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Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee
25/02/2014
Estimates
AGRICULTURE PORTFOLIO
Fisheries Research and Development Corporation

Fisheries Research and Development Corporation

ACTING CHAIR: I now welcome officers from the Australian Fisheries Management Authority and the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation.

Senator GALLACHER: I am seeking a bit of clarity about two issues. I will lead off with the first one. With respect to the management advisory committees, I understand there has been a closing date of 15 November 2013?

Senator Colbeck: Could you speak up a bit.

Senator GALLACHER: I am seeking clarity about two issues. The first issue is the management advisory committees. I understand there has been a closing date of 15 November 2013 for the Great Australian Bight MAC, the Northern Prawn MAC, the Southern Bluefin Tuna MAC, the Scallop MAC, the South-East MAC, Subarctic MAC, Torres Strait MAC and the Tropical Tuna MAC. In relation to those management advisory committees, can you update the committee on the appointments for the advisory committee chair positions?

Dr Findlay : I am not sure of the exact dates that you are referring to in terms of the lapsing of all of those committees. I will confirm if I am wrong, but my understanding is that we currently have memberships in place for all of those committees. I would be very surprised if all of them had lapsed on that date. We did a number of appointments last year to a number of those MACs, but not all of those MACs expired on that date. My current understanding is that all of them have current membership.

Senator GALLACHER: What was the process undertaken to fill those positions?

Dr Findlay : The management advisory committees are comprised of members from various groups representing commercial fishers, recreational fishers, a conservation representative as well as other experts, as required, including the AFMA manager. For those external appointments we seek nominations from various groups. We advertise that reasonably widely. Those nominations are then considered by a committee to make a recommendation to the AFMA commission, and all of the members are appointed ultimately by the AFMA commission.

Senator GALLACHER: This committee is a selection panel?

Dr Findlay : Yes. We form selection panels usually comprising one AFMA senior staff member, often the chair of the management advisory committee, and other people as we feel the need. They make a recommendation within each of those categories to recomprise those matters.

Senator GALLACHER: You are advising the committee that this process is complete?

Dr Findlay : Those processes have been completed, yes.

ACTING CHAIR: Who are the other people? Blokes who just walk past? Do you pull someone out of the pub?

Dr Findlay : No. For example, if we are appointing scientific members we may seek particular scientific input to make sure that if we are deciding between experts we are getting the best people we can.

ACTING CHAIR: So they are industry experts, not jobs for the boys?

Dr Findlay : No. They are not industry experts but experts in their fields. Usually it is a senior AFMA staff member, often the general manager of our Fisheries Management Branch, who is not here today. They will work with the management advisory committee chair, who is appointed through a separate process, and then we will seek input from others as need be, but not people off the street. They are experts.

ACTING CHAIR: The others are experts, not failed candidates from a previous election or anything like that?

Dr Findlay : No.

Senator GALLACHER: Prior to the election the coalition provided a policy for a more competitive and sustainable fisheries sector but then proceeded to exclude fisheries from the agriculture white paper. Then subsequently the Seafood Trade Advisory Group is working on a submission for the inclusion of seafood in the white paper on agricultural competitiveness, particularly on issues concerning trade. Can you shed any light on that situation?

Dr Findlay : The agriculture white paper is an issue being led by the department, not the Australian Fisheries Management Authority. I am not sure I can assist you, but representatives from the department may be here to help.

Mr Tucker : The government had separate election policies in terms of agriculture, fisheries and forestry. The commitment to an agriculture white paper was in the agricultural policy. The catching of fish was considered by the government not to be covered by that particular commitment. However, seafood as an export is something that we want to put out to the rest of the world clearly as an agricultural commodity that lines up with other agricultural commodities. There is a point of distinction there.

ACTING CHAIR: That is only 70 per cent. The other 30 per cent of the industry does not matter; it is only the export?

Dr Findlay : For the agriculture competitiveness white paper that is the way that it is being dealt with.

ACTING CHAIR: That is very disappointing.

Senator Colbeck: There will be a separate process whereby I will be interacting directly with fisheries ministers from around the country. I have written to them recently saying that I am looking to work with them on a range of issues around the competitiveness, the future of fisheries and issues that we can cooperate with between state and Commonwealth. I will have a process that will deal with those issues.

ACTING CHAIR: No-one would doubt your commitment. It is a shame the agriculture minister does not see fisheries as being as important. That is the truth. We have been working together for nine years on this. For nine years I have worked with Senator Colbeck. I know his commitment.

Senator GALLACHER: I am careful not to ask for opinion. AFMA obviously has a role of evaluating fisheries. Does the evidence and experience of your department come to the conclusion that fisheries should be included in the white paper?

Dr Findlay : I think you are asking me to express an opinion there.

Senator Colbeck: It is a matter for government, not a matter for AFMA. And you are asking for an opinion. It was a good try.

Senator GALLACHER: Thank you. Has the government established bioregional advisory panels for each of the five marine bioregions?

Senator Colbeck: We have not done that yet. There are still negotiations. It is not an AFMA issue really. It is a matter between the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Environment. The consultation between the two departments on that process is still underway.

Senator GALLACHER: Has the advisory panel met?

Senator Colbeck: No. We are consulting on the process for establishing the bioregional panels and also its membership. That work is still underway.

Senator GALLACHER: Has the recreational fishing council been established?

Senator Colbeck: No. We are working on the membership of that organisation at this stage. I have had a number of discussions with representatives of the recreational fishing sector as to how we might best form that group and we will be having some further consultations with them in about the third week of March.

ACTING CHAIR: Minister, for the recreational fishing group—we know there was a previous one.

Senator Colbeck: That is correct.

ACTING CHAIR: There were two, and succeeded the other. So their term has not been continued?

Senator Colbeck: No, it has not.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Perhaps I could follow on with a similar line of questioning around the Borthwick review and implementation of the recommendations from the Borthwick review. I think at the last estimates the panel said that you were looking at implementing recommendations. Has there been any development there and has anything changed under the new government?

Mr Thompson : The progress is pretty much as it was the last time we spoke to you. The findings of the Borthwick review and the other review that was completed last year have been considered by the government and will be taken into account as the government develops the details of its policy approach to fisheries in the coming months.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: If I could just clarify. It was completed in December 2012. So, that is over a year ago now. There may be a very valid reason, but is there a reason why none of those recommendations has been implemented yet?

Mr Thompson : I could not comment on why the previous government did not implement at that time, but the present government is aware of those recommendations in that review. As I said, they are being taken into account. There is a range of policy initiatives being pursued by the government, as we were talking about earlier, bioregional planning, work with the recreational sector, and deregulatory agendas across a range of areas. As all of that is approached and put into a strategic framework the Borthwick findings and other findings of reviews will be taken into account and considered.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I understand there were lots of recommendations and it was fairly broad. Has there been any clear ministerial direction to AFMA setting out an overarching fisheries management policy framework, as was suggested in the Borthwick review?

Mr Thompson : There has been no direction from the government to AFMA.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Has there been any change in the objectives or any moves—and perhaps I will ask Senator Colbeck this question—in the Fisheries Act to reflect more equally the range of commercial and environmental fishing objectives?

Senator Colbeck: To reflect commercial and—

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Environmental and other issues in terms of the change in the Fisheries Act. That was one of the recommendations of the Borthwick review.

Senator Colbeck: As I indicated a minute ago, I am looking at a number of other issues, including some things that will interact with the states as part of the broader development of fisheries. I am looking to incorporate some of those things as well into the broader review of fisheries.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Fisheries management plans, for example?

Senator Colbeck: As you would be aware, there are currently reviews of bycatch strategy. There is review of some of the harvest strategies going on. The harvest strategy review is underway.

In my consultations that I am looking to have with state counterparts I think a lot of these things can be taken up. What I would like to do is bring all of those things together so that we can have something that is fairly considered. There are some OCS issues that I would like to consider which go to the relationship between the Commonwealth and the states. I would like to consider those agreements as part of the process.

All of those sorts of things are being looked at in the broader scope of things. Rather than just look at the work of Borthwick, I think some of those can inform some of the other things that we are looking at so that we can put together at the end of the day a really well managed strategy for the management of our fisheries to take into account all of the things that you are talking about.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Would that include one of the Borthwick recommendations to work under fisheries management plans, including aspects of the EPBC Act and working with the environment minister?

Senator Colbeck: Obviously the interaction with the Environment Department is an important part of the process, because at the moment there is a requirement for EPBC Act approval for products that are exported. That obviously will be part of the consideration. I have to say I have not come to a firm point as to how that might be finalised at this stage, but you would be aware that the government has a deregulation agenda and so making systems as streamlined as possible will be part of what we are looking to do. There is no question that those interactions were an important part of the overall equation for fisheries, because a healthy marine environment is an important part of a healthy fishery.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I understand that and I also do not doubt your commitment to the industry. I am just wondering, given the recommendations of the Borthwick review, do you think it is a bit contradictory if you want to cut regulations? They are asking perhaps for a new set of standards to be included in fisheries management plans.

Senator Colbeck: I do not see why they should be contradictory. Surely we can design good streamlined processes that take into account all the things that need to be taken into account without having to go through processes a number of times. That does not necessarily improve anything. It just ends up costing time and money for industry. I would like to reduce the cost to industry. As I have clearly indicated, in my view a healthy marine environment equals a healthy fishery. The two go hand in hand.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I would like to ask about some fishing activity. We saw late last year where Interpol issued a purple notice for a vessel they named Thunder, which has changed its name several times. Are you able to give us an idea of what surveillance against illegal fishing activity has been undertaken in our Macquarie Island Patagonian toothfish fishery?

Mr Venslovas : Under the arrangements under the border protection program AFMA submits bids for the deployment of surveillance resources around Australia. Our main target areas are northern Australia and, in particular, the threats posed by Indonesia and vessels coming across the line in PNG.

In terms of Macquarie Island EEZ, there is no patrol presence at the moment. There has not been a patrol to the Southern Ocean since February 2012. Having said that, surveillance of the Southern Ocean is conducted by the BPC through joint arrangements under the treaty agreements with the French and also through commercially available satellite technology.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Would that be around Heard Island and McDonald Islands, the HMI fishery?

Mr Venslovas : That is right.

ACTING CHAIR: Do you want to move on to Fisheries Research and Development Corporation?

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I have a general one I would like to ask them, but I still have some other questions around the Small Pelagic Fishery.

ACTING CHAIR: We will keep going, but I am mindful of time management.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I have a couple of quick questions on the Small Pelagic Fishery. Has there been any correspondence with other departments, agencies, stakeholders or businesses, including with a Hong Kong based company called Pacific Andes Corporation regarding the factory freezer vessel Lafayette?

Dr Findlay : With regard to the Lafayette, not that I am aware of, no.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: No correspondence at all? I understand from speaking to the Environment Department yesterday that there has been interaction with AFMA around the expert panel relating to SPF declared fishing activity. Has there been any research work done on localised depletion—the issue that the recreational fishing lobbying country had a big problem with?

Dr Findlay : No, there have not been any new at sea work done on localised depletion. I think we have provided previously in evidence that we have tasked the resource assessment group and the various scientific experts on that group to come forward with their best available advice on the localised depletion risks prior to us setting the total allowable catches ahead of the 1 May start for the 2014-15 season. We expect to receive that advice between now and the next estimates. I am happy to update you on what that was.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Would that advice include the definition of what actually constituted localised depletion?

Dr Findlay : I would hope so, but noting there are numerous definitions, to do their work they have to provide advice on what they considered.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I am interested in climate change. Could I just squeeze in two very quick questions?

ACTING CHAIR: If they are quick.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: This would actually be to the FRDC as well as AFMA. In our last estimates we talked about the abalone fishery, viruses off Tasmania, and problems with the scallop fisheries as well. You said it was too early to ascertain whether climate change impacts were scientifically proven. Can I get an idea across the research how much work is being done on climate change impact in those fisheries?

Dr Findlay : I think that is mostly a question for FRDC or possibly for ABARES.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: So AFMA has had no—

Dr Findlay : We have looked at this a lot in the past. There is a wide range of factors that affect the distribution and abundance of fish, both target and non-target. Climate change is potentially one of those, but it is one of a wide range of things.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Would you do economic analysis, for example, around the SPF fishery, which we were talking about earlier? Would you provide the sort of analysis, for example, modelling or analysis on how much each tonne of the SPF is worth other fisheries leaving the low value SPF stocks in the water? Is that what you would do or is that the FRDC?

Dr Findlay : We would not do economic analysis on that. We would rely on ecosystem models produced by CSIRO to look at the food web impacts of removal at various stages of the food web and what impacts that has elsewhere. That is an area of burgeoning research, but quite a useful area in terms of ecosystem based fisheries management, which is something else that we are very committed to.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Who would do the economic studies?

Dr Findlay : If we had particular questions around the economic issue?

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Yes.

Dr Findlay : We would contract that work possibly to ABARES, possibly to other groups, but at the moment, no, we have not done work particularly on the SPF about the economics of that redistribution.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: That is it for now.

ACTING CHAIR: Senator Madigan has one question.

Senator MADIGAN: My office has had many constituents call in concerned about the health of the Anglesea River and the impact the health of the river is having both on the environment and local tourism. In the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation Report Revitalising Australia's Estuaries the Anglesea River was identified as a key area for investment. What programs have been put in place or are planned to be put in place, if any, to restore the health of the river?

Dr Findlay : That is a question for the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation. I am happy to hand over to them now, if they are prepared to answer.

Dr Grimes : The answer is that we have done the research. The actual on-ground application of the recommendations is beyond our RD&E. We are not allowed to do on-ground works to recover estuaries. It was true that the Anglesea River was identified as an area that needed environmental mitigation and improvement programs.

Senator MADIGAN: Could you tell us who would be responsible for instituting your findings.

Dr Grimes : In the first instance I imagine that the primary responsibility would be with the Victorian government. It may be that there has been some funding provided by the Commonwealth in the past. I am not aware of any, but that may be a possibility through the Environment Department. We would have to check a detail like that, but responsibility would be fundamentally with the state government.

Senator MADIGAN: Would you be able to take on notice to let us know if there has been money allocated?

Dr Hone : We would be happy to take that on notice and, if necessary, liaise with the Environment Department on that question.

Senator MADIGAN: Thank you.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I have one last question following up on a question from the last estimates. Has there been any further work done in the SPF relating to a DEPM study? I think Senator Colbeck said that you were optimistic that you would get the funding to do a study.

Senator Colbeck: I said that I would like to see some more work done. That was what I said before the election.

Dr Hone : We fund quite a lot of research on DEPM models. We are funding currently projects on South Australian snapper for DEPM. We have just done a new project in South Australia—sardines—on DEPM. We have a project on jack mackerel and sardines off the east Australian coast on DEPM and also on jack mackerel looking at adult breeding biomass. We also have a project with JCU looking at methods to actually streamline the analysis to make it quicker. So, genetic techniques.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: There is a study underway for the Small Pelagic Fishery for the southeast area?

Dr Hone : That is correct.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: This is just a question of interest. Has AFMA, with the commercial fishing industry, made any representations or had any discussions relating to the culling of great white sharks in Western Australia? I was reading recently that the commercial fishing industry lobbied for the protection of the species a while ago, because of ecosystem impacts. Is that something that you have been involved with at all or had any representations on?

Dr Findlay : No. We have not made any representations with regard to the culling of great white sharks in Western Australia.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Thank you.

ACTING CHAIR: I thank AFMA and FRDC. Dr Hone, keep up the great work. I thought I would put that plug in for you.