Conservation and prosperous fishing industry go hand-in-hand

Published on Thu 26 October 2017 11:58am

There’s no doubt that careful, clear-eyed and rigorous management of Australia’s fisheries is critical as part of the wider task of protecting our oceans. We are the only continental island nation and as such we have one of the largest and most important responsibilities when it comes to the stewardship of the sea. We should never underestimate the significance of that role.

Mr Wilson (11:58am) — Like my colleagues from Braddon and Solomon, I am glad to speak on the Fisheries Legislation Amendment (Representation) Bill 2017, which we support, while recognising what it does in terms of fisheries management—there is bigger question of fisheries management and ocean protection—is relatively minor. It must be seen against the background of other actions or inactions that are the responsibility of this government that don’t help in putting Australia on the path to sustainable fisheries and a properly protected ocean environment. There’s no doubt that careful, clear-eyed and rigorous management of Australia’s fisheries is critical as part of the wider task of protecting our oceans. We are the only continental island nation and as such we have one of the largest and most important responsibilities when it comes to the stewardship of the sea. We should never underestimate the significance of that role.

Australia has the sixth-largest land mass but the third-largest exclusive economic zone. That is because we take responsibility for a large area of sea. So Australia, among all nations, should understand that the ocean is the lifeblood of our planet. It’s the once great primordial soup of the earth’s biodiversity which now suffers species depletion and habitat loss through our neglect. It is the largest source of protein on the planet, but its potential as a food source is threatened by overuse. It is a significant factor in shaping our climate, as well as a clear medium through which the effects of climate change can be felt and measured. For all those reasons, Australia has to approach fishery and ocean management with the utmost seriousness and the utmost care.

There is no doubt that we have the potential to be a leading influence in modelling and practising the highest standard of ocean protection and sustainable use. We have been a leader at times in the past, especially in relation to Antarctica. We have both a national interest and an international responsibility to look after our oceans.

Sensible and sustainable fisheries management is core to that work. Fishing is central to the social and economic life of communities around Australia and, certainly, in my electorate of Fremantle. I will say a little bit more about that in a minute.

There is, of course, an economic use aspect to sound fisheries regulation, but there is also an essential ocean protection aspect. Ultimately, ocean protection is paramount. Ocean protection has to be the overarching concern, because, if you don’t preserve marine ecosystems, fisheries will inevitably deteriorate and eventually collapse. So when it comes to good fisheries management, the false dichotomy between economic use and conservation has to go straight out the door. There is no fundamental conflict between economic use and conservation. They are really one and the same.

The value of Australia’s wild-caught fisheries is considerable. In 2014-15 it was $1.6 billion. Within the Commonwealth fisheries, which is principally what we are concerned with, it was $350 million, and that doesn’t include bluefin tuna, which is caught in the Commonwealth Southern Bluefin Tuna Fishery and towed to mariculture pens in South Australia to be grown out. The value of that fishery is a further $120 million. While we manage our fisheries, particularly in Commonwealth waters, reasonably well by international standards, we don’t have a perfect record. It is salient for us to reflect on the fact that, of the 93 fish stocks managed solely by the Commonwealth, in 2015 three were classified as being subject to overfishing and a further 11 were classified as being uncertain with regards to fishing mortality.

I mentioned before that fishing is a big part of life in my electorate of Fremantle. Recreational fishing is a significant pastime for people in Western Australia across the board. In Fremantle we have the beautiful Indian Ocean as our coastline, and the Swan River as well, and fishing is something that thousands of people in my electorate enjoy as part of their birthright. Fremantle has a significant commercial fishing tradition and industry. There are over 400 fishing vessels that currently operate out of Fremantle. It is an industry that started at the turn of the century. It was largely created by Greek and Italian migrants who, in 1947, created the Fremantle Fishermen’s Cooperative. The industry continues to be a very vital social and economic part of my community. In fact, this coming Sunday I will march as part of the annual Blessing of the Fleet, which is a distinctive ritual in Fremantle that is devoted to the safety and wellbeing of the fishing fleet and all of the fishing men and women who are engaged in it.

WA does have a history of commitment to sustainable fisheries and it has made some new ground in that area in the 21st century. In fact, I think it is right to say that the Western Rock Lobster Fishery was the first fishery in the world to be certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, in 2000, and it has maintained that certification ever since—for 17 years, which is incredibly laudable and they are to be congratulated for that. Western Australia’s Peel-Harvey Estuary Blue Swimmer Crab Recreational Fishery is the first recreational fishery to be certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, and our South Sea pearl fishery was the first gem fishery to complete that certification. That is something that is worth noting.

This bill, essentially, makes some changes to the way that the Australian Fisheries Management Authority operates. AFMA has a central role in managing our fisheries sustainably. The bill requires that AFMA now take input from, and consider the interests of, all users of fisheries, including recreational, Indigenous and commercial fishers. That is a sensible and welcomed change that the government has brought in, and we support it. It is a change that is not being made before time. It responds to the Senate inquiry into factory freezer trawlers. Other contributors to this debate have made reference to that, and I will come back to it. It also responds to the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into marine fisheries and aquaculture. As members may know, the terms of reference of that inquiry were to look at the extent to which fisheries management regimes align with and protect the interests of the wider community, in particular the balance between commercial, recreational and Indigenous fishing, conservation interests and consumer interests.

A key point made in that draft report was that the impacts of recreational and Indigenous customary fishing activity have been largely uncounted in Commonwealth, state and territory fishery management regimes. There needs to be a greater recognition of recreational fishing in fisheries management and there has been relatively poor input from Indigenous people in fishery management. Indigenous customary fishing should be incorporated into fishery management systems. I thank the member for Solomon for speaking about some of those matters in depth.

I do want to put the change in this bill in the wider context of ocean protection because it is impossible to separate them. I guess that goes back to what I was saying about supertrawlers. In the pursuit of effective and sustainable marine protection, Labor continued the work begun by the former Howard government in moving towards a system of national marine protected areas. That was based exhaustively on the science and on extensive consultation. I will take people back to 2012, when the network was settled. The World Wildlife Fund welcomed that reform and congratulated the federal government of Australia on finalising the boundaries and basic layout of what was to be the world’s largest network of marine parks. They stated at the time:

This is an historic moment for marine conservation in Australia. The establishment of this national network of marine parks is a world-first at this scale. It’s an essential step forward for the protection of Australia’s diverse and unique marine wildlife.

Today’s announcement is in line with scientific advice and has strong public support. We understand that in this phase, the government received 80,000 submissions which overwhelmingly supported the new marine parks. This latest demonstration of support builds on the waves of enthusiasm from hundreds of thousands of people all around the country over the past couple of years.

I thoroughly agree with that. It was a properly conducted process and it established a new high standard in marine protection, which I think is rightly Australia’s role in the world for some of the reasons I’ve mentioned before.

Since that time, and certainly since the Abbott-Turnbull government was elected in 2013, that reform has been steadily diminished, chipped away at, torn down and undermined. We’ve had four years of unnecessary delay. The member for Petrie talked about processes that go on forever and the fact that the community gets frustrated when there are interminable delays, endless reviews and so on. In 2012, following on from the work that had occurred under the Howard government and the exhaustive process that took the science as its No. 1 reference point and took as its next point of reference the submissions of tens of thousands of people in the Australian community, this historic reform was delivered.

So we were there in 2012. We then went into a further unnecessary bureaucratic process, which has taken most of the last four years. Where has it got us to?

It has got us to a moth-holed, shredded, torn-up version of that historic and rigorous marine plan. It has reduced marine protected areas by 50 per cent. It has stripped away 40 million hectares of marine reserves, including reserves that cover the Coral Sea; the deep ocean area known as the Diamantina Fracture Zone; and in my area, the Perth Canyon, one of the very few known feeding zones for the blue whale. One thousand, four hundred and sixty scientists worldwide have signed a petition decrying that backward step, including Dr David Suzuki, who described the vandalism as ‘sickening’, and I agree.

One of the most disappointing aspects of the government’s gutting of Labor’s national marine protection network is the removal of huge areas of marine sanctuaries, despite the overwhelming public submission support for that protection. The only apparent logic to this removal in relation to some of these far offshore areas is that, although they don’t have any fishing use now, they might have some prospective fishing value. But, as I understand it, and this is based on my close engagement with the fishing industry, including the Western Australian Fishing Industry Council, the only possible fishing value of those areas would be through large trawling vessels with on-board refrigeration—in other words, supertrawlers. So the government have gutted this historic and scientifically supported marine plan in the name of supertrawlers in the future, essentially. They’ve taken away 50 per cent, or 40 million hectares, of marine protection based on the possibility, at some point, of supertrawlers coming in—which everybody knows, and all the science shows, would be devastating to the marine environment, to fish stocks and to the local fishing industry. That is very, very hard to understand.

Labor members support the bill because it makes some minor but laudable changes to the way that AFMA works. But the bill does nothing to counteract or mitigate the enormous harmfulness of the government’s vandalism in relation to marine sanctuaries. In every area, it is a strange pattern: Labor creates; the government tears away. The national marine protection plan; needs-based school funding; the NDIS; NBN—they all start with ‘n’, interestingly: all of these things that Labor comes along and creates, the next lot come in and hollow out and strip away. They find reasons to make them, at best, a far, far weaker version of what was created.

There is a very bitter irony in the fact that this bill we’re looking at today puts in place the opportunity for recreational, Indigenous and commercial fishers to have greater input into fisheries management, but that the government’s approach to the national marine network completely ignores all of the evidence from the community about its view of Labor’s national marine protected area plan. The Department of the Environment and Energy itself has revealed there were 82,000 submissions received on the marine management plan through this further, pointless four-year process—82,000 submissions—and they were overwhelmingly in favour of the plan as Labor had settled it. Ninety-seven per cent of the submissions from recreational fishers supported the plan that Labor put in place in 2013. So 97 per cent of all of the recreational fishers said, ‘Leave it as it is,’ but this government is intent on ripping it down.

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