Tuesday, February 2, 2010

ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT OF AQUACULTURE IN WESTERN AUSTRALIA



Fiona vom Berg*

Department of Fisheries
Level 3 168 St Georges Terrace
PERTH WA 6000
fiona.vomberg@fish.wa.gov.au One of the barriers to the development of large-scale aquaculture in Western Australia has been the current legislative framework for environmental approvals. All applications for aquaculture licences in Western Australia are issued pursuant to the Fish Resources Management Act 1994 (FRMA) with Ministerial Policy Guideline No. 8 setting out the assessment process for aquaculture proposals in the aquatic environment. The Western Australian Department of Fisheries (DoF) refers all aquaculture licence applications to the Department for Environment and Conservation (DEC) or those in sensitive locations to the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) for comment.

Due to the lack of an explicit guideline detailing baseline data requirements crucial for assessment purposes, these applications often contain insufficient data, involving requests for further information. This protracted, multi-agency process has resulted in significant delays for aquaculture ventures in gaining approvals to commence operations or to up-scale to more commercial volumes.

Simultaneously, DEC license certain proposals (finfish and prawn) under particular categories, on an ongoing basis, under Part IV of the Environmental Protection Act 1986.

This duplication and overlap in the assessment of government regulatory control in relation to aquaculture premises was recognised by the DoF, DEC, the Aquaculture Council of Western Australia (the peak industry body) and licensees. The burden on licensees and the wasteful nature of government resources needed to be addressed.

The DEC undertook a review of its legislation in 2005 and found that aquaculture activities in general were low risk and that the prescribed premises should be amended to totally preclude aquaculture activities from the requirement to be environmentally licensed. It has been agreed that the future management of aquaculture will be undertaken solely via DoF licences and that a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between DoF and DEC be developed to ensure the environmental interest previously managed by DEC is addressed through DoFs regulatory role. DoF is now implementing a series of protocols to facilitate this agreement.

It was considered the most appropriate method to support this deregulation was to undertake ESD Risk Assessments for finfish and prawns. This open and transparent process incorporates input from industry, NGOs and the regulatory agencies, leading to Codes of Practice, Environmental Monitoring and Management Plans and revised licence conditions. Significant progress has been made on this front.

The Guideline for Collection of Baseline Data for Aquaculture in Western Australia is being formulated in consultation with DEC and the EPA, and will form a Schedule within the MoU between the three parties. This Guideline should be completed in 2009.

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