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Wednesday, 24 October 1984
Page: 2403

(Question No. 1156)

Senator Macklin asked the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice, on 3 October 1984:

(1) What agreement currently exists between Australia and Japan regarding Japanese fishing within the Australian fishing zone (AFZ) off the east coast.

(2) Does information contained in the AFZ Information Bulletin showing that large numbers of black marlin are being taken by Japanese fishing in the east coast area of the AFZ have disastrous ramifications for our local marlin industry.

(3) Will the Government, in future agreements with Japan, place a total ban on marlin fishing in the east coast region of the AFZ.

Senator Grimes —The Minister for Primary Industry has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1) Japanese fishing within the Australian Fishing Zone off the east coast of Australia is covered by the current subsidiary agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of Japan concerning Japanese tuna longline fishing. This agreement expires on 31 October 1984.

(2) The AFZ information bulletin contains information relative to the activity of foreign fishing vessels in the AFZ. It provides an up to date assessment of catch rates as well as a very general indication of the areas in which the catch was taken. This information is largely based on regular radio reports provided by the foreign vessels concerned.

Over the period 1980 to 1983 this information indicates that their total catch of black marlin off the east coast averaged 260 tonnes. This represented 5 per cent of the total catch in these waters. The present state of our knowledge suggests that the stocks of billfish (including black marlin) are not currently endangered in these areas. I am also not aware of any scientific publication which suggests that longline fishing is having a deleterious effect on billfish stocks.

In response to earlier concerns by game fishing interests, Japanese longliners have already been excluded from extensive areas off the east coast of Australia where direct competition with Australian fishermen was evident.

(3) Because of the largely non-selective nature of the fishing method concerned the institution of a total ban on the take of marlin would involve a virtual prohibition on longlining by Japanese longliners off our eastern coast. Having regard to these circumstances and in the absence of clear evidence that our marlin industry or resource is being significantly affected, the imposition of a total ban on taking of marlin would be an extreme reaction. It would undoubtedly bring a strong reaction from Japan especially in view of our international obligation to permit foreign vessels access to those resources of our zone which are excess to our harvesting capacity.

The matter was discussed during the recently concluded negotiations on the terms and conditions to apply to Japanese access to the AFZ during 1984/85. The Japanese Government and tuna industry organisations present at the negotiations were advised of the concerns of the Australian game fishing industry and of the need to ensure their operations were not jeopardised by Japanese fishing activity. As a consequence Japanese longliners operating off the east coast will be instructed by their Association to release all marlin which is alive at the time their fishing gear is recovered. They have also agreed to modified reporting procedures designed to improve their catch/position reporting off Cairns.

The situation with respect to Japanese participation in the marlin fishery off the east coast will be kept under review during the course of the 1984-85 Agreement.