Response to Australian Marine Conservation Society 18 September 2019

18 September 2019

Dear Mr Kindleysides and Ms Mahto

I write to you regarding the current Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) campaign that calls to ban super trawlers and overseas fishing fleets in Australian waters. I am responding as the assistant minister responsible for Commonwealth fisheries.

In their roles as the Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, my predecessors, Senators the Hon. Richard Colbeck and the Hon. Anne Ruston, responded to AMCS’s previous campaigns and identified that the concerns raised are not based on fact. These campaigns conflated the Commonwealth’s existing legislative and policy framework for managing non-Australian flagged fishing boats and misleadingly used the term ‘supertrawler’.

The Australian Government takes seriously its responsibility to both protect the environment and to sustainably manage our Commonwealth fisheries for the benefit of all Australians. The government has in place a strong legislative and policy framework, underpinned by world class scientific research.

Your campaign raises the prospect of overfishing as a result of overseas fleets fishing in our waters. Please be assured that all boats operating in Commonwealth fisheries are subject to strict fisheries laws. The Fisheries Management Act 1991 (FM Act), consistent with the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea, allows for the use of foreign fishing boats in the Australian Fishing Zone (AFZ).

When the government authorises the use of a foreign fishing boat, the independent regulator, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA), must be satisfied that there is an Australian entity in control of the operations of the boat, and that the nature of the boat’s operations justifies a declaration being made. If a declaration is made, the boat is subject to the same robust fisheries management regime as any other boat fishing in Commonwealth waters. Such measures include strict catch levels, measures to protect interactions with threatened species, and monitoring and reporting requirements.

The commercial harvest of fish in Commonwealth waters is carefully regulated by AFMA and is based on rigorous stock assessments and informed by environmental risk assessments to manage risks to the broader marine environment. Commonwealth commercial fishing is largely quota managed, and quotas are set based on the amount of fish that can be sustainably taken from the water, independent of the size of the boat, or the fishing method used. This means the amount of fish allowed to be caught is not related to the size or capabilities of the fishing vessel.

In 2015, the government banned ‘supertrawler’ boats longer than 130 metres from fishing in the AFZ. As previously noted, most Commonwealth fisheries are quota managed, which means that regardless of the size of the boat or fishing method used, large fishing vessels can only take as many fish, or expend as much effort, as their quota allows.

Australia’s fisheries continue to be internationally recognised as some of the best managed in the world and the government is committed to sustainably managing the marine environment and Commonwealth fisheries for the enjoyment of all Australians now and into the future.
I am confident that the current balance between protecting our marine ecosystem and having a viable commercial fishing industry is the right one.

Yours sincerely

Jonathon Duniam

Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
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