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Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Page: 13827


Mr MITCHELL (McEwen) (10:28): I rise to speak on this report, Netting the benefits, by the Standing Committee on Agriculture, Resources, Fishing and Forestry, that the Chair has so eloquently outlined. I give the Chair the tick for that particular heading because it was a hotly contested thing to talk about where we should start with this. Many people right across this country love fishing. I know I love to get out fishing—there is nothing better than a day of frustration when you can sit on the water, come home empty-handed or end up having to stop at the shop and get a steak on the way home! I am sure you, Deputy Speaker, as a keen fisherman probably have had similar experiences where you went home more frustrated than when you started out. The importance of fishing and our fisheries stocks can never be underestimated. The population across the world is growing. We know that fish products are a good source of protein for people. With more and more people eating fish because of the health benefits—and maybe I should eat more—it is important that we protect our fisheries and make sure that we capitalise on the world-class fisheries that we have, and develop our aquaculture because that will be the next phase for the fishing industry. Ocean stocks are being depleted due to a range factors. We have heard about climate change and the effects on weather patterns and water currents, and what that does for fish stocks right across the globe. A lot of the water currents start in the Northern Hemisphere and come all the way down to Tasmania, and with that they bring the recruitment stocks of smaller fish and crustaceans that grow, and that we fish.

In my previous life before the privilege of coming to this place, I worked in the Victorian government and my responsibilities related to fishing and how commercial and recreational fishers work with the resources we have. It is a situation of two goats head-butting, if you like, with competing interests for the resources available. A lot of times there is angst amongst both the recreational and the commercial fishers about where to go. Everyone would agree that we need to protect our fish stocks. We need to make sure that they are available for future generations, but we all like access to our fisheries. In my home state of Victoria, we have some wonderful fisheries: the scallop and tuna fisheries, and of course everyone enjoys a good feed of snapper. They are usually on the run magnificently up through Port Phillip Bay. It is not uncommon even for recreational fishers to get out there or to see a queue of 400 or 500 boats lining up to get out and enjoy a day's catch.

We have to make sure that we have the correct instruments in place to protect fish stocks. Most state waters where a lot of the recreational fishing is done is within the three-kilometre line from shore. Outside of that line are the Commonwealth waters. Unfortunately, fish are not like cattle and sheep in that you cannot put them in a pen. It is very hard to get fish to understand that they may be going from a Commonwealth water into a state water and vice versa. So we need to have guidelines and precautions in place, and we do that by working with the stakeholders, to ensure we have regional policy statements and regional rules in place that look after the fish stocks and that continue to ensure a great pastime for recreational fishers and, importantly, a livelihood for commercial fishers.

I have done a lot of work in the past with Seafood Industry Victoria with the Port Phillip Bay and Westernport Bay netters—all a very great bunch of people. We did not always agree on things and we did have some animated discussions. But we were able to work together to achieve an outcome to keep the resources available for future generations. That is important for them because it is their livelihood. I have always had a personal belief that you must not do something that takes away someone's livelihood, particularly when given that some of the commercial fishermen are second, third and fourth generation. Fishing is their lifeline and that is what they know, and they do it very well. By and large, commercial fishers are very, very cautious in what they do to make sure that bycatch is kept to a minimum. They do that by always improving their gear and their equipment, and always making sure that they do their best to stay within the rules. The rules cause a lot of conjecture, particularly if you look at states that have different size limits and different catch limits. That becomes a problem when you have licensees who run across state borders. For example, a rock lobster could have a five- or 10-millimetre difference in different states. States do that in those waters to make sure they protect their stocks for the future. With depletion of stock through overfishing and climate change, we have to look at the new generation, which is aquaculture.

Our aquaculture industry is very small in comparison to other places around the world. What I can say is that the quality of the product we produce is a hell of a lot better than other countries produce. The quality of things like our wild stock abalone and the blacklip and greenlip abalone are world's best. Nothing compares to those. Nor is there anything that compares to Red Legs lobsters. Anthony, who is a lobster fisherman in Victoria, has been working extremely hard to keep the markets in place in China and Asia where it is a high-dollar product. He and the other people involved in Seafood Industries Victoria have been pushing that along. They are doing the right thing by marketing the product for what it is. It is high quality and you expect to pay a little bit more for it, but you get a better product. That is important in a market where some countries around the world will go for the lowest dollar and try and shift their product as quickly as they can. Their fisheries then become depleted and it is a very short-term outlook for them. Five or 10 years down the track, they have nothing left to fish. Because our products are in clean water and they are of high quality, they should be treated as high quality and the fisheries should get a high dollar for them.

There has been a big shift in the industry over the years, moving from being price takers to price makers.

Opposition member interjecting—

Mr MITCHELL: I note what the member opposite said. I do recall a funny time when I went to the Seafood Industry Awards and got steak for dinner. I was pretty unhappy with that, but that is the story of my fishing ability! I missed out on some magnificent, locally-caught swordfish, which was sensational. That was at a time when we were doing some restructuring in the Victorian industry. It was a tough time for the fishermen involved. To their credit, they were always professional. Maria Manias, who looks after the Port Phillip and Westernport Bay fishers, is someone I now count as a friend. We started poles apart, but we got together and worked together. She is very concerned about the future of commercial fisheries. There have been some exceptionally terrible stories of commercial fishers in recent times. They have struggled to make a living, they do not have much of a future and a few of the fishermen took their own life because they saw no way forward. To their families and friends, I extend my greatest sympathies and hope that we can stop that from happening in the future.

We have an opportunity to grow aquaculture, learn from the science and the research, and create more of a product in an area where we have a few controls. By having crustaceans, gastropods and the like growing on land based areas, we have an opportunity to increase the Australian population's intake of fish products, keep our wild stocks for what they are and ensure that they are going to have a long-term future with the challenges that we face ahead.

One of the important things in the list of recommendations that we came to is having to take a national approach. The states, territories and the Commonwealth have to start working together to ensure that we get sustainability in our fisheries to make sure that there is an industry not only for this generation but for the next generation. Some of the recommendations talked about how we need to work together through the Primary Industries Ministerial Council—PIMC, as it is known—to look at R&D in aquaculture and in commercial fisheries to see how we can work together and progress our fishing effort to the betterment of the industry and this country. We have seen a lot of changes in fishing practices over the years. The days of a couple of people on a boat with a few rods hanging out and maybe the odd cold can are long gone for fishers, particularly the professional commercial fishers. Now we have far better netting equipment and far better potting equipment. We also have access to better GPS fish finders and things you can use to specifically target species you are after. With the changes that we have seen over time, bigger boats and more nets, we have seen a lot of impact on fish stocks locally in set areas. This was brought to a head recently with the supertrawler that came in during this inquiry. We had quite a few people, particularly those in the industry, who were very upset about having a boat of that size with a net of that size and the capability of putting some pressure on local stocks in a very short time.

When we looked at it it was found—and Minister Burke and Minister Ludwig went through this—that the science that we rely on so heavily, because it is a science that lets us know where our stocks are, was not the best in the area of fishing when it comes to using a boat of that size and looking at the local impacts. Rightly the government said we need to put a moratorium on this and not allow this to happen while doing the science. We have to get the science right first. That is what we rely on both at the Commonwealth and at the state and territory levels when we talk about fish stocks, size limits, bag limits and these sorts of things. We rely on the science that looks at the climate, the weather and fishing impacts. We need to do that to make sure that we can keep this industry sustainable. If you think of a supertrawler-size boat coming through the bottom half of Victoria in tuna season, that is probably during one of the highest tourism benefits we get in some of the areas around Portland. If such boats came through and took out the tuna stocks, thousands and thousands of people who rely on that season for business, such as accommodation, tackle shops and the like, would see their businesses devastated. Can fish stocks sustain a boat of that size? Who knows. That is the question we cannot answer until we know that the science is right. We have been able to unearth a lot of these issues and start putting the science together.

Many people will not read this report, but they should read it to see how all sides of parliament worked closely to put this report together and get some recommendations out that are going to work. These recommendations are going to benefit our fish stocks from now into the future to make sure that when we develop our aquaculture and grow these things we will have lasting and sustainable fish stocks for both recreational and commercial fishing. It is important that we have our committees work in this bipartisan way to bring outcomes such as those listed in the recommendations in this report. These outcomes will benefit all Australians, so it is the right way to do things. I commend the chair for his great work in putting this together and keeping everything working. (Time expired)