Senate debates

Monday, 17 September 2012


Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Declared Commercial Fishing Activities) Bill 2012; Second Reading

7:30 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise tonight to make a contribution to the debate on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Declared Commercial Fishing Activities) Bill 2012.

I think it is about time we looked at the big picture when it comes to sustaining our natural resources and our international responsibilities. The latter is something that has seemed to be missing from the current debate. The FV Margiris, now bizarrely called the FV Abel Tasman, dwarfs anything and everything in the Australian fishing fleet. At 142 metres long and with a cargo capacity of approximately 6,200 tonnes, it is a stark example of modern fisheries. This is far removed from the romantic 'John West' image of the family fishing boat setting out to sea at sunrise to catch the family's meal that we have so often seen on our televisions. This is not a cute fishing boat. The vessel is so large that it must catch somewhere over 16,000 tonnes of fish in the small pelagic fisheries just to cover its costs. This is almost half of the entire current total allowable catch for the small pelagic fisheries. I will return to the dramatic increase in the Eastern Zone jack mackerel quota—it increased from 4,000 tonnes in 2011-12 to 10,000 tonnes in 2012-13—as just one aspect of the so-called underlying science.

As a recreational fisher I know there has been considerable concern about the potential impact on local ecosystems, smaller fishing fleets and recreational fishing. A real issue, which has received little coverage, is the sheer capacity of the vessel and its global impact. The vessel symbolises all that is wrong with global fisheries and the failure of the global community to reduce the size of the global fishing fleet. For decades, the global fishing community has known that there are simply too many vessels catching too few fish. In the 1990s, the United Nations negotiated an International Plan of Action for the Management of Fishing Capacity to progressively reduce the size of the fishing fleets to more sustainable levels. This has been a dismal failure that has had no real impact.

In 2012, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations—FAO—reported that 'global marine catches are in decline, with increased percentages of global fish stocks identified as overexploited'. The FAO found that the state of the world's marine fisheries was worsening and that this was leading to an impending, certain crisis for global marine fisheries. Like climate change, this is not deniable—although I am sure there will be the usual flat-earthers who again try.

For much of the last 20 years, Australian delegations from both sides of politics have been strong proponents for global action to reduce the overcapacity of the global fishing fleet and the implementation of strong conservation measures. Australia actively worked inside the United Nations and with regional institutions to develop strong management frameworks and to pressure distant-water fishing nations to reduce their capacity. We have been telling the world to get their fishing 'house in order', to be sustainable and to look to the future. Then along comes the FV Margiris, now the Abel Tasman: just another example of the European Union's solution to overcapacity—swept under the rug in the guise of a foreign joint venture. Does Australia support subsidized commercial fishing? No. Do European nations support subsidized commercial fishing? Yes. Australian conservation initiatives on the global stage are now being tested. Fortunately, it now looks as though that standing might be maintained. Australia has commitments to the International Plan of Action for the Management of Fishing Capacity. Given current levels of overfishing around the world, conservation measures are required that reduce catches. Such measures will distribute a burden of conservation reductions on all international states. The reality is that these measures will impact directly and indirectly on different participants—reducing benefits for some, limiting opportunities for others and protecting or even increasing benefits for others.

Unfortunately, international fisheries agreements do not openly and fairly study the likely distribution of the conservation burden that would arise from each potential management option. These frameworks have become politicized as member countries favour scientific assessments for measures that best protect their own interests and refute scientific assessments for measures that compromise their interests. There certainly appears to have been elements within Australia that precisely reflect this. Until there is a fair and open international plan to reduce the size of the global fishing fleet, the world's fisheries will continue to decline and be trawled into oblivion by supertrawlers such as the Abel Tasman.

Why isn't this trawler still fishing off the west coast of Africa? The behaviour of vessels like this has led to West Africans not being able to catch their own fish. It is laudable that the coalition are happy to send protein back to a country in which fish supplies have been devastated by overfishing by supertrawlers. This is the woolly reasoning of the backward-looking coalition: short-term, political self-interest.

I would just like to mention the scientific justification for the enlarged quota. The Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force is quoted widely in the introduction to this report. However, if you actually look at the link to this evidence, Australia was not one of the sites surveyed or included in the analysis. The calculation to verify the increased quota cannot be replicated. Scientific findings that cannot be replicated suggest this is not real science. I do not believe all scientists endorse the increased quota. Maybe we should be looking more widely to people such as Quentin Hanich, who leads the Fisheries Governance Program at the Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security at the University of Wollongong, and looking at honouring our international commitments and not looking for short-term gain to the detriment of the globe on which we live and are a part. But, as I said, it is typical of those opposite to deny any real scientific evidence. I commend this bill and I commend both ministers for endeavouring to maintain Australia's standing in accepting our international obligations and allowing Australia to keep its own house in order.

(Quorum formed)


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