Opening image: The waters surrounding the Furneaux Islands are amongst the cleanest and most productive in Australia. Photo SA Rips

STONES IN THE STRAIT: The Flinders way of life doesn’t involve fish farms

Over the years, Addy Jones has been there for his friends. All they’ve had to do is pick up the phone and a couple of days later Addy would materialise, walking up the driveway carrying a bag, a swag and not much else, ready to grab anything from a shovel to an excavator to get his hands dirty. A wizard of the earthly realm, Addy’s knowledge of the land, permaculture, revegetating and recycling has been put to good use at friends’ properties all around the Australian coast. They’re always greener after a visit from him.

Addy Jones, a man with a big heart and a big beard. Photo SA Rips

But this time it was Addy making the call. The island he calls home is under threat from Tasmania’s aggressively expanding fish farm industry, and he needed help from friends on the mainland to bang the drum. He first called surfing friends Dan Ross and Heath Joske, then gave old mates Glen Casey and Mick Lawrence a call. A week later they all found themselves on Flinders Island in the middle of Bass Strait, ready to help Addy and the Flinders locals take on the corporate giants who are looking to turn the islands’ pristine waters into new territory for their toxic salmon pens.

Heath Joske clambering out of the spare bedroom at Addy’s place. Photo SA Rips

Addy’s lives on 40 hectares on the northern end of the island, looking straight out into Bass Strait. It also looks straight out at one of the leases being offered to the fish farm industry. While the property is stunning, the real magic is what Addy has done with it. He’s managed to grow all sorts of fruits and vegetables there, including tropical fruits like finger limes which by rights shouldn’t grow this far south. The house is modest but is lined with all sorts of flotsam that has washed up on the beach below. “It feels like you’re out at sea,” is how Dan Ross describes standing inside. Addy doesn’t get many visitors and had to improvise beds for everyone. Heath found himself in a converted wooden fishing boat that Addy had dragged up from the beach.

A week earlier the Tasmanian government had held a briefing session for Flinders locals on their draft “Ten-year Salmon Plan”. They’d assured concerned islanders that there was little to worry about. The Furneaux group of islands has had fish farm leases marked out since 1999, but no one has taken them up. Locals however were dubious. The Tasmanian government is actively stoking the expansion of fish farms in Tasmanian waters. Of more concern is the fact that two of Tasmania’s three big local aquaculture companies – Huon and Tassal – have recently been sold to rapacious multinationals, JBS and Cooke respectively.

Heath, Dan Ross and Zeb Walsh addressing locals during the community film night in Whitemark. Heath was a key figure on the Bight oil campaign, Rossy has been involved with salmon farm campaigns on both Tasmania and King Island, and Zeb Walsh once paddled across Bass Strait, via the Furneaux chain. Photo SA Rips

On the Saturday, Addy helped organise a community film night in Whitemark, screening a number of films including Patagonia’s Artifishal. “No one wants them,” is how Addy sums up the feeling of Flinders locals toward fish pens. “Too much to lose.” The island has strong commercial and recreational fishing industries, and local council has voted against fin fish farming in the islands’ waters. But while most on the island are distrustful of the intentions of both the government and the fish farm industry, many islanders aren’t fully across the issue. The film night gave them a chance to discuss not only the environmental effects of fish farms, but also how companies covertly influence their approvals and regulation. “These companies want everyone walking around with their heads in the sand saying, ‘Oh, it’ll never happen here,’” says Addy. “Then next minute a decision has been made in Hobart and you’re staring out at salmon pens.”

A few years back, Dan Ross spent time over on King Island to the west, which is under similar threats from the fish farm industry. “The vibe on Flinders was pretty similar to over on King Island,” offers Rossy. “Everyone we spoke to didn’t want these companies and this industry moving in. They like Flinders just the way it is.”

The following day Addy took the mainlanders on a drive around the island. A quick surf was followed by a dive for some abalone. “The water clarity and the amount of life underwater there was awesome to see,” says Rossy. “The seaweed was healthy and colourful and the whole ocean was vibrant. We got a couple of abs that we took back to Addy’s and he cooked them up and baked a loaf of bread in his solar oven.”

“That’s the thing about living here,” says Addy. “We want the next generation to be able to go fishing and catch a flathead, or go for a dive and get a cray or some abs. That’s the Flinders way of life mate, and we don’t want to risk it. If this ever went ahead it’d just be pure heartache for the locals and the Indigenous community here, because it would never be the same again.”

Fishing has been a part of these islands for tens of thousands of years, but the Tasmanian government’s salmon farm plan only worries about the next 10. Photo SA Rips

Opening image: The waters surrounding the Furneaux Islands are amongst the cleanest and most productive in Australia. Photo SA Rips