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Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee
09/02/2016
Estimates
AGRICULTURE AND WATER RESOURCES PORTFOLIO
Australian Fisheries Management Authority

Australian Fisheries Management Authority

[14:20]

ACTING CHAIR: Senator Whish-Wilson, do you want to kick off?

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Can I ask you about the announcement recently around the deaths of albatrosses by the FV Geelong Star. The AFMA south-east management advisory committee noted in the August-September  2015 minutes that since commencing operations in 2015 nine common dolphins, 12 Australian fur seals, two shy albatrosses and three shortfin mako shark fatalities had been reported by the one midwater trawler in the SPF, the Geelong Star. The meeting discussed measures taken to mitigate further albatross deaths. The minutes said:

Mr Day also noted that two shy albatross interactions occurred during the day. Mr Geen confirmed that the FV Geelong Star is using bafflers to minimise interactions with seabirds. The albatrosses interacted with were caught on the third wire and the vessel has since added a pinkie to the wire to further minimise interactions.

At that stage did AFMA assess the management of netsonde cable by the Geelong Star following those first interactions?

Dr Findlay : Right from the outset we have been closely monitoring the requirements for this boat to make sure that it meets the highest standards to minimise its interactions with threatened, endangered and protected species. That includes looking at the gear, including the netsonde cable. We have looked at research around netsonde cable. We have looked at the pros and cons in terms of their fishing operations and at ways to mitigate the risk to sea birds in particular from netsonde cable. As you will note, additional mitigation measures were added to the netsonde cable. As a result of the more recent deaths of albatrosses, further changes were made to the netsonde cable to further reduce that risk.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: That is recently, in the last few weeks?

Dr Findlay : After the report from the vessel of the five additional albatross being taken, as per the AFMA press release, we met with the vessel, we met with sea bird experts and reviewed the current arrangements for netsonde cable and the changes to be made to reduce that risk, which have now been implemented.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Back in 2015, and regarding the incident I was discussing there as reflected in the minutes, did AFMA place any further restrictions on the Geelong Star following those first two albatross deaths?

Dr Findlay : In response to those first two albatross deaths, I do not think so.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Just to be clear, the additional measures that you have now put in place are to put streamers or some kind of illumination on the cable; is that correct?

Dr Findlay : There are a number of measures that have been taken to further increase the likelihood that the birds can see the cable. That includes additional streamers around the cable and lowering the tow angle of the cable, to reduce the likelihood that the birds will come into contact with it.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Are you confident that those measures will prevent additional interactions or bird deaths?

Dr Findlay : You can never prevent that. All human activities in all of the natural environment have an impact on various animals, including non-extractive uses like sailing and diving, despite what people claim. So we keep that closely under scrutiny. We make sure that we have the best available measures in place, and, if we need to, because of further deaths, we will impose further conditions if we think there is something else we can do to reduce that risk.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: My question relates to, I suppose, why countries like New Zealand have banned the netsonde cable. I understand that in CCAMLR waters they are also banned; is that correct?

Dr Findlay : For demersal trawlers—I think this is an important point; I have seen various media reporting about this netsonde cable issue, which is what most people are familiar with—they do not need to use netsonde cable as much because they are running the net on the bottom. For midwater trawlers, if you are going to midwater trawl you need to keep the net, by definition, off the bottom, and that is something we want. For everyone else, the netsonde cable attaches real-time information back to the vessel—acoustic information about the geometry of the net, and in particular how close it is to the bottom. For midwater trawlers, including vessels like the Geelong Star, netsonde information is very valuable to minimise the risk of contact to the bottom. It also gives them information about how much fish is in the net. That is important in minimising wastage. Once the net becomes full, there is potential wastage outside the net. So netsonde cable provides valuable information.

We have also found that it provides information about the proximity of dolphins and seals around the net. It is a useful piece of equipment to the vessel and to us for monitoring. So at the moment we are leaving the netsonde cable in place. If it becomes the case that we think that the cons outweigh the pros then that is something we would regulate for.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: As a matter of interest, are New Zealand midwater trawlers all able to use netsonde cable?

Dr Findlay : I am not sure. I would have to go back through the material, unless Dr Rayns knows about New Zealand vessels.

Dr Rayns : We understand that there are some circumstances where netsonde cable are allowed to be used by midwater trawlers, but it is by individual case. So it depends on the vessel and the requirement.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Do you know, Dr Rayns, if there are any other jurisdictions that also ban netsonde cable?

Dr Rayns : Not off the top of my head. I know they are used elsewhere in the world. We know they are used elsewhere. But I am not aware of other bans.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: What is the key reason that they are banned in New Zealand?

Dr Rayns : I did not ask that question of them, to be honest. We could take that on notice and find out.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: All right.

Dr Findlay : My understanding from reading the literature is that it is around minimising the risk to sea birds. As I said, in demersal vessels it makes sense to remove netsonde cable. That is what has happened in CCAMLR. With midwater trawlers I think there is a debate to be had.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Could I ask some more general questions, starting with the observer coverage. What is the current plan with observer coverage on the Geelong Star? Will there be 100 per cent coverage indefinitely or do you have a time frame on having two observers on the trawler?

Dr Findlay : As we explained from the outset, we will have two observers plus the cameras on board the boat until we have sufficient information to undertake that review. We think that will be around 10 trips. We have not got to 10 trips yet. We are still to undertake that review.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: You define a trip as in when the boat leaves a particular port and returns to that port; is that correct?

Dr Findlay : When the boat undertakes a fishing operation, between unloads, generally.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: When those 10 trips are up, you will be reviewing whether you have 100 per cent observer cover?

Dr Findlay : We base our management on science and data. That is the proper process, not on emotional or other concerns. We will be reviewing the data when that data is available.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: If it is purely scientific, can you give us an indication about the mortalities we have seen so far in, for example, albatrosses or dolphins—whether that would be enough to justify maintaining 100 per cent observer coverage?

Dr Findlay : Interaction rates are one of the things we look at very much when we are looking at whether or not vessels need observers. We have 300-plus boats in our Commonwealth fisheries and we deploy observers variously across those boats according to various risks, including threatened, endangered and protected species risks. Absolutely, that would be normal practice.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: When does the Geelong Star next have to file its report about its interactions?

Dr Findlay : The vessel has to tell us immediately if it has interactions with threatened, endangered and protected species. We report that information quarterly, and publicly.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Immediately. That is what you did with the albatrosses that were brought to your attention—immediately?

Dr Findlay : That is right.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Could I ask about the markets for the small pelagic fish. Are you able to tell us where those fish have been sold?

Dr Findlay : Those are questions very much for the company. Our understanding—it is purely based on what we understand—is that the vast majority of the fish are being sold in Africa. I should clarify my answer to a previous question. When it came to the albatross question, it is a bit like with the dolphins. Outside our quarterly reporting, we did bring that to the attention of the public, including the management action that AFMA had taken. Outside the quarterly reporting, when we have those events and we are taking immediate action, we have been reporting that.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: The minister may want to make a comment on this: has AFMA been involved in discussions or meetings with rec fishing groups? I know you have a consultation process, but have you been involved in any direct discussions with rec fishing groups about exclusion zones for the Geelong Star or issues around localised depletion and that kind of thing?

Senator Ruston: Late last year, at the request of both the recreational fishing sector and the operators within the small pelagic fishery—the Geelong Star—I asked for them to meet to discuss mutual issues because it appeared to me that possibly they were not discussing them with each other and that maybe both sides were not very clear about what was going on. The first meeting resolved that the boat operators voluntarily remove themselves from fishing in a particular area off the New South Wales coast.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Could I get you to clarify what that area was, Minister?

Senator Ruston: It was zone 7, which is above Sydney. There is another meeting, a voluntary meeting, being held later this month dealing with some other requests by the recreational fishers about the areas that are particularly important to them—whether it be permanent, like not fishing there at all, or excluding themselves from particular areas, for instance if there was a game fishing tournament on. Obviously the catching of bait is particularly significant and important for them at that time. We are hopeful that, with these ongoing conversations, we will be able to reach a situation where the resource we are talking about, the small pelagic fishery resource, is able to be shared between both the commercial operator and the recreational fishers. Whilst we still have a long way to go, it was a very pleasing first step.

Dr Findlay : In addition to the minister's meeting, which was quite productive and did reach that agreement, AFMA has been at various meetings, both individually with recreational groups and commercial groups and also together with those groups, around those issues around recreational areas over a number of years.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: With things like move-on clauses, that kind of stuff, how do you get good representation in the rec fishing community? Are you confident that you have got the right people in the rec fishing community and the right groups in these discussions? My feedback has been that many have not been included, or have not wanted to be included.

Senator Ruston: Certainly you touch on a relevant point here in relation to representation within any sector, which is made all the more difficult by this being a recreational sector that we are seeking to get representation from. We understand that there are probably in excess of five million people who quite enjoy throwing the line in the water, wanting to catch a fish. We sought to speak with the bodies that have structured and formed—for instance, the Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation, and the Australian Game Fishing Association. We have also sought to engage with some of the commentators. Obviously they have a reasonably big reach in the social media space—

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Celebrity rec fishers; would that be a fair assessment?

Senator Ruston: Not necessarily, but there you go. But certainly we have tried to come up with the broadest range. We also have not sought to exclude anybody who has shown that they do represent recreational fishers. If they want to participate in this process, we are happy to engage with them. You make a very valid point—it is extremely difficult when you have got five million people across the whole of the country and everybody has a view on things. We have attempted, as best we can, to get the representative groups together.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I applaud your attempt to include them in the processes. I am interested in zone  7. What happens when Tasmanian rec fishing communities want their zones excluded or have move-on clauses added or areas that are prohibited? How do you manage that? Is it on the basis of politics, or is there a scientific basis to this kind of move-on clause?

Senator Ruston: To some degree the process that we are going through here is not necessarily scientific. The process here is about trying to put a forum in place to enable us to negotiate the sharing of a resource. We have a number of groups, stakeholders, who have a stake in our fisheries. They are not just commercial fishers or rec fishers; they are people who might like to use it for sporting activities—divers, et cetera. It could be transport, it could be mining, it could be people who have environmental concerns. The thing we have to remember about Australian fisheries is that they are owned by all Australians; and there are a vast number of people who have a stake in them. What we were attempting to do is not to come up with any necessarily scientific basis. Hence the reason we wanted this to be a voluntary decision on behalf of the boat, through the negotiation with the rec fishers—because it is a shared resource. If you can get an agreement between parties about how they are going to share it, it is a much better outcome than having to enforce one. That is what we were attempting to do. As I said, it is early stages, but so far we have been reasonably happy that they have entered into negotiations in good faith and they will continue to do so.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: But you have reached an agreement on zone 7; is that correct?

Senator Ruston: The operators of the boat voluntarily agreed that they would not fish in zone 7. There probably would have been a myriad of reasons behind their decision. They may have thought that from an economic perspective it wasn't a zone that was tremendously important. But what I would like to do is try to see if we can reach agreement by this voluntary process. If we are unable to reach an agreement on a voluntary process and we still have some issues, then we may have to address them in another way. But right now I think the best way to do it is if everybody can come to a mutual agreement; then the outcome is going to be a whole heap better.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Just a couple more questions. I understand the small pelagic fishery quota has been increased recently—not necessarily for the super trawler but across the board. Are you able to tell us whether the Geelong Star has been able to fish its quota?

Dr Findlay : No, Senator. Just to clarify, the quota has not been increased recently. The season runs from 1 May through to 30 April the following year. So we are still running in the current season until 30 April. We have got more recent science—which was something that everyone wanted—about some of the stocks. That information is currently being considered through the resource assessment process.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: That is the daily production surveys?

Dr Findlay : The daily production surveys, that's right. So that information was presented by the scientific panel to the SPF stakeholder forum. We are currently seeking views from the MAC, prior to the AFMA commission considering the advice of those groups and others prior to setting the TAC ahead of the 1 May start day.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I know some of this is adaptive in nature, but has the trawler been able to fish its quota? Have there been plenty of fish out there?

Dr Findlay : At the moment it is doing quite well in terms of finding fish. There are lots of fish in the areas it has been fishing in. We have been quite pleased. I have personally spent the last couple of weeks down on the south coast of New South Wales and was pleased to see very high levels of bait in the area that the trawler has been operating in for quite some time. So despite some social media reporting that the bait was all gone, that is certainly not the case and the guys who are fishing down there are very pleased with the amount of bait in the exact area the boat has been working.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Do you guys study the movements of the bait fish themselves?

Dr Findlay : The moving patterns of these things are very difficult to actually scientifically study. I think we have talked about that here many times. They are considered to be a fairly fluid stock.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I am interested in shark interactions because in places like Byron Bay there seems to be lots of bait fish around the beach, and I have heard that is very unusual. I was wondering if you have scientific—

Dr Findlay : I do not think lots of bait fish around beaches in Australia is very unusual. Various people, of course, will provide various anecdotal information. If you have seen aerial photographs of spawning aggregations of sardines and frogmouth pilchards on the Australian coast, it's an annual event. Sometimes the location varies and places like the mullet run and other things like that do vary. Australia has healthy fish resources, particularly healthy small pelagic fish resources. Some of those fish spawn against the beach, so in some of those areas seasonally there is a very high abundance of small pelagics. High abundance of small pelagics will attract predators, including sharks.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: So when do you expect that that resource assessment, or the quota assessment, will be finished?

Dr Findlay : The scientific panel process is finished at the moment, and we are going through the consultation process. Once we have those consultations completed, the AFMA commission will be provided with all of that information to enable us to make a decision on the new TACs.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Would the Geelong Star, at its current capacity, be suitable or capable of fishing a larger quota, the way it is with its freezing capacity?

Dr Findlay : I am not sure. Could it take the TAC?

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Yes.

Dr Findlay : I would have to do some maths on its carrying ability. Its fishing capacity exceeds its processing capacity at the moment.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: That is correct.

Dr Findlay : So at the moment we are seeing it processing on a good day between about 100 and 150 tonnes. You can do your own maths based on the operational requirements.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I will go back and do that. Thank you.

ACTING CHAIR: Senator Siewert, you want to clarify something first before I go to Senator Brown?

Senator SIEWERT: I have since discovered another couple of questions that belong here; not elsewhere.

ACTING CHAIR: Do you mind if I flick across to Senator Brown?

Senator SIEWERT: That's fine.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Just for starters, what version of the Geelong Star's management plan are we up to?

Dr Rayns : Version 1.6.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Does that mean—

Dr Rayns : So it is version 6.

Senator CAROL BROWN: That includes all the extra conditions that have been placed on it during a number of incidents that have happened?

Dr Rayns : That is correct, yes.

Senator CAROL BROWN: When were the changes made on the last version?

Dr Rayns : They were made in relation to the albatross events that happened in January, which have just been spoken about. If my recollection is correct, the new version would have been posted on or about 1 February.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Just to clarify, how many mortalities does there have to be to institute a ban or take some action for dolphins and seabirds—

Dr Findlay : We have taken quite strict action around dolphins. A single dolphin mortality results in large area closures. These are very, very large areas; in excess of a million square kilometres in some cases. So we have already taken very strict action. I do not know another fishery in the world that has a standard that is that high—in Australia or elsewhere. The current conditions aboard this vessel with regard to seabirds are very high, and appropriately so. We have move-on provisions around seals. Let us be very clear about the conditions on this boat—

Senator CAROL BROWN: Yes, but how many—

Dr Findlay : At the moment we have a one-dolphin limit before closures—

Senator CAROL BROWN: What about seabirds?

Dr Findlay : of six months. At moment there is a stop requirement for the death of any seabirds and review the current arrangements. But we do not set quotas at the moment for seabirds in this fishery or other fisheries. We have rates, and we try to manage the impacts of fisheries. All of our human activities have impacts. If someone is going to say that the only acceptable level is zero, then none of us had better leave this room.

Senator CAROL BROWN: No. I am asking you what AFMA are setting the rate as.

Dr Findlay : At the moment we do not have a fixed rate beyond dolphins. We have move-on rates around seals, and we have a stop arrangement around seabirds.

Senator CAROL BROWN: So no fixed rates for seals?

Dr Findlay : At the moment there is a condition around seals. The conditions on seals vary according to numbers over time. On sea lions it is very strict. You are not allowed to catch a sea lion.

Senator CAROL BROWN: So that is a rate of one?

Dr Findlay : Yes.

Senator CAROL BROWN: What does that trigger—a six-month ban?

Dr Findlay : On sea lions?

Senator CAROL BROWN: Yes.

Dr Findlay : They would be out of the area that sea lions occurred for 18 months.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Exclusion from that zone?

Dr Rayns : It is an exclusion area from anywhere where they could interact with Australian sea lions.

Senator CAROL BROWN: For 18 months.

Dr Rayns : It is adjacent to South Australia, WA.

Dr Findlay : Let me be very clear on that condition. We have recreational fishers and other marine users who are likely interacting and killing some of those animals. They are not bound by any conditions. In fact, most of them probably aren't even monitored. The level of monitoring and control around this place is incredibly high.

Senator CAROL BROWN: I am trying to get some answers for my questions as to what you have. So with the interactions, or deaths, of seabirds there is a move-on provision? Is that what you said?

Dr Rayns : Seabirds is a stop fishing, Senator. So basically if there is another death of a seabird on the netsonde cables, it is a stop fishing and review process. If there is one or more than one seabird death on the boat at any point of the fishing gear, there is a stop fishing and review process.

Senator CAROL BROWN: What happens after that?

Dr Rayns : That depends. The way we have set this up is it depends on a range of issues. One is, what was the nature of the interaction and what with? For example, the interaction could have been with a rare and endangered species; it could have been with a mutton bird. So to some degree our responses depend on the conservation status of the animal that has been interacted with. The other thing to look at is how that interaction occurred. As Dr  Findlay has previously said, are there further actions that we could reasonably take to prevent those interactions from occurring in the future?

Senator CAROL BROWN: Let's just take the latest change to the management plan in terms of the report about the albatrosses. Can you take me through when that was? When did that happen?

Dr Rayns : It happened on 14 January. There was an interaction with five albatross, and one shot.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Five albatrosses?

Dr Findlay : I've got it.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Okay.

Dr Rayns : One shooting of the net, to answer your question.

Senator CAROL BROWN: What happened? Just talk us through what happened.

Dr Rayns : The process was that the net was pulled in and the five mortalities were observed. They were reported by the boat and by the observer.

Senator CAROL BROWN: What zone was it, by the way?

Dr Rayns : It was zone 6. They were reported by the observer and by the boat. We immediately initiated an investigation to find the cause of the mortalities. It became clear that the netsonde cable was involved in those mortalities and we then initiated a process of review to bring into place some new measures that came into effect on 30 January. During that time, I should add, the boat came back to port and we met the boat in port and discussed the matters with the vessel's operators.

Senator CAROL BROWN: So the boat came immediately back to port?

Dr Rayns : Not immediately, no. There were several days where it—

Senator CAROL BROWN: It was still fishing?

Dr Rayns : It still fished for several days and the last day of fishing, from my recollection, was 21 January.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Was that the normal time that they would have returned anyway?

Dr Rayns : I think this is tied in also with the undertakings that were spoken about earlier. There was a major fishing competition about to occur on that coast—I think it was the Bermagui Bluewater Classic, from memory—and the vessel had given the undertakings as spoken about to stay away from those areas during that time, and it did so.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Just as an aside, do you happen to know when that fishing event was on?

Dr Rayns : My recollection is Saturday, Sunday and Monday being 23, 24 and 25 January.

Senator CAROL BROWN: So it got out of that area about three days beforehand?

Dr Rayns : Roughly two to three days.

Senator CAROL BROWN: So it has come back into port?

Dr Rayns : Yes.

Senator CAROL BROWN: What happened after that?

Dr Rayns : Our officers met the vessel on the following Monday, which would have been the 25th; so we met the vessel at that stage. The operators had in the meantime brought in their own seabird expert to start working on a proposal, which we had requested of them, to deal with this issue and prove the effectiveness of the mitigation. That was presented to us. We then had it reviewed by two independent experts to make sure that what was being proposed was good practice, best practice, and we took the experts' advice. What you have seen with the implementation of what is called a snatch block off the back of the boat which pushes the netsonde cable into the water immediately behind the vessel with paired tori lines, which are streamer lines in the side of that cable, would have resulted in the major changes that were made, along with the requirement for tighter reporting around seabird mortalities in future.

Senator CAROL BROWN: So you accepted the conditions or the mitigation that Geelong Star put forward?

Dr Rayns : On advice from experts.

Senator CAROL BROWN: What happened after that?

Dr Rayns : We then moved to implement those changes; so we brought them into effect. The vessel was not fishing and we had given instructions for it not to fish until those measures were in place. So we advised the boat of those measures on 30 January. It was able to put those measures in place in about 24 hours and recommence fishing on 31 January.

Senator CAROL BROWN: So they recommenced on 31 January?

Dr Rayns : Yes.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Everything that you have asked of the Geelong Star they have complied with?

Dr Rayns : Yes, and we have a bycatch officer on board to make sure that the new measures are effective, as well as our observer.

Dr Findlay : Can I just be very clear on that one—we are not asking them to do it; we are telling them to do it through their vessel management plan. They must abide by their vessel management plan as part of the regulation requirements; they are not doing it voluntarily.

Senator CAROL BROWN: As part of their management plan?

Dr Findlay : It is part of our requirements on the vessel, as the regulator.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Can I ask then when the deaths of the albatrosses were reported publicly?

Dr Rayns : My recollection is that they were reported publicly on 29 January, I think, on the Friday.

Senator CAROL BROWN: So not immediately?

Dr Rayns : No.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Why was not it reported immediately?

Dr Rayns : We have 300-plus vessels in the fleet and we report protected species interactions normally on a quarterly basis for all fisheries and for boats; so that was our normal practice. However, we realise that in this case this was something of an exception; it was a rare and unusual event. The additional issue was that the Geelong Star itself by that stage was stationed off Eden and it would have come to the public's attention in any case, wondering what the boat was doing there, so we thought we would pre-empt the obvious public question and put out a statement to say, 'This is what is going on.'

Dr Findlay : Could I make it clear that there is no requirement for us to publicly report every one of these events and, as Dr Rayns has said, we manage a lot of boats on a daily basis. Unfortunately, some of those have interactions; so we could be overwhelming the public with daily reports of every species that was killed. But we do make that information available on a quarterly basis and it is aggregated for all fisheries. But on an occasional basis—and this is not just about the Geelong Star; we do it in a number of fisheries where we have exceptional events going on and we are taking urgent action and it often involves a significant impact on the industry—we do let people know about that. We think that is appropriate.

Senator CAROL BROWN: It is just that I thought in your discussion with Senator Whish-Wilson you had indicated that there was an immediate reporting of these incidents. I must have misheard.

Dr Findlay : No. You heard me precisely but you probably misheard the second part, which is that it is immediately reported to AFMA. It is then up to AFMA to subsequently report that as part of our normal process.

Senator CAROL BROWN: I do not to have tell you that there is a lot of public interest in the Geelong Star, not just within the recreational fishing industry but other industries and other stakeholders; and reporting something because you think you will be found out anyway is probably not a good—

Dr Findlay : No; perhaps I am not saying this clearly. We voluntarily report various actions, AFMA management actions, with regard to industry on a regular basis, so it is not just about the Geelong Star. We have reported this for a number of fisheries where we take action. There is lots of public interest and lots of issues. The tax records of various parliamentarians and the mental health records of the Prime Minister are probably very interesting to a whole bunch of people. The information that the government holds about that, just because there is a public interest about it does not mean that it gets reported. So I do not accept your premise that—

Senator CAROL BROWN: No. You reported this one based on the fact—I think it was said—that it was in the port and people would have worked it out anyway.

Dr Findlay : No. I am sorry, can I—

Senator Ruston: Can I just respond to this? One of the things that are probably worth mentioning here is that you are right, that there is a high level of interest in this boat and that the interactions with the albatross in this particular catch period were quite high. The decision to actually advise the public of what had happened was not just the sole reason for this information to be put out there but also to allow the public to know that the government, through its regulator, was responding quickly to something that they thought was unacceptable. So it was not just the fact that the birds were caught but the fact that the immediate action was taken to mitigate the situation so that it did not happen again. So it is also about providing information to the public about what the government is doing to protect not just the sustainability of our fisheries but also bycatch. So I actually think that we should be viewing what happened here in a very, very positive way. This is not about hiding anything. As you rightly point out, this stuff has to be reported anyway. But by telling the public and keeping them informed I think we are showing a very positive and proactive approach to how we are handling and managing our fisheries, which actually can only be of benefit to Australians who have the best managed fisheries in the world, and we should all be very proud of that.

Senator CAROL BROWN: What I was actually saying was that there was some indication that this was reported immediately, but it was not immediately at all; it was done, I think you said, on the 29th?

Dr Rayns : Yes.

Senator Ruston: It was Friday morning.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: It wasn't a dead duck Friday afternoon!

Dr Rayns : I had staff working on Saturday. I do not need that.

Senator CAROL BROWN: I will leave that to one side. In terms of the fishing classic, I think you called it, Minister, was that three-day period or two-day period something that was discussed at—I am not sure what you are calling the group that you met with, I think, in December. Was that some sort of working group or something?

Senator Ruston: It was an informal group of people who had registered an interest in this particular issue.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Was that issue discussed, that the trawler would move away from an area that was going to have a fishing contest?

Senator Ruston: Certainly one of the issues that were discussed at the meeting was that the trawler would voluntarily not fish within an area where recreational fishing activity, where a major tournament activity, was about to occur. The Bermagui Bluewater Classic is one of the premium game fishing tournaments in Australia; so they agreed not to fish in the lead-up to the tournament and during the tournament.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Was there a discussion about what that actually means in terms of how many days they would move out of the area and how far away? What surrounds this commitment?

Dr Findlay : That is one of the things that we are hoping to pick up in the next round of the discussions in terms of specifying further the voluntary arrangements that the vessel might enter into in terms of how far away and how many days before those major events or, more broadly, high-use recreational areas outside tournaments; they are certainly on the table as well. At the moment the vessel has made a commitment to stay away from those areas. You would have to ask them what they meant when they made that commitment through their press release in terms of how long and how far.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Do you know, Minister?

Senator Ruston: No. As Dr Findlay has said, it was a voluntary action on behalf of the vessel. When they issued their press release, they were specific about zone 7, but there are further discussions about the specific details of what the vessel will voluntarily agree in terms of the separation in the other zones around Australia, including the zones off Tasmania.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Have you received any feedback about how that worked?

Senator Ruston: How?

Senator CAROL BROWN: With the Geelong Star moving out a couple of days beforehand? Was there any feedback about whether that was effective or was a long enough period of time?

Dr Findlay : My understanding is that the tournament was very successful. There were high levels of bait fish in the area and there was a lot of marlin taken during that time and certainly people involved thought it was a very successful tournament. Whether or not you can correlate that to the presence or absence of the Geelong Star is for others to make their own conclusions.

Senator CAROL BROWN: So no comments were made ever to the minister's office or through AFMA about how effective it was?

Senator Ruston: In relation to the tournament?

Senator CAROL BROWN: Yes.

Senator Ruston: As Dr Findlay pointed out—

Senator CAROL BROWN: That is not an answer to my question.

Senator Ruston: No, I have not had any representations from anybody and I am not aware of any that have gone through Minister Joyce's office to say that there has been any negative impact on the Bermagui Bluewater Classic from the actions of the boat.

Dr Findlay : Similarly, I do not think AFMA got any feedback.

Senator CAROL BROWN: I have a few more questions in terms of the stakeholder meeting in Hobart on 28  January. Can you tell me who attended or do you have the invitation list?

Dr Rayns : We can provide you with that list and who attended as well. It was quite a long list of invitees and I certainly cannot remember them all.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Please provide that on notice and who attended.

Dr Rayns : Yes.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Was that the first one? Are there any more?

Dr Rayns : It is the first one under the new scientific advisory process that AFMA has established. There were two previous stakeholder forums but they were more about the fishery in general. This particular stakeholder forum, which was run through the new scientific panel that AFMA has established, was to look at particular scientific issues about the fishery and those included the small pelagic fishery harvest strategy, the new daily egg production survey results that had come through and also the recommended biological catches that the panel was considering to put forward to AFMA.

Senator CAROL BROWN: How much did it cost to put the conference together?

Dr Rayns : I would have to take that on notice. I can tell you that the attendees from the two sectors that did attend—the conservation and recreational fishing sectors—were there under their own means; we did not assist them. Unfortunately, nobody from the industry was able to attend on the day.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Did you go, Senator Ruston?

Senator Ruston: No. This was separate to the informal forum that I put together in relation to the voluntary actions of the boat in relation to recreational fishing interests.

Senator CAROL BROWN: So what did AFMA have to pick up: just the hiring of the venue and the hospitality—

Dr Rayns : I was there and was involved with the organisation. It would have been the hiring of the venue and the costs of having some of our staff and the scientific panel members down there overnight. We met the evening before the meeting, so we were there overnight. They would have been the main costs. Of course, there were the flights back and forth for the various panel members and AFMA staff.

Senator CAROL BROWN: You do not have that information with you?

Dr Rayns : I am sorry; not offhand, no.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Can you supply me with the details of the costs broken down by accommodation, hospitality, venue hire and those sorts of things?

Dr Rayns : Certainly.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Was it reported about the deaths of the albatrosses at that meeting?

Dr Rayns : No, they were not reported there. There was no discussion about protected species' interactions at all.

Senator CAROL BROWN: No questions were asked about it?

Dr Rayns : I cannot recall. The meeting went on for quite a few hours and unfortunately I was not in the room for the whole time. When I was there, I do not recall specific questions being asked about protected species. There was a question raised about whether the scientific panel was going to look at protected species' issues in future because it came with a particular agenda to that meeting, as I have just described, and the answer was that the panel and the chair were considering that in terms of what they may do in relation to the involvement of protected species' issues in the SPF in future.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Did AFMA attend the 1 December meeting with the informal group?

Dr Findlay : Yes, we did.

Senator CAROL BROWN: How long has it taken AFMA to commence seeking scientific and economic advice with respect to the Small Pelagic Fishery?

Dr Rayns : We previously sought that advice under the former Small Pelagic Fishery Resource Assessment Group and also from the South East Management Advisory Committee, which is still present. That resource assessment group was in existence for probably around 15 years or so, but Dr Findlay may have had some early association with that that I did not.

Dr Findlay : Yes, it has been a group that I have been involved with in various incarnations for quite a long time. When AFMA was formed in 1992, this was a fishery that AFMA was already managing at that stage; it was an informally managed fishery. It later became the Jack Mackerel Fishery and subsequently became the Small Pelagic Fishery. So it is something that we have been working on for a very long time.

Senator CAROL BROWN: When did it become the SPF?

Dr Findlay : I would have to take that on notice in terms of when the name change occurred, but it was probably the early 2000s or something like that.

Senator CAROL BROWN: This is probably my last question. Are you able to update us on the progress of the scientific panel? I think you touched on it earlier in the SPF.

Dr Rayns : The scientific panel is in the process of providing its advice to the management advisory committee. They meet next week, so the panel's advice will be considered by the management advisory committee, noting that the panel's advice is also provided directly to the AFMA Commission. So the commission sees the advice direct from the panel and with any comments from the MAC on top of that.

Senator CAROL BROWN: What do we expect to happen after that?

Dr Rayns : I cannot second-guess the meeting next week. The MAC comprises recreational, conservation, industry and AFMA scientists. They will draw their own conclusions and provide their advice to AFMA post their meeting, I suspect.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Exactly when is the meeting?

Dr Rayns : It is next week. I think it is 15 or 16 February, but I would have to confirm that.

Senator CAROL BROWN: The membership of that group?

Dr Rayns : There is a recreational fishing member, there is a conservation member, there is a scientific member, there are at least two industry members—if I recall correctly—there is an AFMA member and there is an independent chair.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Who was the chair?

Dr Rayns : I am just trying to remember offhand. I will keep working on it. I will think about it. It will come back into my head. It is Di Tarte.

ACTING CHAIR: Di Tarte?

Dr Rayns : Yes.

Dr Findlay : Can I be very clear? That is an advisory group amongst other advisory processes. It is the AFMA Commission, of which I am one member of seven, that actually makes the decision here. The management advisory committee is not a decision-making body.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Is it possible to get a list, if you have not already provided it, of what zones these mortalities are occurring in?

Dr Rayns : The ones that we have been talking about in January occurred in zone 6.

Senator CAROL BROWN: All of the ones that have occurred.

Dr Rayns : Yes. They were in zone 6. But there are some previous ones—several previously already reported mortalities that occurred across several other zones. I think I have actually got the information here.

Dr Findlay : All the dolphins were in zone 6.

Dr Rayns : Yes. Are you talking about albatross?

Senator CAROL BROWN: Yes.

Dr Rayns : We have got zone 6, zone 4 and zone 3. They are the areas where, in combination, all the mortalities occurred.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Were the albatrosses in zone 6 as well? They were, weren't they?

Dr Rayns : The albatross were in zone 6, yes, the ones we just spoke about earlier in January.

Senator CAROL BROWN: What about seals?

Dr Rayns : The seals—I have got a range here—occurred in zones 4, 6. I am just trying to see if there were any others—3 and 6. So 3, 4 and 6.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Can you table a copy of those mortalities?

Dr Rayns : Yes, we probably can. We should be able to.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Thank you.

Senator SIEWERT: I have what is perhaps a clarifying question. The responsibility for drafting the Australian plan of action for seabirds, which I understand is part of our commitment to the Food and Agriculture Organisation: is it here where I ask that question or do I ask it later on?

Senator Ruston: It falls within this department. Mr Thompson can probably deal with that.

Mr Thompson : The department is responsible for drafting that plan in consultation with fisheries' management agencies and the states. It is a national plan.

Senator SIEWERT: Where is that plan up to?

Mr Thompson : We are doing the development of the national plan now and our aim is to have it covering all Australian fisheries. We expect it to be finalised in early 2017. We have commenced—

Senator SIEWERT: So in a year.

Mr Thompson : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: What was the anticipated date for it?

Mr Thompson : Early 2017.

Senator SIEWERT: In other words, we will meet our required deadline.

Mr Thompson : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: Fantastic. Do you consult? I understand that you are going to cover all Australian fisheries. That will include obviously talking then to the states.

Mr Thompson : The normal approach is that we work with the states and their fisheries' agencies. We probably either formally or informally will seek input from people at a very early stage. Then we will seek views on a draft plan and we will go out to all stakeholders on that.

Senator SIEWERT: When you talk about 'all stakeholders', you mean the broad list and not just the states' and territories' industry?

Mr Thompson : That would be the states, the territories, the fishing industry, the recreational fishers, the environmental NGOs and the scientific community.

Senator SIEWERT: Obviously I will not traverse the issues that have just been asked about albatross and the Geelong Star in particular, but I do want to ask about issues around the attraction of seabirds, particularly albatross and petrel species, to trawling because of dumping of offal. I am wondering what you are doing about that particular issue.

Dr Findlay : Could I just clarify: is this in relation to the Geelong Star or in relation to trawlers in general?

Senator SIEWERT: Trawling in general, because obviously the answers that you gave previously were specifically looking at that issue. I am asking in general.

Dr Findlay : Offal discharge is one of the issues that we are certainly concerned about in terms of warp strikes with seabirds around the back of trawlers. Stopping people discharging offal is difficult on some small boats. It is only one of a range of measures that we are recommending that the industry implement to minimise their interactions with seabirds. I have been really pleased that in the South East Trawl Fishery they have taken up the cudgels and actually looked at a whole bunch of quite innovative solutions about minimising their interactions with seabirds, including encouraging their members to minimise their discharge of offal while the gear is in the water.

In our Antarctic fisheries we already have no offal discharge while the gear is in the water. In our Small Pelagic Fishery there is no offal discharge while the gear is in the water. NPF is one that we are looking at; again they are looking at ways to get the fish back under the water to avoid the cables. In the South East Trawl and the Great Australian Bight Trawl fisheries, again, it is looking at a range of measures, including offal discharge, to reduce that. It is one of the things that they have got in their vessel management plans for seabirds. For some of the boats, it works quite well; for others, they have had to look at other measures than offal discharge. But it is still something that they and we are very keen to pursue.

Senator SIEWERT: What is the time line? If this is an ongoing issue and the current process is not working, what is your time line for the next—

Dr Findlay : The current process is working, and I think that is the important thing. The use of pinkies, which are these large buoys on the line to actually deflect birds away from the warp, has actually seen something like a two-thirds reduction in the likelihood of bird strikes. The use of water sprays has further reduced that number to something more like 80 to 90 per cent. So, even without looking at offal discharge, we have already seen a very large reduction in the risk being posed to seabirds. We will continue to monitor that through the observer program and we will continue, as I said, to look at improving the way those vessel management plans are reducing the risk to seabirds. It is not a time frame as such; it is continuous improvement.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. I think the other questions I have are questions that I need to put to the Department of the Environment. We did not get there last night, so I will put them on notice. Thank you.

ACTING CHAIR: Does anyone have any questions of AFMA? If they do not, we will call the Australian Grape and Wine Authority.