The Tasmanian Police have stalled progress on a campaign by fish farm workers, wanting to carry OC spray on the job to deter “protected” Australian fur seals. In 2010 Environment, Parks and Heritage Minister, David O’Byrne approved the use of capsicum spray against seals. The Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Wildlife and Environment issued 42 permits as of last year to staff of Tassal Operations and Huon Aquaculture. Despite this, OC spray has so far only been used in trials by fish farm workers due to Tasmanian Police refusing to provide exemptions to the Police Offences Act, allowing the carriage of a dangerous article in a public place.
Commissioner, Darrin Hine, stated that Police would be reluctant to issue exemptions without criminal history checks. An audit of 53 farm workers who undertook the training found one with an arrest warrant, two with histories of family violence, two with convictions of assault and one with an outstanding drugs charge. “It is understood that the marine farm workplace has a transient employee population working in often harsh conditions which does not attract people who are always of good repute,” a briefing note stated. “The Department of Police and Emergency Management remains concerned at the potential for misuse or mismanagement of this potentially lethal substance,” Mr Hine wrote to Department Secretary Kim Evans last year.
The training session undertaken in 2008, had seals placed in cages and sprayed in the face. During the trials seals became “visibly stressed”. A 350kg male fur seal was held over two and half hours in a cage. After being sprayed and taken to a fish pen he jumped at the netting, trying to find a way out. A third seal rubbed at it’s eyes and shook it’s head for 49 minutes. In August 2010, Mr O’byrne approved the use of the spray against seals despite the trial finding it inconclusive whether the spray was effective in deterring seals and the potential to cause a significant health hazard to marine farm industry staff.
Not only are there concerns directly related to the public but also due to the fact that these sprays would not be the 5 per cent sprays used by Tasmanian Police, but be a much higher 35 per cent of cayenne pepper. So far there has been no research on a 35 per cent spray on humans and Police are concerned that this method has not been used anywhere else in Australia.
In an annual report posted last week, Tassal stated that seal interactions were increasing. Other seal deterrents include explosive devices and beanbags shot from a 12-gauge shotgun.
Tassal killed 8 seals in 2011 and relocated 183.