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Standing Committee on Agriculture, Resources, Fisheries and Forestry
30/05/2012
Role of science for the future of fisheries and aquaculture

BUTLER, Mr Reg, Acting Assistant Secretary, Animal Health Policy Branch, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

CUPIT, Dr Andrew, Acting Assistant Secretary, Animal Biosecurity Branch, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

NEIL, Mr Gordon, Assistant Secretary, Sustainable Resource Management Division, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

STOBUTZKI, Dr Ilona Catherine, Acting Assistant Secretary, Fisheries and Quantitative Sciences Branch, Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

THOMPSON, Mr Ian, First Assistant Secretary, Sustainable Resource Management Division, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

Committee met at 17:48

CHAIR ( Hon. DGH Adams ): I declare open this public hearing of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Agriculture, Resources, Fisheries and Forestry for its inquiry into the role of science for fisheries and aquaculture. Today the committee will be hearing from representatives of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority. Welcome, all of you, and thank you for your time. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise that this hearing is a formal proceeding of the parliament and warrants the same respect as proceedings of the House. Giving false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of the parliament. The committee has your submission, No. 24. You can make some introductory remarks, please.

Mr Thompson : Thank you. I would first just like to make some comments about the role and functions of science that are relevant to the department in its work in fisheries and aquaculture. It is a very broad topic. Looking at your terms of reference, I want to talk about it in four parts: the state of the scientific knowledge of fish stocks and ecosystems; the effect of climate change; governance for fisheries and aquaculture science; and biosecurity science. DAFF rely heavily on science to underpin its policies and programs for fishing and aquaculture industries, and our programs are coordinated through the fisheries branch in the department, drawing on the Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences for science and economic advice. The whole premise of Australian fisheries is that good fisheries management requires specialist science for things like stock assessments, biology, marine ecology, population dynamics and all those related disciplines to manage invasive species and biosecurity risk. Oceanography and marine conservation all require good science.

We are driven in fisheries management by the Commonwealth Fisheries Harvest Strategy Policy and Guidelines and that policy which is aimed at maximising economic yield from fisheries is based on sustainability, annual scientific and economic status reporting for every Commonwealth fishery, and the ABARES status reports—which you can ask about—guide management decisions in that field. In practical terms, most of the information and science data for commercial fisheries comes from catch records and the like sourced from the fishing industry itself and then that is supplemented by remote sensing, and climate models and ship track records and a whole lot of especially collected information.

We have a particular challenge, given the size of our marine estate, and that is combined with a highly diverse fishery and a relatively small fishery by world scale. This presents real challenges for cost-effective fisheries, especially when things like climate change have to be added in. We build our fisheries on ecological risk assessment, and that underpins the work in biosecurity and the work with marine pest and diseases as well.

In terms of governance, the institutional structures and relationships for science and fisheries are quite different to land based science. Information in the marine environment is hard to get and is expensive. It is the same for aquatic animal health. It is relatively poorly understood in comparison to land animals. The other issue is that fish do not take notice of our boundaries and they swim internationally and between jurisdictions. It means we have to work internationally on our science and we have to work with our state colleagues on domestic matters.

Internationally, the issues are around shared stocks—migratory species such as tunas and swordfish—and we have responsibilities under international treaties to cooperate in science and information to inform conservation and management. Domestically, we have to deal with multiple jurisdictions, and fisheries science is provided by the Commonwealth, state and territory institutions, universities, marine science institutes and cooperative research institutes. The inefficiency and duplication potential of that range of bodies is managed in a few ways. A national strategy has been developed in the primary industries sphere called Working Together: the National. Fishing and Aquaculture RD&E Strategy 2010 and that is a component of the national framework. It is brought to life through the cooperation between Commonwealth and states in the Australian Fisheries Management Forum, which is Commonwealth and state fisheries manages, and the FRDC—the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation—plays a major role in coordination implementation. Under that strategy there tends to be some specialisation between states and the Commonwealth and institutes in what they should do so everyone does not need to be an expert in everything.

For aquaculture, science needs are very different. It operates largely under state and territory regulatory arrangements which deal with all the issues of water quality, nutrient management, invasive species pollution and so on, and important areas for aquaculture—captive breeding, thieves, invasive species, management, waste management and pathogens.

The national and international level aquaculture is growing and is expected to continue to grow. Its sustainable growth requires biosecurity and good sanitary and phytosanitary arrangements which we put in place, and they all depend on good science. Aquaculture coordination occurs through the Fisheries Management Forum again at the national level. Internationally, we cooperate with our nearest neighbours in the Network of Aquaculture Centres in South-East Asia.

Climate change puts an overlay on all wild-catch fisheries at the present time and on aquaculture, and we expect direct impacts that could range from changes in fish populations, fish physiology, breeding habits, new diseases, changes in immunity and then indirect impacts like changes in algae and micro-organisms and the food chains. The industry and government have worked together to develop a National Climate Change Action Plan for Fisheries and Aquaculture, and that plan identifies strategies and actions to address climate change. Many of them are related to science and fisheries research. The FRDC is also coordinating climate change research at the national level through the climate change research strategy. You will be talking to them later. I think they also put in a submission.

I would just like to finish up by highlighting the importance of fisheries and aquaculture science in our biosecurity arrangements. That is why there are a couple of people here from Biosecurity. Biosecurity science underpins Australia's freedom from many major aquatic animal diseases and invasive marine species that are found elsewhere in the world. That freedom gives us an advantage in trade, productivity and sustainability. We do our biosecurity work before the border, at the border and post border. The pre-border work includes things like developing international aquatic health and welfare standards through the World Organisation for Animal Health and work on ballast water and biofouling through the International Maritime Organisation. Biosecurity also does competency evaluations of authorities in other countries seeking to export aquatic animals and associated products into Australia. DAFF conducts science based risk assessments for developing import policies for aquatic animals and aquatic animal products and they are implemented at the border. Our role in post-border aquatic animal health includes coordinating and leading aquatic animal health issues of national significance, such as laboratory diagnostics, surveillance, emergency preparedness and response. A new discipline that is emerging is on the pathogens of aquatic animals. We are doing that work with the FRDC and the Australian Maritime College and the Centre of Excellence for Risk Analysis.

DAFF Biosecurity also leads on matters of national aquatic animal health significance and the Australian government's interface for dealing with aquatic animal disease emergencies. Considerable science goes into things like AQUAPLAN, which is the national strategic plan for aquatic animal health, and the AQUAVETPLAN, which is the aquatic animal emergency plan. DAFF Biosecurity also provides science based services to get and maintain access to export markets for our fisheries and aquaculture products. That access depends on the integrity of our aquatic animal health management systems. That importance is underlined by the large commitment we have in specialised aquatic animal science staff.

CHAIR: This is going to be slightly different because of our reference and what we are trying to do. Seafood is the biggest traded animal protein in the world. The pressure on wild stocks is growing; supply and demand for fish products will continue to grow and therefore put pressure on wild stocks. If we can grow aquaculture, we can grow protein. What is the department doing about it from that perspective?

Mr Thompson : I will just make one comment. Within Australia the pressure on wild stocks is not growing. We manage according to a stock assessment. We would almost put it that the capacity to grow the wild catch of fisheries is limited because you cannot go beyond the stock that is available. We would anticipate that we would have to go into the other world of either more efficiently and effectively producing and marketing our wild catch or encouraging aquaculture.

As I said in introductory statement, most of the direct management of aquaculture, because it occurs in state waters, is done by the states. We provide assistance for research and coordination. The others may be able to add where we provide some work in that area but, by and large, the research funding that the Commonwealth puts into aquaculture research goes via the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation. But Biosecurity do quite a lot of work related to aquaculture because aquaculture is an intensive animal operation and managing the biosecurity risk of diseases coming in and the health and welfare and pathogen risk of those animals in the country is quite important.

CHAIR: I understand that, but if we are going to grow an aqua industry and leave it up to individual states or the private sector, does the Commonwealth have a role? That is where I am coming from. So the department does not see itself as having a role?

Mr Thompson : We have a role in encouraging aquaculture in partnership with the states. We work through the Fisheries Management Forum and through ministerial councils on issues like standards for aquaculture and encouraging best practice, but the detailed work is done by the states. Where the Commonwealth can provide some assistance is where the states cannot operate so that is where some of the R&D strategies and the coordinated R&D becomes important and where we have expertise and particular responsibilities related to biosecurity and border protection. In a sense we divide that important role in aquaculture development between various parties.

Dr Cupit : From a trade perspective, we support the international standards. We have a few people on the international scientific committees that support those sorts of areas and we also have quite a bit of scientific expertise that supports the trade, so it is growing the industry and therefore adding value to it.

CHAIR: That is value-adding from a processing point of view. Maybe it is not you, but the cross-border issue in aquaculture seems to be held back by being able to shift one species to another state. Has anybody got any expertise on that? You cannot shift abalone from one place to another. Is there some purity or some science on that?

Mr Thompson : Most aquaculture issues are within one state, because that is how it occurs. There may be someone from Biosecurity who can comment on the movement of some of the animals. The movement of some of the abalone from state to state has been driven by health issues.

Dr Cupit : We have a subcommittee under the animal health committee, SCAAR, which has experts from each state who work on the disease point of view, and there is work done through that group to make sure that there is safe trade. In effect, there have been certain disease outbreaks in some areas and therefore there is an exchange of information on that and also the science or research behind that as far as the disease incidence: abalone ganglioneuritis is one example. That group works between the states, and the Commonwealth provides a bit of a leadership role coordinating that group.

Mr Butler : Only the states could apply controls if there is a specific disease concern that they can justify, and the same thing happens with other farmed animals—for example, footrot in sheep; there are restrictions on movement between different areas even within a state.

CHAIR: Is there any restriction on shifting rock lobster from South Australia to Tasmania, if you wanted to farm it?

Mr Butler : I do not know that off the top of my head.

Dr Cupit : The only restrictions would be if there is a disease issue, and then we put restrictions in place.

CHAIR: If there is no disease—

Dr Cupit : Not that I am aware of.

Mr Butler : The states could apply specific controls if they could justify that on a disease basis.

CHAIR: That is based on science and it becomes a risk assessment process.

Mr Thompson : The only other one could be if you were moving animals from one part of the country to another for a farm situation, it would be considered a normal trade, subject to health issues. If you were moving animals from one part of the country for release—say, you were putting rock lobsters back. If it was not aquaculture, there could be environmental issues with—

CHAIR: No, aquaculture. I am not talking about fish.

Mr CROOK: Wouldn't that just become a quarantine matter for the state involved?

Mr Thompson : Yes.

CHAIR: So if one company wants to farm a certain fish from one state, they can shift it to another state. You do not think there are any issues other than state laws?

Mr Thompson : We can check on that. To our knowledge, unless it is some state requirement that is based on health, I cannot see any reason we could not.

CHAIR: Can you take that on notice.

Mr SCHULTZ: I have some questions centred on sustainable resources. Not so many years ago there was a significant amount of public concern about the bycatch waste of commercial trawling operations. What has been done to ensure that that is minimised to the extent that the threat to some species is not as great as it used to be? Have you worked with the states and territories to do something about that?

Mr Thompson : The Commonwealth has a bycatch policy for minimising the impact of commercial fishing operations on marine species that are not intended to be caught. They might vary from birds and seals through to other fish species that are unintentionally caught in nets, trawls or traps. At present, we have commenced a review of that bycatch policy and we will be working at the Commonwealth level with the states and industry on doing that. There are a whole range of measures which have been adopted over probably the last 10 years to minimise bycatch and better target the fishing. Dr Stobutzki could probably provide detail.

Mr SCHULTZ: The point that I am getting to is that I am not concerned about the controls that are put on a particular species of animal to protect it because of the possibility of it being wiped out. What I am concerned about is, in the process of any commercial trawling, what is being done to stop the enormous amount of bycatch waste that occurs in a trawling operation. It was particularly bad in the prawning industry in the north.

Mr Neil : Our colleagues from AFMA have just arrived. From an operational point of view, Dr Findlay and Dr Rayns, I think, would be better qualified in the next session to answer that question, but certainly as a policy we seek to minimise discarding of all species and put in place procedures and measures. Inevitably, when you bring up a net you are going to bring up a range of products, some of which are subject to quota and some of which are not. As a general policy, we seek to minimise that. The industry has no desire to catch things that are not of commercial value to it.

Mr SCHULTZ: What about the issue of the enormous number of species that you see in a fish market? Has any research been done to find out how much of that catch that is in the local fish markets is dumped after a period of time? In other words, what is the waste of the wild stock that goes through a fish market outlet, commercial or retail?

CHAIR: That is very interesting question.

Mr Thompson : I am unaware of most of that. In many of the markets it is all sold for some form of consumption. I do not know whether ABARES has details about the conversion. In some fisheries in the world some of the low-value catch is converted into fishmeal or lower value product, which is then—

CHAIR: Fish fingers.

Mr Thompson : Fish fingers or—

Mr SCHULTZ: The question I am asking is: are we allowing the industry to catch too many fish for the retail consumption market to the extent where we are wasting significant amounts of wild catch stock, which we are concerned about and do research work on whilst they are in the wild as wild catch stocks?

Mr Thompson : I am not aware in Australia of any evidence to suggest that either the targeted fish are not being managed in accordance with sustainability limits or the unintended bycatch or by-product is not also being maintained at a level which is considered sustainable. What we do not have here today—and I do not know whether ABARES has done it through the further chain—is details on what quantity of fish that enters the market is sold as lower product or converted into fishmeal.

Mr SCHULTZ: I see a lot of fish and I do not see too many people buying it. That is the point I am making. There is a lot of fish there.

Mr Neil : But, in the end, it is a market operating with a price indicator. If it is very, very cheap, you would expect a high level of wastage because they have paid little for it coming in and so they will suffer very little loss if they do not sell it. I do not see in the fisheries very much that is very, very cheap. Fresh fish tends to be a higher value product. If it is a higher value product, that means that you have to minimise wastage and there is every incentive to do that. I think they account for wastage in the price we pay for the fish, but given that we very carefully limit the amount they can take from the water they have every incentive to maximise the value once they have caught it because they have spent the fuel on it and they will spend a lot more fuel going out to get the next load. It is not a cheap business, and the market creates the best incentive we have for minimising waste. But a fresh product—fresh fruit—always has wastage—if you do not want it frozen. The reason it is cheaper frozen is because there is less wastage.

Mr Thompson : The other point I have to make is that there is a range of fish products you see at the market too that go through from whole fish to filleted fish to processed fish products, and the further down the chain to actually—

Mr SCHULTZ: I am aware of all of that and, with due respect, I come out of the meat-processing industry. I know what you do with food. The point that I am trying to make here is: do we have any evidence, or have we done any research in relation to how much wild stock is wasted as a result of rejection in a retail fish market environment? That is all I am asking.

Mr Thompson : We do not have that information.

Mr SCHULTZ: If we do not have that would it make sense for us to do that, because that sort of an exercise must have some impact on our control of wild fish stock?

CHAIR: Could we get that on notice? Is there any information? ABARE might be able to research?

Dr Stobutzki : I am not aware of that particular research, but I actually think that is an appropriate question to talk about with the FRDC. I know they have a seafood CRC which focuses on the value chain and added value from that. They also have a broad gamut of research, so there may be some work that looks at those elements in the supply chain that you are talking about.

Mr Neil : The fish markets are a major retailer and wholesaler of fish. I am sure they would know intimately that there—

Mr SCHULTZ: I visit them from time to time and that is why I am asking the question.

Dr Stobutzki : I would probably follow up by also saying, similarly to Gordon, that we do tend to produce a high-value product. While you may not see many people buying at the fish markets we know we cannot supply Australian demand from our wild catch fisheries, so I doubt there is a high level of wastage. People actually treat the product incredibly well and the shelf life is often much longer than people are aware of.

Mr CHRISTENSEN: I think you have already answered this question, but what is the state of wild catch fish stocks in Australia? Are they sustainable at the current levels of commercial fishing? I know that is a big question.

Mr Thompson : The overall picture is that we manage our fish under a harvest policy which says they must be managed sustainably. Some fish stocks are at levels which have been overfished in the past and they are recovering. Some stocks are sustainable—Dr Stobutski can provide a bit more detail on that.

Mr CHRISTENSEN: Which stocks in particular are recovering and probably still at unsustainable levels?

Dr Stobutzki : Just for a bit of background: each jurisdiction provides a status report. ABARES writes one for the Commonwealth managed stocks, and for the specifics that you have just asked about—which stocks are still recovering—one example would be orange roughy from Commonwealth fisheries, where there are quite strong management arrangements in place to rebuild that stock after the overfishing that occurred in the eighties and nineties. You would find that most of the jurisdictions have some form of status report which identifies how they are responding.

ABARES, in collaboration with the fisheries agencies in all the jurisdictions and the FRDC, are producing for the first time a national status report. This is what some of the submissions have alluded to, where we actually have stocks that go across jurisdictions and so it is not easy to say for a particular species, if it is managed by more than one jurisdiction, exactly where it is at. But, as Ian said, the general picture for Australian wild catch fish stocks is pretty positive. There has been some overfishing in the past, but in most cases it is being managed actively.

Mr CHRISTENSEN: So for overfishing and the definition of sustainability, how do you get that? In layman's terms, what is the definition of 'sustainable fishing'?

Dr Stobutzki : The definition we use when we do our status reports every year is that we look at both the abundance of the fish and also the level of fishing pressure. So, how much the catch is. For the abundance, we look at if we have reduced the number of fish to a level where we are potentially compromising future fish, which we call recruitment overfished. We use a benchmark of: have we reduced it to a point where we are not going to have enough fish in the future? Then from the fishing pressure we look at the catch we are taking out—is that going to send the abundance in the direction we do not want?

Mr CHRISTENSEN: So there are no stocks in Australia that are at the point where they are currently—what was the term that you used?

Dr Stobutzki : Overfished.

Mr CHRISTENSEN: Yes.

Dr Stobutzki : No, there are.

Mr CHRISTENSEN: Right now, they are still being overfished?

Dr Stobutzki : There are some stocks—

Mr Thompson : Stocks are low but—

Dr Stobutzki : Stocks are low, but there is a management response.

Mr CHRISTENSEN: I understand.

Dr Stobutzki : But because we do our status assessment in retrospect—the most recent one was done for the year 2011—there are still some where we have said that, based on the fishing pressure in that year, we would regard those as overfished. It was small; there were four for domestic managed stocks and two international ones—like southern bluefin tuna. That is just Commonwealth.

CHAIR: George, if we just deal with quota—you tell me if I am wrong—you assess the fishery for sustainable amount of catch and have a quota for the fishers. That quota is transferrable and sellable. You might understand that we reduce the quota if we see the fishery is under pressure.

Mr Thompson : That is the essential bit. There are two constant things: one is the status of the fish stock itself, then one is how much fishing is going on. If the stock is very low, the general management response is to lower the fishing effort so it is no longer overfished and can recover.

CHAIR: So, the output?

Mr Thompson : Yes.

Mr SCHULTZ: Can you give us an overview of what has happened to the Patagonian toothfish? There was a very significant concern about it being wiped out because it was slow growing. I think we have taken action on it, but I am not quite sure what it is.

Mr Thompson : Again, you might follow up with some detail with our AFMA colleagues; I just noticed in the press today that the Australian Patagonian toothfish stocks are carefully managed by AFMA and now two of them have marine stewardship accreditation for being sustainable. So not only are they approved by the Commonwealth; the environmental group said they are okay. There have been some occasions in the past of illegal fishing in the high seas. There has even been some illegal fishing in territorial water, since Antarctica is a long way away; in recent years, there have been very few incursions into the southern Antarctic. In terms of what Australia is doing about Patagonian toothfish, we are managing our stocks very sustainably, including where we have shared stocks with some other countries. We are engaging internationally in managing illegal fishing in the southern ocean through joint patrols with the French.

CHAIR: Once we get our frigates for the southern ocean.

Mr CHRISTENSEN: The other one I have refers to your mention of 'regardless of climate change impacts'. Do we have any proofs of those impacts on current fish stocks, and if we do, are they evidence based or are we still looking into this?

Mr Thompson : It is an area of major research, because clearly one of the things that happens with climate change, or even climate variability, is that currents move and so the fish move with them, and the water temperature changes. It is an active area of research, which could well be explored with FRDC. There is data being collected on where the currents have gone, what recruitment levels are and where fish are occurring. There is evidence now of more tropical and temperate fish appearing in Tasmania. We have a live issue with snapper moving further south; we have some quite unusual fish cropping up in Tasmanian waters—those sorts of things, the ones where we have obvious demonstrated impacts of warm water fish moving south.

Mr SCHULTZ: Are we picking that up because we are now more focused on 'global warming' and not climate variability, as you quite rightly pointed out? Do you think we are focusing on that more today than we did, say, yesterday, because of the fact that it is out there in the public arena and it has become an issue, and that those fish stocks were not moving around 15, 20, 30 or 40 years ago?

Mr Neil : State fish managers tell us that this is what is happening. Victoria is talking to us about more flexible OCS arrangements, because they think their current fisheries are going to change shape and that they are moving south on them. Indeed, New South Wales fish are coming towards them and they are saying: 'The current arrangements will not work; we need to work out something better.' That is a common topic of conversation amongst the fishery managers in the states. The reports that they are getting are of clear movements of fish.

Mr Thompson : This is just from normal reporting of what people are catching and where they are catching them. From normal surveys of fish, they are getting reports of different fish. There are even websites operating in Tasmania where people are encouraged to report what they are catching, because they have got different fish to manage.

Mr SCHULTZ: They must have moved on from the south coast; I am not catching too many there.

Mr Butler : Can I just add to that. From a disease point of view, with climate change, we do not have a good understanding of how—I think Ian mentioned in the introduction how an increased temperature, for example, can stress the immune system of some fish if they cannot move, say, if they are being grown and how some pathogens may behave differently in warmer waters as well. Studies are being undertaken on that as well.

CHAIR: Some pretty good research is being undertaken on the area of acidisation of the Southern Ocean, which will have an effect on marine creatures. Coming back to aquaculture, I want to deal with marine disease outbreaks and how good we have got that organised through AQUAVETPLAN and whatever. I have had some experience in my own electorate. For land based animals we have processes where we have levies set up and we have a whole range of processes to deal with that from an industry perspective as well. But I do not think we have that too much in aquaculture, have we?

Mr Thompson : I am not across all the detail. Dr Cupit might answer the detail on how AQUAPLAN works. But the same sort of model of levies, cooperative arrangements and joint arrangements with the states is intended to apply across the board in all agricultural industries, but it is always a developing area as new industries are coming on board.

Mr Butler : With regard to our preparedness to respond, I think we are pretty well placed. We have done a lot of work with industry, the states and the Commonwealth, working together in partnership to get plans and training in place. We have used those mechanisms in some disease outbreaks. In terms of what you are talking about more broadly, that is what we call cost sharing. If we do have a disease response, we share the costs of those responses between the Commonwealth, states and industry. So there is nothing in place at the moment for aquatic industries. There has been a lot of discussion and work done towards that, but it has been difficult because of the disparity—there are so many different industries and some are very small in number. For example, we talk about farms and growing abalones.

CHAIR: But levies and processes—if we are going to grow this and I come back to my first opening remark that the biggest traded animal protein in the world is fish. If we are going to feed nine billion people in the world we will have to grow more fish and we want to do that sustainably and it has to be science based. We need to tackle some of these issues. We are talking about it, but we have to find the solutions whether they are small, big or whatever. Are we moving in that direction?

Mr Thompson : As I said, the same model of cost sharing and capacity to raise levies for emergency management, disease management and eradication or whatever can apply in aquatic areas as it does in much of the land sector. The industry engagement process is a rather complicated process.

Mr Butler : The way it has worked in the land sector is you have a mechanism to raise a levy, which you do not activate until you have a response underway. The costs are carried by government parties initially and then a levy is put in place to recover whatever the industry shares of those costs. A legislative mechanism has to be put in place. We went through this quite recently with the horse industry.

CHAIR: We certainly did—pony clubs lobbying people. So let us get the thoroughbreds to pay for it.

Mr Butler : Understand it is a very complicated process. If you look at the horse industry it is somewhat disparate, but it is a lot less disparate than the aquatics industries.

CHAIR: And we solved that one.

Mr Butler : Yes. There has been a lot of work done but there is a long way to go, and whether it is achievable or not is debatable.

CHAIR: I reckon we'll be recommending something to get on with it.

Dr Cupit : Bear in mind we do not have cost sharing for some other terrestrial species as well, and we still have appropriate disease response with the Commonwealth and state governments. Most countries do not have those arrangements like we have. We are quite different where we have had cost sharing, and it has been a great benefit for our country because it shares the responsibility for both industry and government. It is a unique situation, and we have moved many of our industries to that process.

CHAIR: And it probably sharpens up the industry base as well, so it is a pretty important process for us to grow this sector into the future.

Mr Thompson : It is one where, if you were to go down that path, one does not have to have a levy that applies across every industry. A disease of oysters is not necessarily going to affect salmon, so you can have something for the salmon industry and something for the oyster industry and then work a bit later on somebody else, for example.

CHAIR: Exactly.

Mr Neil : There is a lot of research into things like scallops' disease—FRDC swings in there—with Commonwealth resources to fund work on disease issues. In that case they are not farmed, but equally FRDC invests a lot of money and innovative technologies for aquaculture and selective breeding and so improving the product. In terms of innovation and underpinning science, and trying to address disease problems that are specific to Australia, there is a lot of effort going in there.

CHAIR: When we get the lasers out there and we are holding them in the pens by lasers we will need to be on top of this, won't we?

Mr SCHULTZ: Can I ask a question about the importance of seafood labelling and certification. Is there a role of government in the area of seafood certification?

Mr Butler : Is that for exports?

Mr SCHULTZ: For export and retail.

CHAIR: Can I just add that in Australia we have all these different names for different fish, which works well for all the crooks. How much have we got on top of that and how internationally are we working with our international collaboration, with treaties and our neighbours and things like that, so that we get a certified process and a proper process, and not illegal things going on?

Mr Thompson : Certification works in two spaces, as has been alluded to. There is one about certification of exported product for food safety and origin and then there is domestic certification for either environmental purposes or truth in labelling. We have done the work on seafood names, and that appears to be working well. Some discussions are continually occurring about whether restaurants need to label food as a product of Australia or a product of somewhere else, but in that sense it is pretty much the same argument that goes on for food in general.

Our general position is that it is not the government's role to get into that commercial space, but we are quite happy to ensure that our databases, the information that we provide and the research we undertake can be used to underpin those commercial processes. Every time we have had discussions with Woolworths and Coles, or the restaurants, they all want to do it their own way for their own commercial reasons. Every single one of them has been reading the ABARES stock and status report and they are all familiar with seafood name. So we think the information base underpinning it is reasonable but they are using it differently for commercial reasons.

We do not see there is a role for government to come in over the top and impose something but we encourage it as an advantage to Australian producers so that people know where their food is coming from. We encourage it in terms of truth in labelling so that people know what they have. There are health implications of knowing where your food has come from if there is some sort of trace back. We can do all of those sorts of things to facilitate it.

Mr SCHULTZ: That leads me to my next question: what work have we done in terms of health risks of imported seafood? I have seen some pretty suspect stuff in some of the major supermarkets, I can tell you. I will not touch it.

CHAIR: You are an old meat worker though, like me.

Mr Butler : In imported seafood, in the health and ageing portfolio we have an organisation called Food Standards Australia New Zealand which sets food standards. Those standards are implemented at the border by our organisation, by our department.

Mr SCHULTZ: How frequent are the tests for salmonella and all that?

Mr Butler : I would have to take that on notice as to what is tested for. That is done on advice and worked out in consultation with the food standards agency.

Mr SCHULTZ: Could you take that on notice?

Mr Thompson : There are relatively frequent tests of these things based on a risk profile, and they do come up with problems from time to time, and seafood parcels are banned.

CHAIR: The Age today reports alarm at antibiotics in fish imports. Australian exporters are alarmed over the rising number of Asian fish imports containing banned antibiotics.

Mr Thompson : That report is reporting on the report from someone in our department who identified that there were antibiotics in some imported fish, and those fish parcels were banned.

CHAIR: Well done. I want to get a notice on motion regarding the detail of the status of the costs area that we talked about with a levy. Where are we up to with that? Can you take that on board and let us know, because it is something that we will certainly want to be exploring as we go down the track? We will probably have a chat to you again later as we go down.

Mr CHRISTENSEN: You go through the main fisheries sites of providers and stakeholders. I have two questions regarding that. Firstly, what duplication or overlap in your experience do you see amongst those bodies? Secondly, where industry as in commercial fisherman engage with those bodies in regulatory processes or whatever they might have, is there any way that can be streamlined or has it been streamlined fairly well?

Mr Thompson : There is a wide range of research providers. As I mentioned earlier, they tend to specialise in different areas because of the climate regimes, interest, scale, scope or whatever. So you end up with a tropical one and CSIRO will do expensive oceanographic research but perhaps move away from some day-to-day work. So there is a bit natural specialisation. The fisheries research development and extension strategy is intended to better coordinate that work. In the research area there are a lot of providers but there are not a lot of people so they can come together through forums that FRDC can coordinate to work out who is doing what research to minimise any potential duplication or overlap. The risk of it happening with so many providers is probably quite high but, with budget pressures and the existence of a coordination strategy, I am in no position to say how much overlap still exists or whether it ever did exist. Perhaps FRDC might be better placed to answer that since they actually invest in a lot of these bodies, or ABARES.

Mr Neil : There is national priorities forum, which I attend and FRDC convenes, which is meant to be a peak group of research providers or funders. Under that there is a research providers network, which are the actual institutions themselves, then below that again there is an extension network where they are hubbed by region. So the hubs tend to be themed around particular expertise. Regions have agreed that the south-east of Victoria tends to be a priority for recreational fishing research and South Australia is for rock lobster. There are agreements that, if we are funding that, that will be the first place we look to fund for that particular research, so that they are not competing with each other and that they are cooperating. FRDC has put a lot of effort into convening groups to discuss priorities, and then below them there are the actual implementing groups to talk about what they are doing, how they are doing it and how they can better do it together. This is underpinned by, as Ian said, the national fishing and aquaculture R&D strategy. There is actually a big effort to avoid duplication and waste of effort.

CHAIR: Can you make that available to us?

Mr Neil : Yes, I am happy to.

Mr Thompson : In the fisheries regulation area, with the Commonwealth plus each of the states having a fisheries management agency plus quite a number of joint arrangements for managing shared stocks, there is a high level of regulation of the fishing industry. I think fishermen have quite rightly identified inconsistent regulatory controls, regulatory burdens or requirements to get regulatory approval, because there are the fisheries management ones and there is environmental overlay as well. So you end up with quite a lot before you start.

Under the Primary Industries Standing Committee, we are pursuing a fisheries productivity agenda with the states which will look at deregulation, regulation streamlining, consistency or institutional frameworks which may make fisheries regulation more streamlined and more efficient. We have also been speaking to colleagues in the environment department about how we can better align fisheries management arrangements and environmental protection arrangements, and similar agendas occur at the state level. ABARES is also commencing a study relating to fisheries regulation, looking at the costs of the current regulatory framework, compliance with it and the extent to which it could be improved. It is very early days. The work has barely started, but we see it fitting into the work that we are doing with the states.

CHAIR: We do not have the Commonwealth fishing or harvesting strategy. Maybe we should have a look at that.

Mr Neil : We can provide that.

CHAIR: Okay. Thank you very much for your time.