From our Marine Campaigner – Jon Bryan
It is good that there is now a requirement for an AFMA observer to be on board on all fishing trips. Unfortunately there is still no requirement that all fishing operations are actually observed by an observer. All fishing operations need to be observed by an independent observer, including deck and processing plant operations. The requirement to have an independent observer monitoring all fishing activities needs to be stated explicitly. Effective observer coverage would require more than one observer on the vessel.
There has still been no adequate demonstration that the Geelong Star's excluder devices actually work to protect seals and dolphins and are not simply dumping dead or injured animals back into the ocean before they can be observed. There needs to be UW video evidence that demonstrates that the device/s work to protect seals and dolphins. There also needs to be 100% UW video monitoring of the excluder device/s during fishing operations to demonstrate that seals and dolphins and other protected marine life are not being killed or injured underwater and dumped before they can be observed.
For the purposes of transparency and proper public scrutiny all video of fishing operations should be made available to the public. This includes access to emonitoring data collected by AFMA. This information is needed to ensure that protected species are not being killed or that high grading or dumping of unwanted fish is not occurring. In particular, AFMA claims that animals (for example whale sharks) are being released unharmed need to be supported by video evidence.
There does not appear to have been any consideration given to the protection of the recently discovered Burrunan dolphin (Tursiops australis).Until more is known about the distribution and conservation status of this species, mid water trawls should be excluded from the vicinity of Victoria and Tasmania where Tursiops australis is likely to occur. This closure should be in addition to the current Coorong dolphin closure. It has not been explained how the Geelong Star can avoid killing and injuring marine mammals if it is permitted to fish at night. Night operations by the Geelong Star appear to pose the greatest threat to marine mammals. There also does not appear to be a practical way to reliably observe, and therefore avoid, marine mammals at night. Night fishing should not be permitted until these problems can be satisfactorily resolved. Monitoring cables such as sonde lines that run between the vessel and its trawl gear above the water represent a significant risk to seabirds and should be prohibited. Alternative technologies exist that can and should be used. The death of a single seal or seabird should require the vessel to stop fishing until no seals or seabirds are in observed in the area. The death of any dolphin or albatross should require the vessel to return to port until it can be demonstrated that all reasonable steps were taken to prevent that death from occurring. Fishing in the management zone where the death occurred should be prohibited for the next 12 months to discourage poor fishing practices. Marine mammals and other protected species that are killed by fishing operations of the Geelong Star need to be positively identified.
There needs to be a requirement that dead or injured animals are photographed to assist in species identification. Tissue samples should also be taken from dead animals for DNA analysis to ensure positive identification. There is still no mechanism that can be shown to prevent localised depletion from impacting marine life and recreational fishers. The current arrangements allow for most of the annual quota to be caught in a relatively small area. For example 75% of the annual eastern quota can be taken off the east coast of Tasmania (management zone 5) or off Southern NSW (management zone 6) and those fish can be caught in just two grids as the only requirement is a limit of 2000 tonnes over 30 days in any given grid - so the vessel can simply move from one grid to an adjacent grid to continue fishing.
The current management arrangements allow 75% of both western and eastern quota for blue mackerel, redbait and jack mackerel to be caught off the south cost of Tasmania in just two adjacent grids. This possibility undermines any claim by AFMA that fishing effort is being distributed across the fishery to reduce the risk of localised depletion or reduce impacts on recreational fishing or the marine environment. No justification is given to support the management options described in the VMP.
In fact the latest VMP removes discussion information and therefore effectively disguises the lack of evidence for AFMA's management decisions for this fishery. The VMP should include evidence that the VMP will actually work to achieve stated outcomes. Of course this will be problem as evidence to support mechanisms to prevent localised depletion or protect marine mammals is lacking.
The Tasmanian Conservation Trust maintains that the operation of the Geelong Star in Australia's small pelagic fishery poses an unacceptable risk to recreational fisheries and the marine environment. There is no evidence to suggest that the excluder devices actually work to protect seals and dolphins. There has been no assessment of impact s on the recently discovered Burrunan dolphin (Tursiops australis). There is no evidence to suggest that fishing operations will not result in localised depletion and harm to the marine environment.
It is hard to understand the enthusiastic support for the Geelong Star by the current Coalition Government and its fisheries management agency, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) and given the threat it poses to significant recreational fisheries in southeast Australia alone, and the consequent impacts on regional economies. As the Geelong Star and most entitlements (fishing licences) are owned by overseas companies, the economic benefits to Australia are negligible and the number of jobs created in Australia by the while operation is less than the number of people employed by the average McDonalds restaurant