Environmental groups demand ban on use of anti-seal explosives at proposed salmon farming trial

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Conservationists have demanded that the Australian federal government ban the use of explosives and ‘bean bag’ rounds to deter seals at a proposed salmon farming trial off the cost of Tasmania.

Under current laws, companies in Tasmanian waters are permitted to use underwater explosives, called ‘seal crackers’ to scare off potential predators in farms within state waters. ‘Scare caps’, also known as ‘bean bag’ rounds, which are fabric coated plastic shells, can be fired at the seals and other predators.

Environmental groups are opposing a proposed three-year trial of the measures in commonwealth waters, overseen by the government-funded not-for-profit Blue Economy Cooperative Research Centre (CRC). The CRC reportedly lists salmon companies, Huon Aquaculture, Petuna and Tassal, as its partners.

Seals within commonwealth waters are legally protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, making it an offence to move, injure or kill one of the animals without permission.

“The minister for environment must ban all cruel seal deterrents,” Bec Bowarth, a marine campaigner from the Bob Brown Foundation, has publicly stated, with the foundation calling the trial a “sea grab.”

Tasmanian Senator Jonathan Duniam has dismissed criticism of the trial, telling reporters that any “significant impact on a matter of national environmental significance under the [EPBC] Act” will be “referred through the appropriate channel.”

Tasmania has been moving to open up the ability to develop offshore industry, passing a memorandum of understanding in September 2021 that gave the Tasmanian and federal governments the ability to Amed legislation to facilitate it.

Refusing to rule out the use of the anti-seal measures, Tasmania’s minister for primary industries and water, Guy Barnett, told news outlets that the government will comply with the “seal management framework already in place.”

Environment Tasmania claimed that documents obtained last year under the Right to Information Act showed that, in the three years to the end of January 2021, three salmon companies and used underwater explosives 75,339 times to deter seals from farming operations.

Official government documents show that between January 2018 and May 2021, there were 70 seal deaths at salmon farms, although the cause was unknown in many cases.

Huon Aquaculture has not used either ‘seal crackers’ or ‘bean bag’ rounds since August 2018. Tassal claims its use of ‘bean bag’ rounds and ‘seal crackers’ has fallen by 80 percent and 90 percent respectively in the 2021 fiscal year. Petuna has not addressed the concerns or recently revealed what seal deterrents it uses.