Response to the Environment Tasmania campaign

​12 March 2015

Environment Tasmania
Level 1, 100 Elizabeth St
Hobart  TAS  7000

Dear Environment Tasmania

I understand Environment Tasmania is currently running a nationwide campaign seeking a permanent ban on large factory freezer trawlers in Australian waters. As the parliamentary secretary responsible for fisheries matters I am writing to you to assure you that the Australian Government has listened to community concern regarding the use of large factory freezer trawlers within our fisheries.

That is why I announced on 24 December 2014 that the Australian Government will permanently ban all boats over 130 metres in length from the Australian fishing zone. This decision formalises the Prime Minister's statement in Parliament in March 2014 that super trawlers will remain banned permanently.

The government has also followed through with what we said we would do, by undertaking further research on the commercial species, and having an independent expert panel examine the potential environmental impacts of the operation of large mid water freezer-trawlers, in the Small Pelagic Fishery.

The Small Pelagic Fishery total allowable catch is currently set at 7.5 per cent of the total estimated fish population, meaning 92.5 per cent of the estimated fish stock is left in the water. This recognises the importance of small pelagic species to the food chain, and in supporting other fisheries. This is even more precautionary than international guidance. High levels of monitoring through experienced compliance officers with strong enforcement powers ensure that these catch limits are not exceeded.

The recent Review and update of the harvest strategy settings for the Commonwealth Small Pelagic Fishery conducted by the CSIRO and published by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation found that target species in the Small Pelagic Fishery have only minor impacts on other parts of the ecosystem, as alternative food sources exist for large predators such as tuna, seals and penguins.

This government is committed to an informed approach to fisheries management, based on the best available science. That is why we have invested $1.5 million in independent research to refresh our data on the current size of many Australian small pelagic fish stocks. The first results from this research will be available in March and will assist in setting total allowable catches for the Small Pelagic Fishery from 1 May 2015.

I can confirm that the Geelong Star is 95 metres in length and an independent naval architect has assessed the vessel to have a fish holding capacity of less than 1100 tonnes. As with any mid-water trawl vessel fishing in the Small Pelagic Fishery, the Geelong Star vessel is required to have an approved, tailored Vessel Management Plan in place to ensure potential interactions with marine mammals and seabirds will be minimised. Measures in the current draft plan include the compulsory use of an approved marine mammal excluder device in the nets and move-on rules to address the risk of localised depletion. In addition, where there is a high risk of mid-water trawlers interacting with Australian sea lions and dolphins fishing closures will be in place. Trained Australian Fisheries Management Authority observers will monitor any interactions with threatened, endangered and protected species as is the case in all Commonwealth managed fisheries.

Fisheries are a public resource and the Australian Government is accountable for the sustainable management of all fisheries. It is important that we strike the right balance between conserving natural resources and having sustainable industries. I am satisfied that the current management of Australian fisheries, including the Small Pelagic Fishery, is based on the best available science, protects the future of our natural resources and lays the foundation for a sustainable Australian fishing industry for future generations.

This letter will be made available on the Department of Agriculture’s website at www.agriculture.gov.au. The government will not be responding directly to campaign correspondence arising from Stop the Trawler, Environment Tasmania or affiliated websites.

Yours sincerely


Richard Colbeck

Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
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