- Toxic: The Rotting Underbelly of the Tasmanian Salmon Industry, by Richard Flanagan. Penguin, $24.99.
There is great merit in someone with an international name using their status to try to right a perceived wrong. The trouble is that such a person may not be good at that kind of thing and this applies in some ways to Richard Flanagan's attempt to highlight the damage being done by the salmon industry in Tasmania. In the end, a reader may feel that she has been hit over the head with a rant delivered by a furious headmaster or a bible-thumping evangelist.
That, however, does not take from the need to tell the country what is happening in our island state, apparently under the protection of their government and civil authorities.
A panel was set up to examine proposals for fish farming in Tasmania and to advise the minister, but it existed, according to Flanagan, "merely as window dressing to give the appearance of due process and probity where there was none".
Flanagan uses a number of powerful arguments in support of this thesis. "More salmon for us means less food for others," he writes, after explaining how the industry has decimated the wild fish stocks in some parts of the world. He is critical of even the World Wildlife Fund and the RSPCA.
Under another heading, he says because soy is a prize element in salmon feed, the trend towards increased salmon farming will drive deforestation, particularly in South America.
Something like one-fifth of the cost of salmon feed is for the purchase of a petrochemical dye that colours what would be grey to the more digestible red with which we are familiar. Add to that the use of antibiotics, which the author says has increased dramatically in the Tassal-run hatcheries in Tasmania. There is also the fact that land-based salmon farming, in which the fish are grown in giant tanks on land, is taking over in Europe and the US.
On the evidence provided here in sometimes numbing detail, Tasmanian citizens are being served by the most incompetent, servile public bodies anywhere in the country.
The salmon industry ignores or dominates the organisations - some elected, some appointed by government - responsible for controlling noise and light pollution, for monitoring the marine environment, for protecting wildlife like seals, whales and dolphins, for regulating the dumping of polluted freshwater.
"In Tasmania, when it comes to salmon farms, the salmon farms are the law," Flanagan writes. The kinds of pollution that would not be tolerated from miners in Broken Hill are accepted as part of life for Tasmanians living even many kilometres from salmon farms.