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Monday, 15 March 2010
Page: 2395


Mr BALDWIN (1:33 PM) —I rise to speak today in support of common sense. This bill, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Recreational Fishing for Mako and Porbeagle Sharks) Bill 2010, is common sense. It is common sense and it is also a backflip on the part of the Minister for Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts. Can I say that the difference between this and the bungling of the insulation program is that this has not cost the government any money. It has cost many fishermen opportunity. It has cost communities opportunity. It has cost game fishing and recreational fishing associations money and opportunity, but it has not cost the government any money yet.

This bill has come about because the minister failed to consult. This is a minister, Minister Garrett, who simply consults within his own group, his own peers, and is yet to question any science. One of the problems that we have seen and that has been experienced, in particular with climate change or global warming, is the failure of people to recognise the value of outside peer group reviews of science. What has happened here is that the minister, and please excuse the pun, has taken the line hook, line and sinker from his department.

Both the Southern Hemisphere and the Northern Hemisphere have mako sharks and, thinking that they are a pelagic and a migratory species, one might come to the assumption, an ill-informed assumption, that these fish travel from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern Hemisphere, but the reality is that they do not. Where this minister has made a mistake is that he has observed part of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals where in the Northern Hemisphere they were to introduce a ban on catching longfin mako, shortfin mako and porbeagle sharks in December 2008—they are listed in appendix II. But in the Southern Hemisphere it is a totally different fishery and it has different fishing pressures.

The three species that we are addressing here are the longfin mako shark, with the scientific name of Isurus paucus, the shortfin mako shark, with the name Isurus oxyrinchus, and the porbeagle shark, with the name Lamna nasus. These sharks are highly valued in recreational sports fishing, in game fishing tournaments and, indeed, as a prized commercial fishery. I have no issue in shutting down commercial fisheries, particularly where they are pursuing sharks just for the fins, because what we see there is the pursuit of animals who are brought onboard, who have their fins cut off and who are then thrown back into the water alive. I think that is disgraceful. It is disgraceful because something more could be done with the flesh of the animal, if indeed it is to die—because they will die when they go back in the water without their dorsal and pectoral fins. There is not the same dollar value in the rest of the shark meat as there is in the fins. I was overseas recently and I had, quite to my surprise, some shark fin soup and I have to say that I cannot see why people see it as such a highly prized delicacy as a dish.

Going back to the core essence of this and why this minister has now had to bring this amendment in, as I said, it is because he failed to consult. He failed to consult with a range of people, including marine biologists and specialists, he refused to consult with the recreation and sports fishing industry and he believed a mantra chant from those within.

A press release from the recreational fishers association, Recfish, says:

Recfish CEO Len Olyott said that the exemption recognised that recreational fishing for Makos and Porbeagles was a sustainable activity which posed no threat to their conservation. “Existing limits that apply to the capture of these species are extremely conservative. Most are tagged and released with subsequent recaptures providing essential scientific evidence to assist in the further conservation of these shark species.”

              …           …           …

This sentiment was echoed by Grahame Williams, President of the Game Fishing Association of Australia. “Our Association has a long history of supporting scientific research on gamefish species. 87% of Makos caught by gamefishers are tagged and released. Our tournaments are also run under a strict Code of Conduct.”

I suppose I should declare a pecuniary interest in this. My background is, in part, in the marine industry. I am a qualified skipper. I have run game fishing boats and charter boats and I have been out there first hand.

When this bill first came up, I thought, ‘Why haven’t they consulted? Why haven’t they spoken to the people in the industry?’ I emailed Dr Julian Pepperell. He is a significant marine science researcher who has done amazing work as a marine biologist, particularly in his involvement in the interface between the game fishing community and the science community. Dr Julian Pepperell has been researching ocean fishes across the globe for over 30 years now. He is also a fishaholic. I see him quite regularly at the weigh stations when we are handing in tag cards or when fish are being brought to weigh in at Port Stephens during the game fishing competitions. His work has particularly been on the research of tag and release, so I put to him the question about how many makos have been captured or tagged and released across the game fishing tournaments. He came back to me with numbers for the last three years. In 2009 there were 110 makos captured, of which 14 were killed and the rest tagged and released. In 2008 there were 171 captured. Eight were weighed in and the rest were tagged and released. In 2007 there were 164 captured. Seventeen were weighed in and the rest were tagged and released. Most of those, because of the nature of the species, were tagged off New South Wales and some off Victoria. But the captures of makos are from tournaments generally between Port Macquarie and Bermagui. Of course there will be people who go out recreational fishing who capture mako sharks and there is very little recorded on the impact of those, but they are not a species that are in short supply in and around the east coast. I have not been out fishing as much in recent times as I have in the past but I did a fair period in my sabbatical from this place between 1998 and 2001 where I skippered a number of boats and I can say from personal experience that almost every time I went out fishing, whether it was summer or winter and whether we were chasing yellowfin tuna or marlin, we would see makos. There was rarely a day that went by when I did not see makos swimming free.

One of the problems I have when people say, ‘We have to ban this species and that species,’ is that when a bait or a lure is set out—and makos do tend to take lures as well as baits—the mako sharks will not know that it is not for them. He will not know it is not for him the same as the great white pointer does not know it is not for him and the grey nurse shark does not know it is not for him. I thought there might have been greater support, opportunity and involvement by this government for tagging and releasing programs where scientific data can be captured on where the fish were caught and then let go and an approximation of their size and weight. When these fish are recaught, whether they are caught on commercial longliners or in the shark nets on our beaches or indeed recaptured by fishermen, the tag is taken out and where they were caught and their approximate size and weight is recorded. That helps with scientific data tracking of where these species have been caught, where they have migrated to and it gives us a deeper and better understanding. More needs to be done on that. If indeed we want to establish more on the migratory patterns and more history on recapture then this is a program well worth supporting.

I have had a lot to do with my game fishing club—the Newcastle and Port Stephens Game Fish Club—where I was a former director, and I have had the members and the president of that club in my office talking on this and a number of other issues in relation to recreational sport fishing. No-one could believe that back in January this government was going to sign up to this ban. No-one could believe that they had not been consulted and that their opinion as professionals and people who care a lot about our marine environment had not been sought. Unless you have a sustainable marine environment you will no longer have recreational fishing. They were not consulted at all.

As I understand in reading the work of Senator Richard Colbeck, he has done a tremendous job in driving this, getting around the community, attending meetings, organising petitions and actually doing what the minister should have been doing—and that is getting out and talking to the people on the ground instead of people who sit behind desks. There is a lot of difference between sitting out on the water with a rod and reel and experiencing things first hand and sitting behind a desk and pretending you know everything.

The problem is that in the initial stage this failed minister—in yet another stuff-up that we are seeing here with this—failed to consult. In the insulation debacle, he refused to heed the warnings and he failed to consult; with this debacle, he refused to heed the warnings and failed to consult. So what we have here is a minister who accepted hook, line and sinker what was being applied in the Northern Hemisphere. He just thought that with the stroke of a pen he could please the egos of some of his mates who sit around the desk, drink fancy-looking teas and talk about the environment, with very little real, practical experience about being out there and doing the things that count. So we have had this imposed upon us.

I am glad that common sense and public pressure have come to the fore. I can only believe it was in part through the work of Richard Colbeck but also because of some Labor members in marginal seats who all of a sudden got a kick in the pants when they saw the size of the meetings that were occurring in their town halls—who up until that stage were prepared to sit back and just wear this. It was not until their communities got up in arms. So there is a simple lesson: ministers need to get out and consult. They need to question the science. They can no longer just accept as given, as irrefutable fact, propositions that are put to them. They need to get out, they need to listen, they need to talk and, importantly, they need to question the science.

The coalition supports this bill—this retraction, this backflip by the government—because it is the coalition that has driven this. It is the coalition that has driven common sense to be applied across this fishery. With those final words, Mr Deputy Speaker, I say to you: we will support this, and let’s hope that the minister learns a lesson and gets out and consults.