Tasmania's most famous boats may be those landing at Hobart's Sullivan's Cove every year shortly after Boxing Day in the Sydney to Hobart Race, but the truth is that Tasmania has more boats per capita than anywhere else in the country: we've got 31,000 boats! [1, 2] Fishers. Yachters. Sailors. Scuba divers. Tasmanians love their boats!
But these days, boating can be like running an obstacle course. Most of the debris coming from fish farms is things like plastic tubing or ropes. Mind you, a rope around your prop can stop your boat so fast that you are flung forward or even cast out. But boaters pray that the big items either sink or become beached. Imagine cruising along at a good clip and slamming into a piece of debris floating just under the surface of the water. No sign of anything there until whammo, your keel is damaged, there goes your stability, and your boat flips over before you even realise what has happened.
Think it couldn't happen? Think again! On 27 February 2020, Peter Hopkins, the General Manager of Marine and Safety Tasmania (MAST) spoke live on the radio about an accident days earlier when a boat collided at 20 knots with a 40m length of poly pipe that had been lost from one of Tassal’s sites . In a heartbeat, the boat went from travelling 50 km per hour to zero: the people on the boat could have easily been killed. Fish farms are obliged to report missing equipment so that warnings can be issued. There was no report, and therefore no warning, with this incident. Thankfully, no serious injuries occurred this time. The fine for littering would be around $680… for a billion dollar industry… for creating a hazard that could kill innocent people.
However, this was not the first time that MAST had warned about the risk of colliding with fish farm debris. On 23 July 2018, the ABC ran a story about the risk of accidents with fish farm debris . So you might think that things would have changed.
But even that wasn’t the first time MAST had come out publicly warning about the risk to safety. On 13 August 2016, the Mercury leaked email correspondence between MAST, the industry, and the regulator . Hopkins reportedly stated, “A coroner would rip the industry apart if a fatality occurred after our warnings… I have sent a number of emails to you over the years on this issue and the letter after our recent board meeting.” And yet here we are.
You would be forgiven for wondering how it is even possible that the salmon farming industry is able to be so careless with their equipment, and that MAST’s concerns are ignored? Politics, dear friends, politics.
Here's an excellent synopsis of the problem, written by Sheenagh Neill, a mad-keen yachtswoman and an insider fearing for the safety of all 31,000 of us at risk [click here for PDF].