• Senator Richard Colbeck
    Senator Richard Colbeck

FOR the first time in along while rec fishers in Australia can celebrate, with justifiable pride and satisfaction, the contents of a government announcement.

The decision to amend the EPBC Act (which is hopefully set to be approved by parliament) to prevent the monstrous super trawler FV Margiris/Abel Tasman from operating in Australian waters would not have happened without a sustained and intelligent campaign run in Canberra, Victoria and Tassie by rec fishing organisations. Various green groups, notably Greenpeace, also played a role in fomenting public opinion against industrial fishing activities. Whilst typically Pew was nowhere to be seen, the fact remains that we have now proved it is possible to use common cause to good effect with sensible environmentalists on issues where there is agreement.

Not that this campaign had the slightest effect on the Coalition's Shadow Fisheries Minister, Senator Richard Colbeck, who seems content to be a mouthpiece for commercial sector and an apologist for the failings of the Australian Fisheries Management Agency. Check out Colbeck's website here... http://www.richardcolbeck.com.au/current_issues detailing his strong support for the Margiris to be allowed to pillage the Small Pelagic Fishery. He's now backsliding all over the shop following a party room row and is seeking to blame the Government for listening to AFMA in the first place. Yet praises them in his support for the supertrawler on his own website – honestly, what a hypocrite!

Surely nobody can now doubt the need for rec fishers to have a strong and unified national voice, able to influence politicians of all parties in the interest both of the environment and our sport? We should all get behind Allan Hansard and the groups that have come together to form the Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation and its campaigning arm - Keep Australia Fishing. Without the public campaigning, the videos, the articles in Fisho and the mainstream press, the rallies, the lobbying and some timely interventions by our national advocates this significant victory would not have happened and the "men with nets" would have won.

As well as arguing for the creation of a unified peak body in my Keep Australia Fishing report last year, I sounded what has proved to be a timely warning on the arrival of supertrawlers.

"The global situation is frightening, with the latest United Nations Food and Agriculture
Organisation (UNFAO) reports revealing that 80% of the world's fish species are either
fully or over exploited. With the global population projected to rise from the current
6.5 billion to nearly 10 billion by 2050 and with huge advances in space age technology
making commercial fish capture easier and more efficient, the omens are not good.
Whilst the Western Pacific and Eastern Indian Ocean waters are not yet in the worst category, the advent of supertrawlers which can fish and process their catch virtually anywhere in the world, means they are now actively targeting the seas around Australia."

By the time I arrived back in Oz in August for the National Recreational Fishing Conference in Brisbane the FV Margiris row was in full swing. I was advised in no uncertain terms that I needed to make reference to it in my opening speech and since I was following Fisheries Minister Joe Ludwig I made the most of the opportunity.

I find it scandalous that (AFMA) can blatantly ignore the precautionary principle and rely on outdated nine-year-old scientific data to massively increase the quota for the harvesting of the baitfish that iconic fish species like bluefin tuna and other creatures depend. There is also a bigger moral question in play here. The super trawler fleet, including the Margiris, has already raped the fishing grounds off Senegal and West Africa leading to the collapse of a fishery on which some of the poorest people in the world depend. Now they want to exploit the Australian fishery and sell the jack mackerel back to the same people whose livelihoods they have helped to destroy. Sickening isn't it?

All of this was being proposed with the consent of a so called independent agency which is so close to the commercial sector that it shares membership with the same people who stand to benefit from its' decisions. Quite frankly the conduct of AFMA and the process by which the jack mackerel quota was increased to facilitate the arrival of the super trawler stinks to high heaven and should be the subject of a separate parliamentary inquiry. This point was clearly illustrated at the Brisbane conference by the rec fishing rep on AFMA, Graham Pike, who made a powerful and informed speech outlining the "perverted process" and dodgy science deployed by AFMA on behalf of trawler owners rather than the people of Australia.

You can find Graham's speech HERE.

I urge you to take the time to read this speech because is important that rec fishers see just how powerfully people like Graham made the arguments on our behalf and how disgraceful it was that AFMA disregarded their own evidence.

So what now for the beleaguered AFMA? Joe Ludwig has ordered a review into the 20-year-old legislative framework that is supposed to guide their actions and is clearly no longer fit for purpose. He should go further and review the composition and conduct of AFMA itself. Here's what one longstanding fisheries expert told me the other day:

"AFMA really needs the blowtorch applied. Despite having a research/scientific component, and pretending to be a 'management' authority, they're basically an industry/harvest regulatory body.

They work with industry to cut compromise deals on quotas to allow fish stocks to be exploited as far as possible without total collapse. History is full of instances where they get it horribly wrong: SBTs, gemfish, orange roughy. They've always backed billfish harvesting, longlining, bottom trawling and ridden roughshod over more progressive state fisheries management authorities."

Wouldn't it be nice if Australian's had a truly independent fisheries management agency? That means independent from the people whose coffers are lined as a result of the decisions that are taken. That means that up to date, independent scientific advice being sought and acted upon. That means an agency in which all Australians can trust whether they be commercial or recreational fishers or simply citizens on whose behalf the public resource is supposed to be managed.

So, who are my heroes and villains in this whole sorry saga? The villains are easy. They are those who would seek to bend the rules, twist the truth and profit from the potential over exploitation of a publicly owned fishery. They are the governments who subsidise these unsustainable factory ships to pillage the oceans regardless of the consequences to either the environment or to the local communities.
The heroes, well, I'm pleased to say there are many and not just powerful advocates like Andrew Wilkie, Melissa Parke, Allan Hansard, Graham Pike, Jim Harnwell, Paul Worsteling, John Burgess, Russell Conway, Bruce Alvey, John Dunphy and Mark Nikolai. They also include the thousands of anglers and Aussie citizens who stood up and made their voices heard. This could be the start of a new beginning in the management of Australian fisheries. Make sure you get in there and seize the moment.

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