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Monday, 21 June 2010
Page: 3810


Senator SIEWERT (6:02 PM) —We are talking about the government’s amendments to the EPBC Act contained in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Recreational Fishing for Mako and Porbeagle Sharks) Bill 2010, which allow recreational fishers to continue hunting shortfin and longfin mako sharks and the porbeagle shark, despite these being listed as migratory species. The government is saying that the situation in Australian waters is different to that in the Northern Hemisphere and is making what we believe are very significant changes to the EPBC Act to allow the taking of these sharks to continue. The government is saying that the situation in Australia is different and that the situation for the sharks in our waters is not as dire as the situation in other waters or in the Northern Hemisphere. The Greens are extremely concerned about the precedent that the government is setting by amending the EPBC Act prior to the comprehensive amendments that we believe are coming through the Hawke report. We think there has been inadequate information on which to base those decisions, and I will go into some of those issues shortly.

The shortfin and longfin mako sharks and the porbeagle shark have been listed as protected under the convention on migratory species, or the CMS, to which Australia is a signatory. In fact, as we know, Australia has legislation in place to also list and afford protection to these species. Of course, this is where part of the crux of this argument is. The convention on migratory species listing was not based on the conservation status of the three species in the Northern Hemisphere alone, as is argued by many people supporting these amendments. The convention listing is in fact global. There is an opportunity under the convention to do a regional listing, but this was not taken up. This is very important. This aspect of the listing was not taken up. It was decided to do a global listing.

The shortfin and longfin mako sharks are listed by IUCN, which is the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, as vulnerable to extinction globally—not just in the region but globally. The porbeagle is considered near threatened in the Southern Hemisphere. So the conservation status of all three of these species is far from secure in the Southern Hemisphere, as has been argued and as was just argued by the previous speaker, and they are, as we know, subject to commercial and recreational fishing in Australia. We do not know if this is ecologically sustainable.

Prior to this controversy, Minister Garrett had already placed the shortfin mako shark on his priority list for assessment as a potentially threatened species under the EPBC Act, so clearly he and his Threatened Species Scientific Committee do think there is a conservation concern for this species. I am deeply concerned, as are the Greens, that this is a bad precedent. For the first time, something is listed under the EPBC Act and then specific amendments are made to unprotect it. We believe this sends poor messages to those people who seek to use wildlife: that if you lobby hard enough you can get special amendments to unprotect the particular species that you are interested in. I am unaware of this precedent happening under any state threatened species laws.

The Minister for the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts claims that the listing for the mako shark was based around concerns for the Mediterranean stocks and that there is no concern for Australian stocks. This is not the case. We believe there is sufficient concern around the stocks in our waters to raise concerns. As I have previously said, the convention listing was done because there was a global concern for the species, which are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN red list.

There is currently no conclusive evidence to support the view that there is a separation of Northern from Southern Hemisphere stocks or others in other geographic areas. In fact, we heard from Senator Colbeck the large distances that these species can travel. There are many other species that have been split by regional decisions. As I said, this was open for the convention to do, but the decision was made not to split the status of any of these thre species on a regional basis. This option was there and it was not taken.

The federal minister for the environment, Peter Garrett, is required under the legislation as it currently stands, the EPBC Act, to list the species as migratory once a CMS listing occurs. He has decided not to do this or to change legislation in this instance, and we do not believe this is based on any scientific integrity. We believe it is unfortunate that he has decided to take this approach, because we are deeply concerned about the future of these sharks. We are concerned about the precedent if enough attention is given to a particular species because people want to catch it and the government not only do not list the species but also change the act so that they do not have to list the species. The argument made by DEWHA is that the lack of population decline data in the Southern Hemisphere warrants a business-as-usual approach to their management until data is available. However, under the government’s obligations to manage fisheries, we would have thought that the precautionary principle would require the cessation of fishing impacts on listed species while that review is conducted. As I said, bear in mind that we heard a couple of moments ago that the mako shark travels great distances. In fact, one of the species currently being tagged has travelled 4,541 kilometres in a straight line. In other words, we do not think it is possible to separate out distinct populations.

There is a general lack of data as to the conservation status of these three species within Australian waters. Data on the levels of mortality caused by fishers including the landings of and trade in their products is also missing. There is a lack of information to ascertain current levels of catch and we do not know whether these are in any way sustainable. Yes, the culture for recreational fishing has changed and far more fishers are now doing catch and release, but I suggest that there is a lack of evidence on the impact of catch and release on such large species and the survival rates of the sharks that are taken, particularly where game fishing competitions are involved. There is evidence to suggest that significant fatigue and the build-up of toxic acids within the body and the muscles of the shark can prove potentially fatal. This occurs particularly during competition fishing, where quite often fishers will use a lighter line for targeting particular species. We understand this includes the shortfin mako. I understand the intention is to release sharks, but there is a lack of information about the survival data of these species when they have fought for a long time during these game fishing competitions and have been landed and then released.

All commercial fisheries that interact with the three species within the Commonwealth waters currently hold WTO approval that may or may not have conditions relating to the landing of these three species. However, commercial fishers will continue to take the species at the same levels as prior to the convention listing. We do not believe that there is enough data at the moment to show that the current level of catch is sustainable—in other words, you are going to have commercial fishers and recreational fishers continuing to take these species that have been listed under the convention for migratory species. There is no evidence to show that current catches are sustainable and we believe that the approach taken by the department in putting up these amendments affords no additional protection or conservation measure as required by the convention for migratory species listing. We are deeply concerned about the future of these species anyway, we are concerned about the future of these species now that these amendments have been made and we are concerned about the future of these species with these amendments and the fact that precautions have not been put around the changes under the act. In a minute I will get to those changes, how they interact with the recommendations of the Hawke report and why this amendment is pre-empting the broader response to the Hawke report.

According to information from the most recent Indian Ocean Tuna Commission scientific committee report dated December 2009, in its management advice:

There is a paucity of information available on this species and this situation is not expected to improve in the short to medium term. There is no quantitative stock assessment or basic fishery indicators currently available for shortfin mako shark in the Indian Ocean therefore the stock status is highly uncertain.

Shortfin mako sharks are commonly taken by a range of fisheries in the Indian Ocean. Because of their life history characteristics—they are relatively long lived (over 24 years), mature at 7-8 years, and have relativity few offspring (<30 pups every three years), the shortfin mako sharks is vulnerable to overfishing.

The recently released Pacific Islands regional plan of action for sharks states that it has been recognised that the catch rates of mako sharks in the commercial fisheries of the South Pacific Ocean have been in decline, that there are concerns that this represents overfishing, and that hence the WCPFC is looking into the issue to attempt stock assessments. Makos are kept for their meat throughout the fisheries. There is no indication mako sharks caught in Australian waters are isolated from those in the wider Pacific and hence we believe it should be assumed that Australia’s makos are also probably suffering from overfishing.

On page 71 of the regional action plan for the western central Pacific, it says that there is limited information on the status of shortfin mako stocks available. Catches and catch rates have steadily increased in the tropical deep longline fishery since 1998 and, while catches and catch rates have shown large interannual fluctuations in the tropical shallow fishery, increasing catches of species have also been recorded in other fisheries in the area.

Estimates from the combined longline fisheries of the WCPFC show a steady decline in catches and catch rates of combined mako sharks—shortfin, longfin and unidentified mako sharks—since the late 1990s. This suggests that the recent levels of fishing effort on mako sharks may be higher than the stocks can sustain. However, thorough assessments have not been undertaken on shortfin makos in the Pacific Ocean. In other words, the stock assessments are unclear. There is a great degree of uncertainty about the sustainability of current practices. Therefore, if we use the precautionary principle, we should be very careful about how we make amendments to facilitate takes when we know that these species are vulnerable and threatened.

The government claims that the amendments we are currently discussing are consistent with the Hawke report, but we do not believe that that is entirely the case. The Hawke report into the EPBC Act recommended that the EPBC Act be amended to allow the take of appendix 2 migratory species that were—and this is the key part—‘subject to management arrangements demonstrating that the take would not be detrimental to survival of the species’. In other words, in not requiring a management plan this amendment is not consistent with the Hawke review.

As has been stated in estimates, the government at the moment are currently undertaking a whole-of-government response to the Hawke report. When they announced that, they also said that there were three things that they would not be doing—related to climate triggers for one and regional forest agreements for another—but we understood that they would then be bringing a comprehensive approach back to how the EPBC Act would be amended. However, this amendment has been taken outside that review process and, as I said, does not implement one of the key essential areas of that recommendation—being subject to management arrangements demonstrating that the take would not be detrimental to the survival of the species. We are unsure not only about what the species populations are but also about the numbers that are being taken and whether they are vulnerable or threatened. We do not know if the current fishing activity is sustainable.

It is extremely disappointing that the exemption does not require recreational fishers to at least have a management plan in place to ensure that the numbers of mako or porbeagle sharks being taken are ecologically sustainable. That is already the case for commercial fishers. Under the EPBC Act, commercial fishers are exempt from offence provisions when they catch listed migratory species if they are cooperating with a fisheries management plan that ostensibly—because, as I have just said, we are not sure about what the population numbers of these species are—has measures in the plan to mitigate their impact on the protected species.

While we oppose the way these amendments have occurred, and these amendments to the act specifically, one of the ways that this can be improved is, we believe, by putting management plans in place. Contrary to the comments made about AFMA overseeing the overall management of the fishery, we have crafted some amendments that we think actually put in place management plans requiring the involvement, obviously, of the fisheries department but that would then be accredited by the Minister for the Environment. We have, in fact, two amendments to propose. First, I am moving a second reading amendment that relates to the issues around the collection of data and calls on the government to fund a dedicated mako and porbeagle shark research and data collection program.

I move:

At the end of the motion, add “but the Senate calls on the Government to fund a dedicated mako and porbeagle shark research and data collection program, working with recreational fishers to conclusively document the status and trajectory of mako and porbeagle sharks in Australian waters”.

We are, as I have said, deeply concerned about the impact these amendments may have on these species. It is not clear that the fishing levels are sustainable and what population numbers are. We believe that, if these amendments go ahead, it is essential that additional resources be made available to ensure that we do have a research and data collection program in place that allows us to get a better handle on the numbers of these three shark species because, as I have articulated, it was clear that the convention considered that these species should be listed globally. There was a key decision made not to list these species regionally. We therefore believe it is essential that the government put more money into the issues around data collection. Secondly, we believe that the issue around the establishment of a management plan is critical. I will be moving amendments in the Committee of the Whole relating to that issue as well.