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Thursday, 25 February 2010
Page: 1969

Dr WASHER (11:13 AM) —Thank you, Member for Fisher. In amending the Fisheries Management Act 1991 and the Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984, the Fisheries Legislation Amendment Bill 2009 deals with three key matters. The bill aims: (1) to ensure that fisheries officers engaged in investigating suspected illegal fishing can be properly equipped to safely perform that function, (2) to improve the ability of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority to provide an efficient and cost-effective fisheries management service through changes to the administration of fisheries licensing and the introduction of electronic decision making and (3) to provide for consolidated arrangements regarding holders of fish receiver licences in the Torres Strait.

The Australian Fisheries Management Authority is responsible for managing Australia’s commercial fishing from three nautical miles off the coast to 200 nautical miles out—the boundary of the Australian Fishing Zone. The authority also has a foreign compliance role to deter illegal, unregulated, unreported foreign fishing within Australian waters and also on the high seas. Amendments to the Fisheries Management Act which came into effect on 25 June 2009 extended management beyond the Australian Fishing Zone, giving effect to Australia’s obligations under international agreements.

The Commonwealth has sovereignty over the Territorial Sea under international law. The Territorial Sea extends from the low water mark out to 12 nautical miles. The offshore constitutional settlement arrangement between the Commonwealth and the states and the Northern Territory overrides this existing jurisdictional boundary so that the states and the Northern Territory can manage coastal or inshore species such as rock lobster and abalone while the Commonwealth manages offshore or migratory species such as tuna or species subject to international agreements such as orange roughy. This arrangement provides for state and Northern Territory laws to apply within three nautical miles.

The Australian Fishing Zone as defined in the Fisheries Management Act covers the same area as the Exclusive Economic Zone; however, it only relates to the management and protection of fisheries. Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, Australia has sovereign rights to explore, exploit, conserve and manage all natural resources of the waters adjacent to the seabed and of the seabed and its subsoil, together with other activities such as the production of energy from water, currents and wind within the Exclusive Economic Zone. Covering approximately nine million square kilometres, the Australian Fishing Zone is the third largest in the world. The Australian Fisheries Management Authority manages more than 20 Commonwealth commercial fisheries within that area.

There are no reliable statistics about illegal fishing by foreign vessels in Australian waters. In northern Australia, illegal fisheries target shark, reef fish, rock lobster and trepang. In the Southern Ocean around Heard and McDonald islands, Patagonian toothfish and mackerel icefish are the target. It is thought that increased joint Australian and French patrols in the Southern Ocean has significantly reduced the level of illegal fishing in the French and Australian exclusive zones respectively.

However, illegal fishing still occurs on the high seas. It is estimated that illegal fishing in the area of the Southern Ocean managed under the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources was 1,169 tonnes in 2007-08 compared with 3,615 tonnes in 2006-07. The number of illegal foreign fishing apprehensions in the Australia Fishing Zone has progressively declined over recent years from 367 in 2005-06 to 216 in 2006-07 to 156 in 2007-08 to 27 in the last financial year. So we are having some success. These apprehensions occurred in the extremities of the zone, and patrols and surveillance adjacent to the zone reveals that illegal fishing remains an ongoing threat.

Illegal fishing has a major impact on our commercial fisheries, even when it occurs outside the zone. Southern bluefin tuna is a highly migratory species and it is widely distributed throughout waters of the Southern Ocean, including the Australian Fishing Zone. The key areas where southern bluefin tuna are caught are the Great Australian Bight and waters off south-eastern Australia. In the period between 1985 and 2005 Japanese fishers were found to have illegally caught 178,000 tonnes of southern bluefin tuna, worth around $6 billion to $8 billion. As a result, the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna cut Japan’s quota from 6,065 tonnes to 3,000 tonnes. To help conserve migratory fish stocks, in May 2007 Australia adopted the Regional plan of action to promote responsible fishing practices including combating illegal unreported and unregulated fishing in the region, along with 10 other countries from South-East Asia that have either highly migratory or straddling stocks with Australia.

Small 10- to 15-metre wooden hulled vessels from Indonesia make up 97 per cent of illegal fishing vessels in Australian waters. These illegal fishers take a variety of finned fish and species such as turtles, dolphins and crayfish. However, there is a specific interest in shark products. As there is limited storage space on these small vessels, only the most valuable part of the shark, the dorsal fin, is kept. Peter Venslovus, the authority’s regional director for foreign compliance operations, commented that you can get up to $100 a kilo for the dried shark fin and they have apprehended boats with up to 30 kilograms of fins on board. The sheer number of these small fishing boats means that collectively they can devastate shark populations very quickly.

The authority’s fisheries officers are responsible for investigating and detecting illegal activities carried out by foreign and domestic fishers in the Australian fishing zone and on the high seas. Since 1 July 2009 they are also undertaking frontline fishing inspections and patrol activities previously undertaken by state and territory officers. Due to the significant financial incentive of illegal fishing, this work is obviously potentially dangerous. Illegal fishing by Indonesian fishers is not village subsistence fishing but a lucrative business with businessmen financing the boats, fishing gear and GPS systems. It is essential that those officers are adequately trained and equipped. General operation manager of the authority Paul Murphy has stated that there can be violent resistance on boarding and searching of boats. Crews not only arm boats with side spikes to prevent boarding but may also hurl lumps of concrete and arm themselves with machetes. The explanatory memorandum provides that defensive equipment, including bulletproof vests, extendable batons and handcuffs, would be required. Other equipment would need to be prescribed under the regulations.

The total Australian legal fisheries production for 2007-08 was 236,000 tonnes, with an estimated value of $2.16 billion. It is encouraging to see that aquaculture fisheries production in Australia, which also includes southern bluefin tuna wild catch input to the southern Australian tuna ranching sector, was 62,500 tonnes, 26 per cent of the total volume and valued at $868 million, or 40 per cent of the total value. The most valuable Commonwealth managed fisheries are the northern prawn fisheries, valued at $74 million, the Commonwealth trawl sector of the southern and eastern scale fish and shark fishery at a value of $46 million, and the southern bluefin tuna fisheries valued at $45 million.

The authority has developed a range of electronic devices to improve the cost of protecting these fisheries, the cornerstone being the e-licensing system. This system enables a range of high-volume routine licensing decisions which do not require the exercise of judgment by an officer to be made electronically. In 2008-09 there were 4,562 transactions and it is estimated that 80 per cent of these will be completed by e-licensing by 2011. The amendments are expected to result in a reduction in the authority’s administrative costs and subsequently the cost passed on to industry through fees and levies. Also the ability of concession holders to engage in real-time transactions will enable the market to operate more efficiently.

The Australian Fisheries Management Authority also provides fisheries management services in the Torres Strait on behalf of the Torres Strait Protected Zone Joint Authority, which was established under the Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984. This joint authority consists of the Commonwealth minister for fisheries, the Queensland minister for fisheries and the chair of the Torres Strait Regional Authority and is responsible for commercial and traditional fishing in the Torres Strait and designated adjacent waters. Previous amendments to this act provided that all individuals who receive fish from Torres Strait commercial fishers require a fish receiver’s licence. This bill amends this requirement by making it an offence if a person does not hold a fish receiver’s licence but receives fish directly from a person required to hold a specified licence and they intend to process or sell the fish. It is also an offence if they do have a licence but they receive fish from a person who does not have a commercial fisher licence. It is not an offence if they intend to process the fish for personal consumption or use.

It is vital that the Torres Strait Protected Zone Joint Authority has systems in place to regulate and monitor the amount of fish being caught for commercial purposes. These requirements support the implementation of an effective quota monitoring system as it provides the capacity to verify catch records and product landed at port.

Overall, world fish stocks are declining and excessive overfishing continues. Fish around the world will venture further, risking crossing marine boundaries in pursuit of declining stocks. Amendments which better equip our fisheries officers to deal with this ongoing concern are to be commended. Amendments which support the Australian Fisheries Management Authority’s ability to offer a high standard of service and reduce industry costs for our lucrative commercial fisheries are also to be commended. I commend this bill to the House.