Celebrities lack credibility to commentate on our fish farms

(First published in The Examiner 13 July 2021)

Would you take any notice of a fish farmer critiquing a novel? Hopefully not.

We would rightly question the skill set, experience, qualifications, and capacity of the fish farmer to offer such a critique. We might even be sufficiently uncharitable to question the ego and conceit at embarking on such an enterprise with the expectation of being taken seriously.

A fiction writer seeking to critique fish farming should be treated with similar disdain.

Yet our media entertains a fascination for the cult of celebrity, which sees actors who earn a living repeating other people’s lines and pretending to be someone else as having credibility on matters as diverse as forestry, climate, water, agriculture, and lately fish farming. The same goes for sportspeople, authors of fiction, film directors – insert the celebrity type of your choice.

Like all of us, they’re entitled to their opinion and express it. What is lacking is a close examination of the credibility to commentate on a particular topic.

One particular star sportsman came to Tasmania to tell us how to run our forest practices. When asked in a private conversation what he knew about the topic, who had briefed him, and how long had he been studying the topic, the responses were excruciatingly embarrassing. The media failed in asking any of those fundamental questions.

The same tactics which were employed against our truly sustainable and renewable hydro energy generation were transported to our world-leading forest operations. Today, the target is fish farming with a fiction writer leading the charge. Really? On what basis is he even reported? Sensationalism and clever use of words and phrases are his stock in trade, which makes for compelling fiction to draw us in which in turn sells his books. Taking the same approach to denigrate a Tasmanian icon – our salmon – does a huge disservice to Tasmania.

Let’s get a few things into perspective. If all our fish cages were to be put together, we would be using one square kilometre of Tasmanian waters. In comparison, Tasmania is 68,401 km² in size.

As Emeritus Professor Colin Buxton of the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) has found after a lifetime of study and research, our salmon farming is recognised as being the best in the world.

Health experts encourage us to eat fish on a regular basis. Our wild fisheries cannot produce our requirements. So farming fish is the answer, as we do for eggs, meat, vegetables, fruits, and cereals.

Indeed, fish high in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon are extensively promoted by health experts to reduce the risk of cancer.

Yet our fiction writer seeks to scare with the exact opposite assertion, with selective quotations from the World Health Organisation (WHO) which does studies to establish the link between certain food types and cancer.

And yes, all sorts of foods are mentioned in various category ratings – bacon, alcohol, processed meats (Cat1 meaning cancer-causing), while red meats are in Category 2A suggesting they may be carcinogenic.

And guess what? Tellingly, salmon is not listed as a carcinogen by the WHO.

The good thing about writing fiction is you don’t have to tell the truth.

Given salmon is positively good for you, recourse is disingenuously had to how they are grown with reference to additives to their diet to keep the fish healthy.

Tested regularly, the fish abide by our high-quality standards.

For consistency, would our fiction writer denounce fluoridated toothpaste? Eat a teaspoon of fluoride and see what happens! Yet in small doses, it does help suppress decay.

Which reminds us all of the sensible approach to life – everything in moderation.

Sensible, moderated, informed, and balanced public discourse has never been the extremists’ way. It’s “no dams” – good luck getting water to drink. It’s “no forestry” – good luck reading the paper or building a house. And now it’s “no fish farms” – good luck preserving our wild fisheries and having an affordable balanced diet.

These extreme campaigns have never been in Tasmania’s best interests. They’ve destroyed Tasmanians’ jobs and our regional communities. Fish farming allows them to return.

What could be more Toxic than fiction writers turning their craft to destroying the jobs, hopes and aspirations of our fellow Tasmanians in our regions, which provides us with an affordable recommended health food and relieves pressure on our wild fisheries?

The over 2000 direct sustainable jobs provided by fish farming has breathed new life into our regional towns, their schools and community assets. Their payroll taxes pump literally millions of dollars into State coffers each year, which in turn is used for education, health, etc.

Being an integral part of regional communities, our fish farms sponsor and support local sports and charities as well.

We need to reject celebrity fiction in favour of facts. 

About Eric

Eric Abetz has been a Liberal Senator for Tasmania since 1994 and has served in a range of Leadership, Ministerial and Shadow Ministerial roles.

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