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Thursday, 26 March 1987
Page: 1380


Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE(12.50) —I rise on a matter which is of considerable concern to the fishermen of Western Australia, particularly those that fish in the area of Kalbarri. Kalbarri is a fishing port that is most noted for its landing of fine crayfish and the Kalbarri crayfishing industry has a bright future, if properly managed. Kalbarri is a holiday resort and fishing area on the coast of Western Australia, a beautiful place which is growing and prospering for those two reasons. Last year $11m worth of crays was landed, $2m worth being exported. In addition, there are fishermen in the area who are keen to develop an export market for fish to Japan.

As I have said, if the fishing grounds around Kalbarri are properly managed, the area faces a bright future. Recently, this future has been placed in some jeopardy. A number of fishing boats from Queensland have been licensed to trawl outside 100 fathoms but there have been local reports that they trawl inside 100 fathoms. To do so would, of course, be in breach of their licence. The further occurrence of such breaches could be prevented under the law as it presently exists.

Another and more serious threat has been posed by Western Australian boats trawling inside 100 fathoms. These boats are licensed to trawl and are only prevented from landing crayfish. The threat which they pose to the Kalbarri grounds is not so much from the actual landing of crayfish as, more particularly, the damage that trawling does to the ocean floor. Trawling operations involve dragging along the sea bed. This disturbs the delicate but vitally important environment of the crayfish breeding grounds. Continued trawling will jeopardise the long term prospects for the crayfish industry in the area.

The damage that trawling can do has been tragically demonstrated in the Eden area of New South Wales. In 1981 fishing in the Eden area was thought to be a boom industry. Operations first took place over the end of the continental shelf. Boats from New South Wales down to Tasmania fished the grounds intensely. Soon the size of the catches dropped. Operations were moved closer to the shore and many boats came back into waters of around 50 fathoms. The sea bottom in the area is flat. It contained coral, sponges and other marine life. Initially trawling operations could take place for only short periods of time before the net had to be emptied, not merely of fish but of all the other things that it had picked up. Continued trawling would have meant that coral and other miscellaneous sea life would have torn the net to pieces. The problem of regularly hauling in the net was overcome when the fishermen began to use rubber buffers on nets to prevent their being destroyed on the shallow bottom. Needless to say, this development only destroyed the sea bottom all the more quickly. The growth on the sea bottom was in time ploughed down. As a result of this abuse, prospects of a fishing boom taking place in Eden ended. I know of some fishermen who have actually left Eden to come to the better managed fishing grounds in Western Australia.

Western Australia and Kalbarri must not suffer the same fate as was suffered in Eden in New South Wales. The Commonwealth and State Ministers must act to prevent trawling operations inside 100 fathoms, the crayfish breeding grounds, and must act quickly. In saying this I am not in any way suggesting that fishing and crayfish operations are incompatible, but in order to prevent damage to the ocean bottom, and a threat being posed to crays, conventional fishing operations must take place by the use of wet line techniques and not trawling. Line fishing and cray fishing have existed together harmoniously for 60 years. The current legal position, briefly summarised, is that the State Government has jurisdiction to a distance of three miles out; the Commonwealth has jurisdiction thereafter. This situation is to change, hopefully in the near future. The Commonwealth will be given jurisdiction over certain fishing operations, such as for bluefin tuna, to the high water mark and the State will be given jurisdiction to the continental shelf over trawling operations such as prawning. Undoubtedly, such an arrangement will provide for more speedy remedies when a threat such as the one which I have outlined is posed. However, this constitutional settlement has not yet taken place and the crayfish grounds around Kalbarri ought not be left vulnerable until such time as it does occur-whenever that may be. Present law requires that a prohibition be issued by the State Minister. The Minister then makes a recommendation to the Commonwealth Minister that he do the same for Commonwealth waters. The Western Australian Minister for Fisheries has requested the Commonwealth to issue a notice prohibiting all trawling, except by boats holding a trawling endorsement, on the continental shelf south of 21 degrees latitude. The aim of permitting this exception is to allow continued trawling for scallops around the Abrolhis Islands.

I would urge the Federal Minister to act quickly on this matter and the State Minister to do the same. I would hope that each Minister would at the very least be prepared to issue notices for temporary moratoriums so that the effect of trawling operations in the areas that I have described can be examined. I cannot emphasise too much the need for each Minister to act quickly. I am well aware, of course, that the wheels of government are not accustomed to turning at any great pace. It is just that in this case every day lost is another day of potential damage to the Kalbarri fishing industry.