Tassal Group caught in fish farm antibiotics controversy

    Newly-released documents show the company tried to block release of a report on its antibiotic use at fish farms in Tasmania.

    As reported in The Guardian newspaper, Australian salmon and shrimp producer Tassal Group has been involved in a conflict with Tasmania’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over public reporting on its use of antibiotics at salmon farms in 2020 and 2022.

    Outbreaks of the vibrio bacterium were reported by the company in early January of this year at a Tassal facility near Hobart, Tasmania. In total, Tassal used 675kg of a broad-spectrum antibiotic, oxytetracycline, to treat the infected fish.

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    However, it has emerged that Tassal sought to block the public release of monitoring reports submitted to the EPA about its use of 1.3 tonnes of the same antibiotic back in September 2020 at its Okehampton Bay lease near Triabunna.

    An internal memo from Tasmania’s Environmental Protection Agency, obtained under right to information laws, says the organization encountered a “sticking point” in its dealings with Tassal. In particular, the group objected to publishing information about the quantity of antibiotics used and the number of salmon cages involved, The Guardian reported.

    In an interview for ABC, EPA Director Wes Ford said that at the time of the “dispute” with Tassal in 2020, he had “no power to compel the documents to be released”. However, the situation has now changed. “The government has responded to amend legislation to give me very specific powers to be able to release this information in the future,” he said. Amendments to the Environmental Management and Pollution Act now enable the EPA to publish information such as salmon producers’ monitoring reports on their farming activities.

    News of the dispute adds to the existing controversy over the use of antibiotics in Tasmanian fish farms, with local environmentalists and Green Party politicians concerned about contamination in wild fish populations. Instead, they argue, vaccines should to be employed to prevent infections and reduce the need for antibiotic use, in line with World Health Organization guidance.

    About Tassal Group

    The Tassal Group was acquired by Cooke Inc., the parent company of Cooke Aquaculture Inc. of New Brunswick, Canada, in November 2022. Based in Tasmania, Tassal Group is Australia’s leading seafood producer and the country’s largest producer of Atlantic salmon.

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