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OPINION | Marine Park management plans won’t change the number of fish being caught

Seafood Industry Australia (SIA), the national peak body representing Australia’s commercial fishers, has rejected claims from Andrew Forrest, the Labor Party and the Greens as misinformation being peddled in an attempt to drum up fear and opposition to the management plans for Australia’s network of marine parks.

As fishers our primary focus is securing the future of our industry and our fish-stocks for generations to come. To quote Mr Forrest directly, “Fish today, fish tomorrow and fish forever.” 

However, a number of claims which are simply not true continue to be pushed as fact. As the debate and vote on the five disallowance motions for the Commonwealth Marine Park management plans looms in the Senate, SIA could not let these lies go uncorrected.

Comments made that large, foreign fishing fleets are currently operating in Australian waters are simply not true. Mr Forrest said on the ABC radio’s National Drive program (July 31, 2018) that Chinese, French, Spanish boats are operating in Australian waters. This statement is incorrect – there are currently no Japanese, Chinese or French vessels operating in Australian waters.

Only vessels authorised by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) are permitted to fish in Commonwealth fisheries. If Mr Forrest is suggesting there are fishers illegally accessing our waters, then he should be aware that illegal fishing in Australian waters is taken very seriously. AFMA works tirelessly with Australian Border Force, the Royal Australian Navy and other government agencies both here and overseas, to detect and apprehend any foreign fishing vessels operating illegally inside Australian waters

There has been a dishonest campaign by conservationists to mislead the public about the number of fish that can be caught, foreign fishing vessels and the proposed marine park management plans. There is no link between these things.

These management plans do not and will not have any impact on the number of fish being caught in Australian waters. The plans dictate the types of fishing activity allowed in each of the marine parks. The management of fish-stock levels is a different process which is underpinned by scientific assessment and managed by state and commonwealth fisheries.

Marine Parks are a tool which provide an additional level of protection for ecological features, not fish stocks. Marine Parks are welcomed by commercial and recreational fishers alike and we recognise there need.

Comments made by Mr Forrest that the marine park management plans are not supported by Australia’s fishers are not correct. In fact, Australia’s peak national fishing bodies – Seafood Industry Australia, Australian Fishing Trade Association, Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation and Game Fishing Association of Australia – have reaffirmed our united position in support of the plans. We believe the plans achieve an acceptable balance between sustainability and the right of Australian’s to catch fish, eat fish and make a living from the ocean.

In addition, there is no credible link between increasing marine parks and decreasing plastics in our oceans. Plastic-pollution in our oceans is a serious issue, but to deal with it we should be looking to the practices of people on land. Most of the plastics in our oceans are human rubbish and waste. SIA supports the effort to decrease plastic-pollution from our oceans.

In fact, Australia’s Northern Prawn Fishery Industry has been commended for working alongside the World Animal Protection to reduce the number of ghost nets in the gulf through the Global Ghost Gear Initiative. Net-tracking initiatives have shown that 96 per cent of ghost nets found in Australian waters are from international fishers and drift here due to ocean currents. The Managing Director of Taronga Blue and the Australian Marine Debris Initiative Heidi Taylor said Australian fisheries do not contribute a significant amount of ghost net debris to Australia’s marine debris load, they are too expensive to lose.

Furthermore, claims that Australia’s fish-stock levels have dropped significantly are again, not true. The basis for this claim is a widely criticised piece of research. Our concerns, and those of many others, regarding the rigour of the research and the publication process are on the record. In fact, our concerns are so significant we have spoken to the university involved and we have submitted a formal request for more information regarding the publication process for this particular paper.

While it has been accurately pointed out that some commercial catch sizes have decreased, this is not related to a decline in fish-stocks; rather, this highlights a reduction in catch-limits and licence buy-backs, which were set in-line with scientific data to ensure our fisheries are sustainable well into the future.

Why the Labor party, the Greens and Mr Forrest choose to ignore more than a decade of consultation and scientific research is not something we can understand. There are many other indicators pointing out the responsible and sustainable way our fishers work, such as the finding by ABARES that for the fourth consecutive year, no solely Commonwealth-managed fishery was subject to overfishing.

SIA asks the Senate Crossbench to maintain their original position and vote against the disallowance motions before them.

The Labor party, the Greens and Mr Forrest are attacking the very people who have been working for decades to ensure the health of our oceans and marine life, and proactively managing fish-stocks – Australian fishers. As fishers, our priority is the ocean. We advocate the health, sustainability and future of our ocean. It’s our livelihood and the future livelihood of generations to come.

Jane Lovell

Jane Lovell is the inaugural CEO of Seafood Industry Australia, the national peak body which represents the Australian seafood industry. A scientist by training, Jane has also worked in horticultural export, in the fisheries portfolio in the Australian Federal Parliament, for small businesses and for large multi-national corporations. She was inaugural Managing Director of TQA Australia, a not-for-profit concerned with food safety, quality and environmental assurance in primary industry. In this role, she worked with a range of seafood businesses, from aquaculture to processing and assisted the Tasmanian oyster industry develop and implement its own food safety and quality assurance system. Jane holds qualifications in corporate governance, leadership and has recently completed her Masters examining issues associated with the global governance of food security.