interests are concerned, the state is not the one best placed to consider wider public interest considerations, because they have potential conflicts in relation to the economic benefits or the employment benefits," she said.
"There is a concern that by devolving decision making responsibility to the states, it essentially gives up its capacity to ensure that high environmental standards consistent with those international obligations are maintained."
Dr Whittington said he disagreed that the agreement between the two governments presented a conflict of interest but confirmed that before development and production could move beyond the R&D phase, additional amendments to several pieces of legislation would need to occur.
"We would need to amendment a couple of acts in Tasmania, and that would require a bill, and it would also need a new agreement or a specific agreement with the Australian government to allow for commercial fish farming," he said.
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