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Friday, 20 February 1987
Page: 383

Senator SANDERS —I direct the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry to the present situation in the orange roughy fishery off the north-west coast of Tasmania. For the edification of honourable senators, the orange roughy is a fish which lives at a depth of half a mile and spends its life in total darkness, like some people in this chamber whom I could mention.

Senator Townley —You catch them with mushrooms.

Senator SANDERS —No, mushrooms are not used as bait. I ask: First, is it a fact that the magnitude of the present massive uncontrolled catch of orange roughy is causing problems in processing and handling, including the dumping of spoiled fish and the rejection of a container of spoiled orange roughy by United States authorities? Secondly, is the Minister confident that the present extremely high level of trawling will not cause long term damage to orange roughy stocks? Thirdly, if so, on what does he base his opinion? Fourthly, if not, what steps is he taking to curtail the present over-fishing which is jeopardising the Tasmanian industry?

Senator WALSH —I suppose one of the things that surprise me about Senator Sanders's desire to preserve a Tasmanian industry which apparently is paying its way is that it is in conflict with normal Australian Democrats policy, which is to close down every industry that can pay its way and to prop up others. There are a number of errors in the assertions contained in his question. The catch is not uncontrolled. He asserted that there is over-fishing. In reality, according to my advice, there is just not enough known to determine whether or not it is being over-fished, and it is not uncontrolled. Indeed, the conditions under which the vessels operate are restricted by the provisions of the south eastern trawl management plan. It appears that some 20 vessels are fishing and that six are expected to commence operations in the near future.

Advice from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation is that it is difficult at this time to estimate the abundance of the resource in the north-west area. From the evidence available, it seems that it is inappropriate to close the fishery at this point. The Minister for Primary Industry has agreed to limit the amount of the resource that can be taken by current operators to 20,000 tonnes a year-a limit which will be subject to continuous review as more information becomes available.

Senator Sanders —Is that per vessel?

Senator WALSH —No, it is the total. Senator Sanders said that there have been reports of alleged wastage of fish and stinking fish landing on United States wharves. I am advised that a number of investigations of these reports have indicated that there is no evidence at this point that the United States authorities have rejected any shipments of orange roughy from Australia. However, further investigations are being carried out by the Department of Primary Industry in an endeavour to ascertain whether that has occurred. If I get any further information I will see that it is passed on to Senator Sanders.