House debates

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Questions without Notice

Southern Bluefin Tuna

3:38 pm

Photo of Melissa ParkeMelissa Parke (Fremantle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Will the minister update the House on the outcome of the recent meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna?

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Fremantle for the question. There has been bipartisan support for some time for the work of the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna. The meetings which concluded over the weekend had to deal with some very difficult scientific information and have resulted in some outcomes which are going to create some genuine challenges, in particular for the community of Port Lincoln. It is a very high-value fishery—in the order of $187 million—and we need to remember that, of that value, 99 per cent goes back in exports to Japan.

The scientific information that confronted the commission at these meetings was that fish stocks have now got down to somewhere in the order of between three and eight per cent of their original unfished levels. There have been from time to time calls for unilateral action, and some people have argued that Australia should unilaterally either radically cut or completely stop and close the fishery. Given the migratory nature of southern bluefin tuna, this does not necessarily do anything for the species and simply creates a serious situation for our own industry without delivering any actual improvement. That is why there has always been the need for an international response, and I am pleased to say that on this occasion the commission was able to look at reductions in catch across all the members of the commission.

This is the first time in some time that we have had that. There was good work done, which I think is important for the government to acknowledge, in 2006 by the then minister in addressing overcatch and making sure that henceforth there was much better compliance as well as a significant reduction at the time in the Japanese catch.

What has happened to the reductions rate this time is that there has been a 25 per cent cut over the next two years. The 25 per cent cut applies to Australia and Japan and to other members of the fishery. There have been some reports which mistakenly have claimed that Japan did not take the full 25 per cent cut. Those claims are based on the fact that there was a subsequent agreement between New Zealand and Japan for a small transferring quota, which is why there is ultimately a different figure there in percentage terms. But the actual cut, aside from the agreement that was reached between New Zealand and Japan, finds Japan and Australia, as well as New Zealand, Korea and Taiwan—far and away the major players in the fishery—all taking 75 per cent of the previous rate, making a 25 per cent reduction over the next two years.

This creates real challenges for the Port Lincoln community. Because the reduction is being done over the next two years, industry is now working through how much of the reduction it will take this year and how much it will take next year. We are working with industry on that issue, and the challenges for employment of people employed in that fishery will be able to be dealt with the full suite of government services once we have worked out the order in which industry will address these reductions.

It is a difficult decision but one taken at a time when every alternative was worse. I am pleased that we are currently organising for the shadow minister to be able to receive a full briefing on the outcomes of the commission, but these decisions had to be taken and had to be taken internationally, when we had a major high-value fishery facing an alternative of potential total collapse.