2 March 2016
Ms Rebecca Hubbard
Stop the Trawler Alliance
Dear Ms Hubbard
I am writing in response to the most recent Stop the Trawler Alliance email campaign seeking a permanent ban on the Geelong Star and freezer factory trawlers from the Small Pelagic Fishery (SPF). This response focuses on the new issues you have raised and does not repeat my previous correspondence to you on this matter.
I agree that the Albatross mortalities were concerning. Following advice from seabird experts, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) has mandated additional measures on the Geelong Star to reduce the risk of seabird interactions. These are prescribed in the Vessel Management Plan which is available on AFMA’s website. The additional measures include a reduction in the length of the ‘third wire’ (net sonde cable) that is out of the water and the addition of highly visible ‘tori lines’ (streamers) on either side of the cable. The Geelong Star is also required to cease fishing if a single seabird mortality occurs because of the third wire, or if two or more occur on a single fishing trip for any reason until AFMA has reviewed the circumstances of the event. The current measures reflect the best practice advice of the Agreement for the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels and are consistent with the National recovery plan for threatened albatrosses and giant petrels 2011-2016.
I can confirm that there have been recent seal mortalities. In response, AFMA met the vessel in port on 15 February 2016 and initiated a review of the approved marine mammal excluder devices. The operators of the vessel, Seafish Tasmania, have also engaged a consultant to review the devices in place. Seafish Tasmania will continue to use an underwater camera to gather more information regarding seal interactions with the net. This information will be used when considering future changes to mitigation equipment aboard the Geelong Star.
The Geelong Star did interact with a whale shark which came into contact with the outside of the net and had two fins entangled. Fortunately crew members were able to free the fins and the interaction was non-fatal. An AFMA observer was present during the interaction and reported that the whale shark swam away without difficulty. AFMA has reviewed the video footage from the vessel’s electronic monitoring system of the interaction. I am informed that this video footage is consistent with the report received from AFMA’s on-board scientific observer. The video footage shows that the time from the animal being brought onto the boat, freed and being released back into the water to be approximately 3min 35sec.
I note with interest the comments about wanting a long term sustainable fishing industry. In a well-managed, quota-based fishery, the size of the boat or the net is of little relevance to fish stock sustainability, providing the quotas have been set correctly. The total allowable catch for the SPF, as you know, is in accordance with the principles of the Commonwealth Fisheries Harvest Strategy Policy and is highly precautionary.This letter will be made available on the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources’ website at www.agriculture.gov.au. The government will not be responding directly to campaign correspondence arising from Stop the Trawler or affiliated websites.