Senate debates

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Regulations and Determinations

Small Pelagic Fishery Total Allowable Catch (Quota Species) Determination 2012; Disallowance

5:43 pm

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Small Pelagic Fishery Total Allowable Catch (Quota Species) Determination 2012, made under subsection 17(6)(aa) of the Fisheries Management Act 1991 and under section 17 of the Small Pelagic Fishery Management Plan 2009, be disallowed.

Something quite extraordinary happened in my home state this afternoon that relates directly to the debate on the Greens's disallowance motion in the Senate tonight. I would like to table a document in the Senate that relates to a motion that was passed in the Tasmanian lower house, the House of Assembly, today.

It was quite extraordinary in the sense that from what we can gather from the Greens here federally it is the first time that we have seen tripartisan support for a conservation outcome. It is the first time that Liberal and Labor MPs have broken ranks with their federal MPs on a conservation issue. I seek leave to table a document.

Leave granted.

I start by reading it. I had a speech prepared but I think this summarises a lot of the issues upfront and then I will address a couple of key points. The final amended motion passed reads as follows:

That this House

1. Notes that:

(a) The growing community concern and disquiet over the potential arrival of the super trawler, FV Margiris, to operate in Australian waters to fish the small pelagic fishery;

(b) The questions raised regarding the potential impact of the increased quota of 18, 000 tonnes per annum on local fisheries;

(c) This is a matter for Federal authorities who are responsible for access to ports, fishing in Commonwealth waters and the setting of quota in those waters;

(d) That the Tasmanian local recreational and commercial fishing communities remain strongly opposed to the FV Margiris operation and have held large protest rallies around the state to stress their concerns;

(e) Both the Tasmanian Greens and the Tasmanian Liberal parties have publicly voiced their respective opposition to this proposed super trawler, with the shared concern that the Federal Labor Minister, Senator Joe Ludwig, has failed to demonstrate that this commercial fishery activity will be sustainable and will not cause localised depletion off Tasmania;

2. Requests the Speaker to write to Senator Ludwig, to advice him that the House will not support the FV Margiris operation in Australian waters and waters around Tasmania until the Parliament can be satisfied that the vessel and proposed harvest strategy will not adversely impact on the recreational fishery.

3. The House recognises the need for a balanced approach between the needs of a sustainable commercial fishing industry, access for recreational fishers and appropriate marine conservation outcomes.

What is very important about this motion passed by the lower house is that, in a state that is divided by conflict, we have seen a rare glimpse of all political parties putting aside politics and coming together on an issue that is very important to the community.

The issues relating to the super trawler have been around for three or four months—in fact, the issues internationally relating to concerns and the risks posed by super trawlers to commercial fisheries, recreational fisheries and ecosystems have been around for years. The super trawler as a large fishing vessel that targets the small pelagic fishery has come to symbolise to lots of people everything that is wrong with the overfishing that occurs in the world's oceans.

While I commend the lower house in Tasmania's parliament for their brave stance on supporting both recreational fishers and conservationists, I make it very clear that standing behind the motion from Tasmania today are both recreational fishermen and conservationists working side-by-side to get a conservation outcome. This is not something that we see very often and, while it is powerfully symbolic and very important in so many ways that we see the old divisions being put aside, it does not have any teeth in preventing this super trawler from operating in Australian waters. Today we are proposing to debate and seek the support of fellow senators in the chamber to disallow the quota that has been set for the small pelagic fishery.

This is not something that the Greens have done lightly. We have been speaking to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. We have put two series of complex, well researched questions on notice. We have met with AFMA. We have met with one of the chief AFMA commissioners and scientists who supports the super trawler. We have met with all recreational fishing groups and conservationists and only in recent days I have met the proponent, Seafish Tasmania.

Moving this motion has not been done lightly and we have done it as a last-ditch attempt to get parliament to debate this issue tonight and get support for what the public are clearly saying, which is: 'This super trawler shouldn't be allowed to operate in Australian fisheries until key risks have been addressed.'

I understand it is quite likely that the Greens are going to be criticised for shutting down a fishery. I also understand there are a number of fishermen out there who have investments in fisheries equipment and it creates some uncertainty. This is also something we have taken into account. The small pelagic fishery for which we are asking for the quotas to be disallowed for all intents and purpose was not fished last year—99.6 per cent of the quota was not fished. In large zones of the fishery, the small pelagic has not been fished for eight to 10 years.

We understand potential issues with investor uncertainty and operators in this industry but we feel that the risks posed to recreational fishermen, other commercial fishermen and ecosystems by the lack of a management plan that addresses the risk of allowing a super trawler to operate in Australian waters far outweigh the potential negatives that we may see by shutting down the quota. We also understand—and I am happy to stand corrected on this—that the government can introduce a new set of quotas fairly quickly once the issue has been properly looked at.

I mentioned earlier that there were concerns from the recreational fishing groups. The key concern relates to local fish depletion. A trawler this size has the capability to stay out at sea for months on end, and has very large refrigeration units, very large nets and all the best technology in the world for catching fish.

The concern is that this trawler could deplete fish in any given area, and that would have an impact on local ecosystems and local fishing activity.

I heard the proponent, Seafish, this morning on the radio saying that concerns about local fish depletion is misinformation being peddled by the Greens. I have been involved for three months with various stakeholders, and I know that the local fish depletion issue was brought to the Greens by recreational fishermen. It is not the Greens who are peddling this information, nor is it recreational fishermen. This is a valid community concern and there is disregard for a large number of Tasmanians and a large number of Australians who enjoy fishing. Localised depletion is where fishing reduces the abundance of fish in an area for a period of time. That is the technical definition. I heard a fisherman at a rally in Hobart recently say: 'It's when one of the world's largest supertrawlers comes to your local fishing spot, takes lots of fish and buggers up your fishing.' That is to put it in another way.

What is very encouraging to me, to the Greens and also to those outside this chamber who have concerns about this issue is the scientific report that was released yesterday by a number of key eminent scientists in this country. I would like to read a couple of conclusions from that report. This relates directly to the issue local fish depletion. It says:

Fishing should be spread out so as to avoid localised depletions, especially in relation to any local ecological 'hotspots' where there is particularly strong local dependency between predators and prey (e.g. in the vicinity of some seabird rookeries).

In the final paragraph in the conclusion of the report, the scientists say:

However given uncertainties about detailed movement patterns of several of the species targeted in the SPF, it would be prudent to distribute catches to minimise the chance of local depletion. This is consistent with global scientific advice on best practice for managing such species.

In terms of the science on this issue, it seems like everyone is in agreement. The scientists are in agreement, and these scientists have been involved with this fishery for a long period of time. Some of them are very well respected in terms of their publications and their standing in the community in Hobart. I would like to acknowledge that on the record tonight. We have never intentionally set out or implied that we do not respect the work of our scientists in our Commonwealth or state fisheries—quite the opposite. Scientists are saying it, local rec fishers are saying it, and conservationists are saying it.

To highlight the issue of local depletion with rec fishers, the government set up a working group several weeks ago. The working group brought in a number of stakeholders who had concerns about the impact that a supertrawler may have on their local fisheries. It is now common knowledge that that working group has fallen apart. The local fishing groups have walked. Their key concerns were very simple. They did not believe that this local fishing issue about depletion had been addressed in any detail. The report released yesterday, which I just mentioned, has been talked about today on every radio station around the country by the scientists involved. While it says that more work needs to be done to address this issue in a management plan, why hasn't it been done already, and why wasn't it in the report today?

Rec fisher groups started asking questions on rumours that they had heard that one of the largest trawlers in the world was coming to Tasmanian waters to fish the small pelagics, which are forage fish that big fish such as tuna feed on. They heard this rumour back in March and started speaking to their elected representatives and other people. It is now nearly the end of August. We asked the fisheries minister detailed questions about local depletion back in June. Only yesterday did a research report arrive that acknowledged that this is an issue for the management of this fishery, but it does not say how that local depletion is going to be managed or what science we have to address that at this point in time. If our disallowance motion is supported, it will give the government a chance to step back from this process and put in place regulations—whether it is adjustment to the Fisheries Management Act or whatever the appropriate format is that satisfies the stakeholders in this debate.

The other issue on which the rec fishers walked from negotiations was that they did not feel that a voluntary agreement would satisfy them. The Greens have said publicly that they did not feel that a voluntary agreement would work. A legislated agreement was what the fishermen were asking for—a legislated agreement that provides safeguards for the risks of local fish depletion. Conservation groups have a larger list of requirements as well: guarantees of 24-hour monitoring on a vessel this size and lots of issues surrounding the potential for by-catch, which is when local sealife is killed by a large trawler—which happens all the time. These issues can be worked through. I would urge the other senators, especially those from Tasmania who have seen such a strong message from our state, to take note of the concerns. In the Sydney Morning Herald today there was an article with the headline 'Angling for power'. It talks about the power of rec fishers in this country when they come together to get outcomes.

I want to stress that it is not just the Greens and conservationists who have valid concerns about ecosystem impacts. Rec fishers are one of the largest lobby groups in the country. I have not heard one of Senator Boswell's infamous rumblings about rec fishers and how the armies of Armageddon, armies of rec fishers, are going to march over the horizon and tread on the Greens, but I understand that there are nearly five million across the country—which is a large number. A lot of them have concerns that need to be addressed.

We all agree that more scientific research needs to be done, we all agree that we could tighten up regulations and we all agree that risks need to be addressed before we let this supertrawler operate in Australian waters. One question that I have been asked in recent days when speaking to media and to a number of constituents is: why is this supertrawler coming to Australia? The technical answer is that we have an underutilised fishery. It is not economic to fish these fish because they are low value and it is high cost. That is why the fishery is not being utilised at the moment. Only a supertrawler has the capacity to fish these waters economically.

There is also a bigger issue here—a desire or a dream to use Australian protein from these small pelagic fisheries to feed the world. It is a sad irony that we may use our small pelagic fish to send to and feed countries like Africa who have had their local waters depleted by exactly the same supertrawlers. This is just one of many issues of concern that the community have with this boat. That may be scientifically valid and it may be that daily egg production method studies show that this fishery is sustainable into the future. But that work has not been done yet either. None of that work has been done for eight to 10 years in this fishery. I understand it will happen if the boat arrives and the company pays for it. This is another issue that conservationists would like addressed.

There is also a lot of very strong public concern about the process that has led to the quota allocation—the AFMA process. We have seen significant media on that in recent weeks. The only way we can allay those concerns is to revisit the quota allocation process—stand back, take our time and do this properly. It is my job as a parliamentarian, as it is the job of everyone in this chamber—and I am learning these things very quickly—to represent my constituents, voters for my party, and all concerned Tasmanians, on this issue. Once again, I applaud all the MPs in the lower house of Tasmania today—Labor, Liberal and Greens—for presenting such a strong message to their federal counterparts here tonight that they do not want this supertrawler to operate in Australian waters without the appropriate checks and balances put in place. Only we can put checks and balances in place, and we need to do it now. This boat is due to arrive in Australian waters any day. Any day now we have the potential for more public concern and an escalation of this conflict. It is our duty as parliamentarians to take action.

I know that a lot of my federal counterparts in the Labor Party have concerns about this—it is all documented in the media. I have had discussions with my Liberal senator counterparts, and I know they take this issue seriously as well. I am not pointing fingers at anyone; I am just saying, 'Listen to the spirit of Tasmania tonight.' It is not very often we see such a divided state come together and vote on a conservation outcome. We need to listen to and take note of what they have done and we need to take action on this tonight.

6:04 pm

Photo of Nigel ScullionNigel Scullion (NT, Country Liberal Party, Deputy Leader of the Nationals) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise somewhat flustered, as I was not actually sure that this was coming on for debate and I just happened to be here at the time. I would like to make a bit of a contribution. Firstly, I would like to congratulate Senator Whish-Wilson for his contribution. It was from the heart, and I believe as a Tasmanian he is reflecting the will of the parliament in Tasmania and, to some degree, the people of Tasmania.

As some of you would know, I have been around in fishery politics for some time—it is a pretty tough game—and I have also been around for long enough to know and to perhaps provide some insight about what we should not be doing. We see the headlines in the papers: 'Supertrawler!' and we read that it is not extraordinarily good, that it is large and a fishing boat—and children have to go to bed earlier—and that this is a very serious threat to our way of life. In fact, from my perspective, it is quite the opposite, and I did not think for a moment that the Tasmanian parliament would come to that conclusion. I thought it would simply pass on.

I had a passing look at the work that AFMA, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, had done—and, again, I acknowledge the credit that Senator Whish-Wilson piled on the scientists from that august body. I will deal with some of the issues about the size. Particularly to Senator Whish-Wilson and the Greens, I would say that the supertrawler is catching a particular amount of fish; it is not just catching any amount of fish. This is actually an output control fishery. So, for example, we say, 'We don't care how you catch it, but you are only allowed to catch 10 fish.' That is how it is. For those who are not familiar with input and output controls, with an input control fishery you are allowed to catch as many fish as you like with one hand behind your back or with a captain with an IQ of four—and I have been in fisheries that have that impediment, I have to say. An output control fishery is considered one of the best ways to manage fisheries.

I will give you a bit of a quantum on that. There is a benefit to this, because you could have maybe 10 or 20 trawlers go out there now and 'pelagically' trawl. So there is a great deal of efficiency with this. You could certainly call it a super-efficient trawler. There is no doubt about that. The efficiency is all about using less fuel to gather the protein. This trawler would undoubtedly provide for a much smaller carbon footprint—and we have certainly been lectured on those sorts of issues by the Greens a number of times in here, and perhaps rightly so.

The last issue I will touch on is that we provide protein. It is a very important foodstuff and we should think very carefully. Last night I was listening to Tim Costello on the television expounding the virtues of looking after people in Africa, particularly in the Horn of Africa, who are going through the most extraordinary drought. We keep talking about extraordinary droughts in Africa, but certainly this drought is having just a horrific impact on the population there, who have, right at the moment, almost no access to protein in particular. This is a market. This particular boat and this particular fishery is targeted specifically at filling that market. I just want to make that clear.

I will just quickly go through the process. The Australian Fisheries Management Authority have made an investment in science. They have not just run out and said, 'Big trawler—no worries, fill your boots; it will all be okay.' They have put so much work into ensuring that they have the total allowable catch. This particular boat will take 18,000 tonnes. That is a lot of jack mackerel—and four other smaller species—but it is out of a conservative estimate that built in precautionary principles of 360,000 tonnes annually, just to put it in context. The total allowable catch for the fishery is about 36,000 tonnes, of which this vessel will be taking 18,000 tonnes. We are talking 3.6 per cent of the total fishery, just to put it in context. It is a big trawler. It can hold it flat, it can do what it likes, but that is the maximum that it is going to be able to take.

I have only just stood up—I am not really across some of the things—but the senator did provide some interesting statistics showing that 99.6 per cent of the quota was not actually fished. I know we may have fundamentally different views on this, but my view is that we have a responsibility to be able to fish and allow fishing sustainably, within sustainable levels. I think if everything stays to the model that AFMA has got, then that is certainly what will happen. I think you could reasonably say that it is an unfished fishery. The senator made a comment along the lines of 'We are only using a super trawler because it is an unfished fishery'. I will use an analogy. I live in Darwin and I can tell you there is a very good reason we do not hook up the house trailer, put some vegies in it and tow it behind the Holden to Darwin, because we have got to use big trucks. It is a critical mass and efficiency issue. I would never be able to afford vegies if we used the house trailer and I can tell you that catching fish in pelagic fisheries any other way would simply would be too much for the market and I think we should also take that into consideration.

This has been heavily politicised in a short time and I have had the experience in my home territory of similar things. I will just deal with a couple of the key issues. I notice that in terms of local fish depletion there were a couple of other issues that the senator brought up. I will quote from a scientific paper by Colin Buxton, Gavin Begg, Jeremy Lyle, Tim Ward, Keith Sainsbury, Tony Smith and David Smith. If you do not know them, take it from me and google them: they are the key scientists in small pelagic fisheries internationally. In regard to local depletion in this exact fishery, they say:

Localised depletion is evaluated as unlikely with the proposed harvesting fractions applied in the SPF because most small pelagic species, and their predators, are highly mobile and local areas replenish quickly provided the overall stocks are not depleted. This has been the experience with small pelagic fisheries that have been similarly managed in Australia.

People say this is the first time this has ever really been done. We have a total allowable catch in the sardine fishery of South Australia, and that total allowable catch is 34,000 tonnes. It is double the quota we are talking about here. They are a very similar fish to manage, and this sardine quota is taken in an area half the size. I am not saying this as a contradiction. I just hope those listening will take that into consideration and that it will provide them with some comfort. I also note their recommendation in regard to by-catch:

AFMA has committed to 100% observer coverage to monitor by-catch and other aspects of fishery operations for the factory trawler.

I think that will give everybody an awful lot of confidence in what is happening.

I want to briefly touch on fishing politics. We can manage fisheries from this place. We can manage them from here. I was part of a political party that managed fisheries in the Northern Territory. Way back in the day, if we put an Aboriginal and a commercial fisherman in a paddock and threw rocks at them, everybody in the Northern Territory would vote for us. But I tell you, it did not do much for the management of fisheries. It was not useful at all. I would urge all those involved in this debate to simply allow this to be left to the scientists. If you have a question with the science, if it is a question about the validity of it, if it is about 'have not had enough time', I would be the first person to say we need seriously to consider the precautionary principle and go back and look at that particular element. I know Senator Whish-Wilson has called for further consideration and that in the future we might go and do these things. Perhaps I do not know enough about the issue, but I am certainly concerned that this is simply a delaying tactic and that this will never happen. It is a real boat, there is a real quota, it is a real fishery and there is a real protein need in Africa. I have not heard in the debate that there is a particular piece of an element of the science that is flawed or that the scientists do not know enough about it or that somehow the application of the precautionary principle is not there. I suspect this is a reaction after recreational fishermen have come to you and said, 'Look, this is going to cause fish depletion.' And I am sure they have but, frankly, local recreational fishermen—I love them; I am one of them; I have bred them—probably are not quite as switched on to the science as the scientists are. I think we should leave this to science and we need to really think about the fact that a super trawler is actually a super-efficient trawler.

6:14 pm

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

A few months ago Seafish Tasmania announced that they would be bringing the super trawler FV Margiris into Australian waters and the super trawler would seek to fish there. The super trawler is proposed to be based out of Devonport in Tasmania and has caused deep community concern throughout our state.

We have never had a factory ship super trawler fish in Australian waters before. Tasmanians are concerned about the environmental impact that the Margiris will have on our fish stocks now and for generations to come. The super trawler, as I understand it, is unlike anything that has ever operated in Australian waters. The Margiris is a 142-metre midwater trawler and weighs nearly 10,000 tonnes. It can process over 250 tonnes of fish a day. It has a cargo capacity of 6,200 tonnes. It is being brought here by Seafish Tasmania, which has secured an 18,000-tonne quota for jack mackerel, blue mackerel and redbait—key prey fish which help to sustain populations of the larger animals like southern bluefin tuna, fur seals, dolphins and other marine animals and birds. The Margiris will tow a 300-metre-long net through the waters above the bottom of the ocean. The catch will be frozen whole and most, as I understand it, will then be exported to West Africa.

So what has happened? In response to community concern the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Ludwig, established a working group, inviting ENGOs, recreational fishing groups and Seafish Tasmania to be part of a group to try to reach an agreement on the super trawler. Of course, the ENGOs did not participate in the working group. The minister established the working group as a means of bringing the company and the community together on a set of additional voluntary measures regarding the operation of the FV Margiris. No outcome was reached and, on exiting the working group process, TARFish CEO Mark Nikolai issued a media statement. I will read some of that:

Reviewing the Small Pelagic Fishery science has heightened our concerns and raised more questions without answers.

Mr Nikolai went on to say:

Recreational fishers call on Minister Ludwig to not allow industrial scale fishing operations to occur in the Small Pelagic Fishery and address the significant public concerns surrounding the risks of local area depletion on fish stocks.

I attended a number of rallies in Hobart in July and August with Senator Lin Thorp which were organised by Tyson Clements, Martin Haley and Neil Clark. Rallies were held around the state. At the rallies we attended we heard the concerns of the recreational fishers and the local community. Many of the main issues were centred around spatial management, the science and, indeed, the science as it relates to the vessel—the size of the trawler and the impact this will have on the local ecosystem. Recreational fishers, game fishers, tuna fishers, tourism operators and conservation groups have been very active and vocal in calling for sound spatial management to ensure that our fishing stocks are a resource that is not just for ourselves but also for our children and our children's children.

We also need to ensure that there are no adverse impacts on our local ecosystems. Indeed, there are concerns regarding the science and how it relates if the volumes are being taken by one large vessel. This super trawler is a size we have never seen before and it throws up a number of questions that I believe were not thought of when the science was last done. It is also worth noting that, due to the important place small fish such as redbait and jack mackerel have in the food chain, there are concerns about the impact on local ecosystems that could occur through overfishing of these species.

At the rally in Hobart Senator Lin Thorp and I accepted a petition on behalf of Julie Collins, the member for Franklin. We also raised the concerns. After that meeting and at the rally we indicated quite clearly to the people who attended the rally that we would go back to Minister Ludwig—indeed, to the Prime Minister's office—and raise the concerns that were given to us at those rallies and at meetings that we held privately with TARFish and other fishing groups.

Last week I was among a group of parliamentarians—Senator Whish-Wilson was there as well—on the Parliament House lawns to view a petition of 35,000 signatures. It was a massive petition. This petition was later presented to Minister Ludwig and has been tabled in the Senate. The size of this petition again highlights the enormous community concern about the FV Margiris across Australia. Minister Julie Collins, the member for Franklin, Lin Thorp and I have also asked the federal Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Mr Tony Burke, to intervene on the super trawler on environmental grounds. Minister Burke has himself stated his concerns regarding the FV Margiris and highlighted that super trawlers pose new issues for fishery management.

I believe we must see this issue resolved quickly. I am unconvinced of the safeguards that are in place to ensure our local ecosystems are not impacted by the super trawler. Consequently, I am of the view that the FV Margiris should not be here. Senator Whish-Wilson, I know, has genuine concerns about the long-term future of the Tasmanian fisheries. What we—Minister Collins, Senator Thorp and other members of the caucus—have been doing is using avenues available to us to address the valid concerns of our community that we share to deal with the super trawler now and, I hope, into the future.

So, while a disallowance motion is one tactic that can be used, I believe this motion is really nothing more than a gesture, but an empty gesture because it will not succeed and does nothing to address the issues we are facing. It does not address the issues in the long term that we are currently facing. Senator Whish-Wilson even talked in his own motion about the quota being reissued and the like. Anyway, I believe that the action that Senator Thorp, Minister Collins and others have taken in briefing the Prime Minister's office about the real concerns of the recreational fishers and the Tasmanian community, and working with the appropriate ministers to raise these concerns and awareness of the issues, is the best way to resolve this issue. Do I want the super trawler here? No, I do not. Do I think this motion is the best way to proceed? No, I do not.

6:23 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support this disallowance motion, and I put on the record that, yes, this will succeed if people vote for it. What we are seeing here is a doubling of the quota without scientific support to show the super trawler will deplete our local fish and also take bycatch, which I will address in a minute. But I also go back to the science that Senator Scullion was talking about. He was waving around the Commonwealth Small Pelagic Fishery: general background to the scientific issues report, and he quoted from it. I am aware that Senator Whish-Wilson also quoted from it, but I put in context Senator Scullion's quote. He quoted the first bit of an important point when he said:

Localised depletion is evaluated as unlikely with the proposed harvesting fractions applied in the SPF because most small pelagic species—

and Senator Scullion articulated that. But he left off the important bit:

However given uncertainties about detailed movement patterns of several of the species targeted in the SPF, it would be prudent to distribute catches to minimise the chance of local depletion. This is consistent with global scientific advice on best practice for managing such species.

Of course, there is not the appropriate data to do a proper risk assessment on the likelihood of localised depletions occurring, and there is not any adequate information on the movement of target species in the region. That is also from scientific papers. So, on this issue that we will just have to rely on the science, that paper is saying we need more information.

We are particularly concerned about the impact that this super trawler will have on our fisheries in Australia. I will point out here that there has been some mention of whether this super trawler is subsidised and whether it is getting subsidised for this action. The fact is that, to operate, this super trawler has to be, has been and is subsidised by the European Union. Whether it is being subsidised to actually operate in our waters is important to know but is not the full story. The fact is that to exist it needs a subsidy. If it is being subsidised to exist, it is therefore being subsidised to operate in our waters.

It is very important that we deal with this quota issue, and it has highlighted the science arguments around our fisheries and the fact that we do not have as much information about our fisheries as AFMA would have us think. If this gets passed, it will send a clear message that we need better management of our fisheries and we are not prepared to support massive super trawlers—in this case the second biggest in the world—to come and fish in a rapacious manner in our waters. As I think other people have said, this super trawler is a game changer in the way we manage our fisheries in Australia, and that is why you are finding fishers, conservationists and industry standing up around Australia—particularly focused in Tasmania—to say no to this sort of fishing in our waters. Australia has in the past claimed that we have some of the best-managed fisheries in the world, and I have in this chamber acknowledged that also, for some fisheries. But this clearly demonstrates that we cannot just rely on our so-called reputation as being among the best fisheries managers in the world. We need to demonstrate that on the water as well.

I know that Senator Whish-Wilson has articulated some of the key issues, but I particularly want to focus on the issues around bycatch and point to what happened in New Zealand, where they have had some issues with the super trawlers there. The New Zealand government experienced difficulty in effectively enforcing fisheries regulations in their well-managed fisheries, and it should provide us with a very sobering lesson about the realities of super trawlers and the way they operate. Recently a local New Zealand company chartered Korean super trawlers to fish New Zealand waters, with observers from the New Zealand government on board. However, the observers were unable to monitor the whole ship the whole time. Catches were done when the observers were either asleep, on the other side of the boat or looking at something else, and the quota apparently was surpassed. As with many super trawlers around the world, the New Zealand experience has ended in legal action and is a very sorry example of the impact that super trawlers can have.

Have we learnt from this experience? It looks as if we may not have when we go back to the issue of bycatch. Apparently we are supposed to believe that this massive, great, big ship will move on when it sights a dolphin, but we have no assurances that this boat will have enough observer coverage to even flag that there is a dolphin there, without contemplating the issue of whether the ship will, in fact, move on or not. I draw attention to our most recent experience in Australia around bycatch, and that is the South Australian experience with sea lions. As we know, AFMA has had to close trawl fisheries in South Australia because of the question of bycatch. I also need to acknowledge that my colleague Senator Wright put a lot of effort into following up this issue. In fact, in this very chamber she raised questions about it. When they started looking at observer studies in that fishery, they identified that 374 sea lions were dying in 18 months.

They also uncovered a further 56 dolphin deaths. Because they started looking, they actually worked out what was happening in that fishery. There were attempts to deal with that, and what has had to happen is that they have had to close some of those fisheries. AFMA had to take decisive action in that case because it was clearly demonstrated that there was adverse impact on bycatch. We are now talking about a boat that is much bigger and which has had a lot of other trouble dealing with bycatch in other areas.

I think that super trawlers have earned a bad name because of their impacts on local depletions and because of their impacts in other countries. In the past 15 years 20 super trawlers off the west coast of Africa are estimated to have killed in bycatch 1,500 critically endangered turtles, 18,000 giant rays and 60,000 sharks. And you can bet your bottom dollar that that number of deaths is adding to what we already know about the low stocks of sharks globally. As a result of this sort of behaviour by super trawlers in West Africa, Senegal has recently banned all super trawlers. Just like New Zealand, they have learnt their lesson the hard way.

Why does Australia have to learn its lesson the hard way? Surely we should be learning from the experiences of our neighbours and from experiences elsewhere? We know that our fish stocks are plummeting globally. Why does Australia have to contribute to that? Why are we so determined to allow that to happen in our waters? We have held ourselves high, saying that we are some of the best fisheries managers in the world, and now it seems like we are coming down to the lowest common denominator with a super trawler that is subsidised to exist.

We have always said, 'No, we shouldn't be doing that,' and yet now we are facilitating the entry into our waters of a super trawler that is subsidised—

Photo of David FeeneyDavid Feeney (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

Who subsidises it?

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The European Union does. I do not know if you were here a bit earlier, Senator Feeney, when I was saying that whether it is being directly subsidised to operate in our waters or not—to exist—that boat has the potential to come into our waters. It is subsidised to do that. If it were not for European subsidies this super trawler would not be able to operate anywhere. It has to have that to exist.

We are talking about a game changer here. On Radio National this morning we heard that if this season is successful we can expect it to stay. This is not a once off; this is a game changer for the way we manage our fisheries in this country. We are saying that it is okay for massive, great big super trawlers to come into our waters and fish hundreds of tonnes of fish at a time. It is a super trawler that can go into a local area and scoop up all those fish. Not only are those fish important as far as recreational fishers are concerned but other industry players are also concerned that this will have an effect on our ecosystems and other fish species in those ecosystems. We need to think about what we are doing here.

We need to think about why there was a doubling of the quota to enable this super trawler to come into our waters. The background paper that was released yesterday by seven fisheries scientists concludes with this statement, 'It would be prudent to distribute catches to minimise the chance of local depletion'. We do not know what impact this is going to have on our fish species and we do not know what impact it is going to have on local depletions. We do know that fish stocks around the world are at risk and that we have tried hard to get an adequate and good management system in this country—and I am not about to stand here and say that I think it is perfect, because I have said on other occasions that it is not. But it is certainly better than in a lot of other countries. So instead of maintaining that standing and building on it, what we want to do is join the common denominator and let this sort of operation happen in our waters.

I have to say that it is a strange experience to be in the position where rec fishers are lobbying us to oppose something. I have not had that experience too often, I have to say, other than that there are a group of rec fishers who see the benefits of marine protected areas and the way that they operate to help fish stocks—and I am not going to go over that argument here. So I am not saying that we have not worked with rec fishers in the past, but it is fairly unusual for rec fishers to be lobbying us to oppose something like this. It is the same with the broader commercial industry; that is also unusual.

So there has to be something—and I will use it, pardon the pun—'fishy' about this particular proposal if there are so many stakeholders that are opposed to this particular proposal. We need to be operating under the precautionary principle in our management of our fisheries. Any definition of the precautionary principle would say that you do not allow this sort of massive fish-gathering implement to operate in our waters when it will lead to local depletions and when we do not have the science. We do not know what impact it will have.

The science report that people are now holding up as saying that it supports it does not. It does not say it is okay to go ahead. We should be operating under the precautionary principle. We should not allow this material—

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

It actually does. You are misrepresenting the science, as usual—no respect for science.

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I hear the coalition across the chamber saying that we are no respecters of science. It is we who have been looking at the science around marine protected areas. It is we who have been looking at that.

Photo of David FeeneyDavid Feeney (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

What about climate change science?

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Exactly! Do not lecture me about not looking at the science.

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

Read the paper and give it its due!

Photo of Sue BoyceSue Boyce (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Siewert, ignore the interjections.

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I will take your direction, Madam Acting Deputy President, and I will ignore them.

This approach is not good enough. We should not be doubling the quota and we should not be allowing that super trawler to operate in Australian waters. We have too much to lose: our fisheries are too much to lose by allowing this operation to happen in our waters.

6:37 pm

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

I have had some quite instructive conversations with Senator Whish-Wilson in respect of this issue. We have sat down on a couple of occasions and had a discussion about it. But I have to say that Senator Siewert's contribution was, quite frankly, reminiscent of some of what her state colleagues have done in whipping up fear and frenzy around this issue and causing a large amount of the concern that exists in my home state of Tasmania and in other places, I might add, with absolutely irresponsible rhetoric around this particular issue. I recognise the concern that exists in my home state of Tasmania and I have had conversations with the recreational fishermen myself. I have sat down with them and we have been through the issues and I think that we understand our issues and I understand their concerns around localised depletions.

As for the paper that came out yesterday, about eight weeks ago when this process started I went to some scientists and said, 'We would like you to publish something. We would like you to put something together that gives some information to the community around this,' because I have to say, the government's approach to this has been dead-set hopeless—absolutely dead-set hopeless. Going and talking to the Prime Minister achieves nothing. This does achieve something, because it provides some information to the community.

I am really disappointed, Senator Siewert, in your misrepresentation of what is said. I have read the report. Senator Whish-Wilson read the same half of the paragraph out that you read and Senator Scullion read the other half of the paragraph, so when you put them together, you get the actual picture. As Senator Scullion said, here we have seven of the most respected marine scientists in small pelagics in the world. Professor Sainsbury has just spent two weeks at the United Nations FAO on small pelagics, lecturing on this—and I will come to that later in my contribution. These people are highly respected, and to misrepresent their writings as you have done is quite disgraceful.

I am going to quote a part of the introduction. It says:

Several groups of scientists worldwide, including from CSIRO and IMAS, have recently examined the effects of fisheries on small pelagic species (also sometimes called forage fish) and how they should be managed so as to avoid undesirable flow-on effects of these fisheries on the food web and ecosystem.

Very important, because it comes to the issues that Senator Brown talked about. It continues:

There is now clear and widely agreed understanding about how these fisheries should be managed, and this understanding has a strong scientific basis—

That is the introduction to this paper. So suggestions that the science is not known, that there are doubts about the science, is complete rubbish. This is a very well-studied fishery and it is very well studied globally, and there are a number of papers that I will cite as part of the discussion here today that actually talk about it. So the rhetoric that the Greens have been going on with and the misrepresentation particularly by Paul O'Halloran, the member for Braddon in Tasmania, and Mr Kim Booth, the member for Bass in Tasmania, have been quite outrageous. It has whipped people into a frenzy. I have had people in my office who say that they cannot sleep at night because of the concerns that have been raised. They come in and quote the lines that the Greens are running out in Tasmania.

As Senator Brown said, and I agree with her on this point, this motion will not necessarily achieve anything. This is a typical Greens process—delay, delay, add cost, try and make an industry or a business unviable by applying additional cost to the business. They have done it in the forest industry and they do it in a whole range of other industries. They have said they are going to target the mining industry—same toolkit, same process. They demonise the industry, they destroy the reputation of the business, and then they cause delay after delay after delay, which increases costs and therefore makes the project financially unviable. That is their strategy. That is the strategy that is being used here. As Professor Sainsbury says:

The demand that there is scientific knowledge about the detailed local movement dynamics of fish stocks is an example of the approach that we must know everything about everything before we can do anything.

That is the way that the Greens operate—'unless you know everything'. But we know that science continues to evolve, and we should continue to invest in science so that we get a good outcome, and we must continue to improve our fisheries management. Not only do we say that we are a good fisheries manager, we are globally benchmarked as being a good fisheries manager. According to the fisheries research reports, the 2008 volume, as far as sustainability is concerned, Australia ranks second in the world.

Mr Burke this morning on Radio National made some quite extraordinary statements. He has actually redefined the issue of localised depletion. He is now talking about seals and dolphins and, quite extraordinarily, albatross. I have not seen an albatross 100 metres deep in the water. I have talked to the industry and to the owner of the vessel, who have fished with this method in this fishery previously—so we are not talking about a new process; it has occurred before—using very similar equipment. Mr Burke is now talking about localised depletions in a way that is different from what everybody else who has been talking about it understands.

The paper that was released by those seven scientists yesterday actually deals with the issue of localised depletion. On top of that, the company is offering a move on provision to deal with the concerns of the local fishermen—quite responsibly. They are not necessarily required to do it; the fishery is already spatially managed. You just cannot go to the east coast of Tasmania, for example, and take fish. It already has some spatial management around it, and he is offering more. There is a huge opportunity.

I was really disappointed when I heard that the recreational fishing sector had removed themselves from the discussions last week, as I said to you this morning, Senator Whish-Wilson, because we lost an opportunity to work with the recreational sector, those who are concerned, to do some more science around the issue of how we move around the fishery and how the fish move within the fishery. The offer is on the table. In fact, if you go back to the proposal that SeaFish put over nine months ago to gather new science, that was part of it. If you go back and do that research, that was part of their proposal months ago: to do some more research on the movement of the fish around the fishery so that it was better understood.

There was an opportunity that the recreational fishing guys could have taken to do that. I can understand their lack of confidence in the way the government has managed this—I sincerely can. The government should have said there is a shortage of information or there needs to be a compilation of information. That could have been put on the table. We all know that they were asking for it as part of the talks, but they were told it was not there. It has come out afterwards because somebody else asked for it.

Senator Ludwig said this morning he now accepts the science. He said on Radio National, in respect of localised depletions: 'I accept the science of that absolutely. The question then becomes whether those volumes, if taken by one vessel using these particular fishing methods, throw up anything that was not contemplated when the science was last done. That is the issue where I think it is quite responsible that questions be checked and checked through very thoroughly, and I am still waiting for some work to come back on that.'

Minister Burke, when he was minister for fisheries between 2007 and 2010, actually presided over the drafting of the small pelagics plan. On the very first page of the small pelagics plan, which was initially put out in 2008 and updated in 2009, it says:

    That is in the Small Pelagic Fishery Management Plan that was issued twice under Minister Burke when he was minister for fisheries. I am not sure what he was doing back then and whether he was moving a motion of no confidence in his role as a fisheries minister when he was there or whether he was just trying to find ways to intercede in this particular issue now, which I have to say I think is the case because, in my view, Minister Burke is completely out of control on a number of issues. But that is his record in this particular matter: he presided over the management plan that suggested a large trawler might be part of the deal back in 2008 and 2009. So for anybody in government to be suggesting that this is a huge surprise is quite outrageous.

    I want to go now to the question of global fisheries and how they are managed. I mentioned that Professor Sainsbury was involved in some work in Europe and for the United Nations recently. I go to a piece of science that was issued back in April this year by the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force. I want to talk about how that works and how our Small Pelagic Fishery Management Plan is established. In the small pelagic fisheries globally, the practice has been to fish down to 20 per cent of the biomass—that is, to take out 80 per cent. That has been the global practice until recently. What this report recommends is that the minimum remaining amount of biomass is doubled to 40 per cent. That is what they observe. The task force also talk about making allowance within that 40 per cent that is to remain for all the other species that forage on the small pelagics—it recognises that they are an important part of the food web.

    When we come to the Australian Small Pelagic Fishery Management Plan, where is it set? We say you can take a maximum of 20 per cent. So Lenfest says double it from leaving 20 to leaving 40. We say leave 80, and that is with the most up-to-date science. We then overlay another precaution where we say: as the science decays so does the quota, by 2½ per cent per annum, and when you get to a certain stage you go to a tier-2 level, which has to be below 10 per cent. Where is it set right now? It is set for jack mackerel and blue mackerel at less than 7½ per cent and for redbait at 10 per cent.

    So the frenzy that has been whipped up around this, around the science and the level of the quota and the sustainability of the quota, I think is quite outrageous. As Senator Scullion mentioned, there is a small pelagic fishery in South Australian state waters, in a very confined area, that takes 34,000 tonnes per annum. It is well studied. Its impacts are well understood. It does not have impacts on localised depletion and all of the other important marine mammals that are around it because we have a very precautionary approach to the way that we set our quotas and we take into account the importance of these species in the food chain. But nobody has been prepared to say that. Nobody has been prepared to put that important information on the table as part of this debate. All we have had is hysteria and innuendo and claims that will denigrate the name of the business that is operating in this fishery. I think that is an absolute disgrace. We saw that again in the Tasmanian parliament where the press release put out by the Greens does not even reflect the motion that was passed in the house today in Tasmania. Mr Deputy President, I seek leave to continue my remarks.

    Leave granted.

    6:50 pm

    Photo of David FeeneyDavid Feeney (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

    I table a copy of a letter that Senator the Hon. Joseph Ludwig has issued in response to the resolution passed today by the Tasmanian parliament.

    Debate adjourned.