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Standing Committee on Agriculture, Resources, Fisheries and Forestry
29/06/2012
Role of science for the future of fisheries and aquaculture

KEARNEY, Emeritus Professor Robert Edward, Private capacity

[11:23]

CHAIR: Welcome, Professor. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that this hearing is a formal proceeding of parliament and warrants the same respect as proceedings of the House. Giving false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament.

Prof. Kearney : I am appearing totally as a private individual, but I am an emeritus professor at the University of Canberra.

CHAIR: What was your field?

Prof. Kearney : Originally fisheries science; then I was Professor of Environmental Sciences and head of the School of Environmental Sciences for five years. More recently, I went back to fisheries.

CHAIR: Thank you for that. The committee has your submission, which is No. 6 in our numbering. I invite you to make some introductory remarks and then I am sure the committee members will have some questions for you.

Prof. Kearney : Thank you. Very briefly, having read the submission again, there is only one point that I would like to clarify, and that relates to the statement that Australia's fisheries are extremely well managed. I would just like to clarify that. They are, by world standards, very close to the best managed insofar as the management for the protection of species and the protection of biodiversity, and the sustainability of fisheries are concerned. But, unfortunately, they are not well managed at all when it comes to the economics of ensuring the viability of the industries themselves. In fact, the problem there is that most of our fisheries are overcapitalised and Australia does not have a strategic approach to the management of our total fishery. As such, there has been virtually no development of new fisheries in Australia for the last 15 or 20 years, and the strategic issues, the big-picture issues, of how we manage our fisheries and the level of the industry's involvement in that have been totally neglected.

There is just one little extra point that I would like to add: it is important that this committee does not confuse the interests of the fishing industry with the interests of the Australian seafood-consuming public. They are not synonymous.

CHAIR: Would you like to elaborate on that?

Prof. Kearney : Unfortunately, one of the problems that Australia has is that it has allowed individuals representing certain sectors of the fishing industry to be disproportionately heard in the process. The recent review of the New South Wales fishing industry is classic in this regard; it points out that the biggest single problem was that there was no unified industry. And I point out again: there is no Australian fishing industry. There is a collection of different fisheries, but there is no national body. There is not even a national fishing industry body, let alone a national seafood body that represents the interests of consumers.

Going back briefly to the most recent review in the industry, the New South Wales one, it pointed out that the biggest problem the industry had was that individuals got to the minister and lobbied individual points of view. That is one of the problems that beset the whole management process, and it still does. We still have representation, to the ministers and to the government, of those industries that can afford it. This is wrong. There is no unified approach. Australia has never forced people to take a strategic view of where Australia's fish is to come from and how that relates to ESD and our other national, driving principles.

CHAIR: I must confess that that has been part of my experience in the Tasmanian context, so I would like to explore that a bit. We as a committee are trying to find possible drivers for a national approach to aquaculture and to find future opportunities for the replacement of what we import but also for export. The world's nine billion people have to be fed and the biggest trade in animal protein is in fish, so I think there are opportunities in that area. You would probably believe that having some sort of regulatory process that brings together an Australian regulatory framework, not individual state and territory frameworks, some sort of seamless—that is a good term, I think, and one that is being used a lot in today's world—transition would be a good thing. Is that right?

Prof. Kearney : If it were possible, Chair, it would unquestionably be a good thing. It is not going to be that easy to achieve but it is what needs to be done, and it needs to be done in the strategic context of the sustainability of the supply of seafood more than the sustainability of individual fisheries. That is the shift that needs to be made, and it needs to be made fairly soon.

CHAIR: Would that also be in the scientific endeavour area? That seems to be very much the state based approach. With most people working for federal or state governments or agencies, is there a need for us to focus more on that area?

Prof. Kearney : I think there needs to be a national focus in this area. But I also believe very strongly that we need to change the focus on which fisheries research and management are being represented at the moment. The agenda has effectively been stolen by those claiming falsely that Australia's fisheries are badly managed. There is a huge perception amongst the Australian public that fishing is if not fundamentally evil then fairly close to it, and certainly environmentally damaging. The whole thing needs to be changed. Where are the fisheries research agencies while all this is going on? You might well ask, because I do not know where they are. I cannot get people to defend themselves is the single biggest problem that you face. I know that the EPBC Act overrides the fisheries act—and so it should, I am not for one moment suggesting that it should not—but I believe that the lack of input into the debate from the fisheries research and management agencies to try to balance this debate is lamentable. Australia's fisheries, as I have already stated it, and you have seen in my submission, are for conservation purposes and for their sustainability the equal of any in the world. We are exceptionally good at it, but we are very poor at managing our fisheries, because we have allowed too much overcapitalisation. But while this is going on we have allowed the fisheries research agenda to be taken over by those claiming that there is a gloom-and-doom scenario and so we need to have more restrictions on fisheries. That simply cannot be documented at all for Australia; the truth is exactly the opposite. What Australia actually needs is to consolidate its sustainably managed fisheries and develop a lot more, both commercial capture fisheries and aquaculture.

CHAIR: What about other species in the wild fisheries that we do not fish at the moment?

Prof. Kearney : The classic example is skipjack tuna. The world's biggest fishery, the western central Pacific tuna fishery, is at our doorstep. The bulk of the catch is skipjack tuna; it is about 1½ million tonnes. Australia's total fish catch is 150,000 tonnes, and our catch of skipjack last year was zero—not just not much; zero. We do not participate in that fishery; we do not catch any. We have management plans that have 19 purse seine permits for the east coast of Australia. Not one of them is active or has been for the last five years, but the asking price if you try to buy one is $400,000. People are sitting around waiting for a handout rather than being forced to use it or lose it. You should develop that fishery. We are now proposing to close off the Coral Sea. If we do that we are committing Australia to being a tuna-importing nation for the rest of its history—from here on—because that is the only place that could provide a base to exploit that species. I made the statement in 1974 in an international forum that if the permits were $1 million each you could not overfish them with known technology, and that remains the case.

Mr LYONS: What are catching in the Coral Sea now?

Prof. Kearney : What are we catching? Extremely little, because our management has been very bad. We have allowed the self-interest of long-line fishermen to preclude the establishment of a purse seine fishery for these species. It is impossible to purse seine skipjack in the Coral Sea, because the by-catch provisions on yellowfin tuna—another significantly underexploited species in Australia, which would need to be fished about three times as hard in Australia to get it down to the level of maximum surplus production—is three per cent. You cannot purse seine skipjack and not catch that amount of yellowfin, so therefore you cannot purse seine skipjack. It is just a strategically bad management decision and we have done nothing about it.

Mr TEHAN: I am interested in having you flesh out a couple of things that go to the nub of a few of the issues we are dealing with. You say in the summary of your submission:

A multi-million dollar campaign by numerous NGOs has fostered this misrepresentation—

that our fishing stocks are not in good shape—

NGOs and even academics and some government agencies are benefiting.

You then say on page 4:

The gross exaggeration of the impacts of fishing in Australia has been used by NGOs, and a worrying number of academics, to distort public perception of the effects of fishing. Many of these same NGOs then 'accredit' selective fisheries, often employing the same academics, for considerable financial or other gains.

Can you flesh that out a bit? How does it work?

Prof. Kearney : For example, there are approximately 20 different certifying organisations around—one of my colleagues behind me can probably give you a more exact estimate—providing guides for fish or certification such as certifying sustainability. There are actually more than that, because even places like Taronga Zoo produce guides telling people what fish they can eat. There are a whole heap of institutions that are making money out of telling people, 'Don't eat this,' or 'Eat this one,' and using stop-light systems, as they call them, or advising Coles, Woolworths and others, who then say 'Don't each orange roughie,' or 'Don't eat yellowfin tuna'—which is stupid to do but they are doing it. There are a whole heap of these and they are all making money, and the NGOs are making money out of selling those guides—as they will out of third-party certification schemes.

In the documentation that I have given you, I point out that Western Australia has committed $14½ million dollars for probably MSC certification of a number of fisheries. That is just one example of the amount of money that it costs to independently certify these things. My problem there is that the government already puts out through the BRS its own statement on the sustainability of Australia's fisheries and it lists every fishery. If we are going ahead and accepting that Western Australia is going to do an independent certification, that is actually stating that the West Australian and Commonwealth fisheries ministers are incompetent and are not doing what they are told to do.

If you read the fisheries management acts they tell you that the fisheries have to be sustainable and if they are not then I think the public has every right to go to the government and say, 'Hang on, fellas; you are required to do this.' Why do we need third-party certification and to certify individual fisheries and say they are sustainable whenever one of those fisheries that gets third-party certification has already been certified by the government to be sustainable in the first place? If the government is wrong and those fisheries are not sustainable, people have got a right to know, and the government should be held to account and made to fix it.

Third-party certification schemes are extremely expensive and really all they do is indicate to the public that only a small percentage of our fisheries are actually sustainable—and that is in fact not the case. Our fisheries are extraordinarily sustainable, with very, very few exceptions. In New South Wales, for example, out of the 106 species that have been assessed, only one is recruitment overfished—in other words, seriously overfished—and the rest are completely sustainable.

Mr LYONS: Which one?

Prof. Kearney : It is actually the gemfish fishery which, believe it or not, is not a New South Wales managed fishery. Why it is in the list of New South Wales managed fisheries is beyond me, but it is not a New South Wales managed fishery—it is a Commonwealth managed fishery. It is the only one that is listed as being fished so heavily that recruitment has been impaired. Interestingly enough, CSIRO are now putting forward the case that that is in fact not an overfishing problem. They are calling it a regime shift—that the whole fishery changed, not just as a result of fishing. But that is getting very technical, though I will go there if you want to.

There are very, very few fisheries that are seriously overfished. Every fishery that we have in Australia that we have attempted to solve the problem when it has been overfished has recovered—every single one. We have not had one that has been fished to a level where it has not recovered. And the government is responsible for making them recover. We already have all of those steps in place and all of that legislation there.

Mr TEHAN: On this third-party certification—and you may or may not be aware of this—my understanding is that this is also something that has crept into other industries as well. An example is the timber industry. Have you seen similarities with—

Prof. Kearney : There are similarities but there are huge differences in the way that the fishing industry and our fisheries research and management agencies have allowed the agenda to be sidetracked. The differences between terrestrial and marine management systems so far outweigh the similarities that I am extremely reluctant to take those analogies for the terrestrial ones. There are some and they are valuable, but the similarity that I think that is most pertinent to this particular debate is that they are a marketing tool and there is no doubt that they give a marketing advantage—and I am not decrying that they achieve that objective.

And I do not have any problem with why MSC was created in Europe, where there were real problems and they could not get people to take the issue seriously. It was very effective and extremely useful, and I do not decry it or one moment. But in Australia we do not have that problem. We are masters of our own destiny. Europe have the real problem. They cannot agree on anything. If you follow the current financial arrangements you will see the problem they have. And that is with their own resources. Imagine what it would be like with a shared resource—which fisheries represent. Not surprisingly, they cannot manage them very effectively—and that is the problem. We do not have that problem. We are masters of our own destiny; we are an island state; all of our resources are under our control, and we have the legislation which requires us to manage them. Technically, we have complete competence to manage—in the European use of that word—our own fisheries, so we have no excuse for not doing so.

Mr TEHAN: So, in many ways, we are using European tools for our industry here where they have no relevance whatsoever and they are probably detrimental.

Prof. Kearney : Absolutely. That is where it arose. The other one, of course, is some of the developing countries that have had huge problems with destructive fishing practices of many forms. Dynamiting and cyaniding are the ones that are most rigorously quoted because they are the most obvious. But excessive fishing with destructive techniques, like excessive chains and things on trawl nets in areas where you should not be trawling, have been real problems in many developing countries. Most of the science that is claimed to be relevant in Australia comes from such areas, and it is simply irrelevant to Australia and should not be used. It is not just inappropriate; it is very bad science to use. It should not be used.

CHAIR: Regarding certification and traceability, we have some issues. I was in Western Australia some years ago when we had three or four tuna boats from the Southern Ocean pulled up on the beach. I think we chased one to South Africa at one stage at great expense. They were fishing in Australian waters. Certification at a world level, certifying and having a traceability process to fish, must be a good thing. You mentioned that from a European point of view. I take the point that you are making in relation to the Australian situation—that, if you have a variety of certified processes, they can become corrupt as well, as you said. You sell it through only one supermarket chain if is certified for this and somebody has made that decision, and it might not even be based on proper science or whatever. What I am trying to say is that I do not want to take your evidence as being opposed to certification of some fish stocks or of fish, or as an opponent of traceability in world terms.

Prof. Kearney : Certainly not. I would go to great lengths to not confuse the issues between sustainability and traceability of product or quality of product. They are totally different things for which different standards are required. I made the point in my introductory comments that a lot of the confusion arises because Australia has the tools, because it is an island state and we have very tight legislation to manage things sustainably, and our fisheries assessments demonstrate that they are sustainable. I do not believe our fisheries management standards for the internal issues, such as the economics of catching them and other things, are of that standard. They fall into the category that you refer to. I am certainly not for one moment suggesting that those systems should not be in place. They are essential, particularly if we are exporting product. The lobsters going to Hong Kong is one example that most people are aware of, where we had a problem with traceability that should have been fixed.

CHAIR: Thank you for that. There is the perception that you have raised. How can we overcome that? How can industry improve its social licence, or whatever? How can we overcome the process of what is now being set in train to say our fish stocks are overfished and they are all going to fall down? How do we overcome that process?

Prof. Kearney : Mr Chairman, my expertise is actually in fisheries science and fisheries management. The overcoming of the bigger problem is a little bit more of a political issue than I would perhaps be best qualified to give you advice on. But, in my opinion, there are a couple of things in that context—if you do not mind—that I think are important. I stressed at the start, and I will repeat this every time I am given the chance, that, considering Australia's seafood security and the sustainability of its resources and how they are exploited, is an enormous strategic issue that must be considered as a whole entity. Those issues must all be brought together and have serious strategic debate, not having people cutting off—'Is this prawn fishery sustainable?' or something else, and 'What's going to happen to it?'

CHAIR: So a national approach?

Prof. Kearney : There has to be a national approach to it and there has to be consideration amongst the catching sector and the seafood sector that is far more strategic and all-encompassing than it has ever been in the past. The fishing industry got that way a little bit about 15 years ago. They had a national body and started to make progress, but then it folded for whatever reason. We cannot allow the self-interest of individuals to do that.

Let us look at the disasters Australia has had in fisheries management. Let us go back to the orange roughy, which is the easiest one. It was overfished off Tasmania, as you are aware, in certain areas. It was never as badly overfished as the data would suggest. I happen to know a fair bit about that. I was chairman of the research committee that did the assessments. We recommended a TAC, total allowable catch, of 4,200 tonnes. The government allowed the catch to go to 58,000 tonnes. We did not change the TAC.

Mr LYONS: How long ago was that?

Prof. Kearney : 1989 or thereabouts. It was the late eighties or early nineties. I would not like to be quoted on the year, but it was of that era.

Mr LYONS: So the Commonwealth allowed—

Prof. Kearney : The Commonwealth allowed that. We told them, 'If you do exceed the quota, there is one rule you must not break. You must not let them bring in new boats to do it because we have already got enough effort in Australia.' They allowed it to be dominated by new boats. It was disastrous. Several people have said to me I should write a story about it. I have said I would have to write a fictional one because nobody would believe the truth! It was disastrous.

The reason I made this point is that we have had extraordinarily bad fisheries management. It is one of the worst examples of fisheries management I have seen anywhere in the world. But the current orange roughy fishing is completely sustainable. The catch is 500 tonnes at the moment—less than one per cent of what it was that caused the problem—and 99 per cent of the area is closed to fishing. Yet the public are still being told not to eat orange roughy. This is absurd and it is a symptom of the problem that I have mentioned all along—that we do not take a strategic approach to what has happened in the past. What is the difference between Australia and Europe or Australia and developing countries and where are we at with our fisheries management and where do we want to go? We are telling people not to eat orange roughy from a completely sustainable fishery. The public need to be told exactly the opposite of what they are being told. They need to be told that fish from capture fisheries is the ultimate organic product. There is no product sold in Australia that is more organic than from wild caught fisheries. Wild caught fisheries do not start like agriculture does by clearing the land, introducing foreign species, which is what almost all of Australia's agriculture is based on, and using herbicides, pesticides et cetera to make sure that the native species never make a comeback. It just does not happen. There is not a single agriculture industry in Australia that would be allowed to operate if it had to operate under the conditions of the Fisheries Management Act. The Fisheries Management Act requires in its first line that you do not irreversibly damage the environment.

People need to be told that the product from the capture fisheries in Australia are the most environmentally responsible product you can eat, provided they are sustainably managed—and they are. We have a couple of exceptions and we will fix those exceptions. There are very few. They are less than 10 per cent of the total number of species. You fix those. You do not go around trying to certify the other 90 per cent individually. All that will do is allow those that are not well managed to hide behind the fact that they could not afford to be certified. The government has to address the few problems that we do have. It has had a very good record compared with the rest of the world in doing that in the last 15 years.

Mr LYONS: For the record, could you tell us which ones are not?

Prof. Kearney : There are not many Australian fisheries that are in serious trouble any more. There is one in New South Wales, for example—the Mulloway fishery—which I accept has got real problems, but I am not certain by a long shot that it is a fishery problem. Mulloway stocks are unquestionably down. Nobody will deny this. But they spawn in estuaries. The Warragamba Dam, which happens to be Sydney's water source, stops the Nepean River from overflowing. They need floods to breed. They have not had floods. They have had one minor overflow in the last 25 years. I am not at all convinced that fishing is the primary cause of the problem, although I think it has contributed without any doubt. There are no other species in New South Wales that there are major concerns for. It gets a bit technical, but it is not uncommon to have a fish species fished below the ideal level but that is not a cause for alarm provided you have the systems in place to fix it. They will recover and they will recover rather quickly. A lot of species get recruitment failures that are natural. I do have worries about the gemfish fishery. The CSIRO may be right that it is a regime shift; I have disagreed with them for the last two years, but they are slowly convincing me. I have looked at the data again and I suggest there is a real chance that it was not overfished at all. It was merely that we had an abnormal abundance of them in the years when the fishery was at its peak, because, while it was at its peak, recruitment did not come through. That means that, even though there were heaps of adults, they did not produce many juveniles, which implies that it was an oceanic condition that resulted in an abnormal population in the first place.

So gemfish is one fishery I am still worried about; I have to admit that. I am worried about some of the trawl fisheries, but the recent closures to trawling of areas in the south-east, in my view, are excessively draconian. We now have the situation where it is not possible to catch the quota for several of the species because there are not enough areas left open to fishing to catch them. These are the sorts of strategic issues that need to be addressed. We do not have many fisheries that are a problem, but the public are still told we do.

I will give you a classic example of why certification causes a problem. We have one prawn fishery in Australia that has recently been certified, which is the South Australian Spencer Gulf prawn fishery. I was in the Coffs Harbour co-op two days after the fishery there was closed, and the woman in front of me asked the guy behind the counter if they had any South Australian prawns. He said, 'Why would you come here and want to buy South Australian prawns?' She said, 'Because they're the only ones in Australia that are sustainable.' That, unfortunately, was a very logical interpretation of what she had been told on television the night before. It is abjectly wrong. But it is the impression people get from certifying a minority of fisheries as being sustainable, when the Australian government has a responsibility to the people of this country to tell them how good the sustainability of our fisheries is.

I mentioned earlier the management of the economics of it. We have fishermen going broke, so they are lobbying for things like marine parks because they want to be bought out. One of the real problems we have is the property rights that have been given to individuals and not vested in the seafood-consuming public. They are strategic issues that the country needs to address.

CHAIR: Professor, if you had to assign priorities to fisheries and aquaculture from a research point of view—trying to get a national perspective—where would you put those priorities?

Prof. Kearney : I would get together the people whom I respected and thought had knowledge of those things. I have my own views but I do not profess to be an expert in aquaculture development. I have been very much involved in the development of artificial feeds for aquaculture and things like that—in fact, I started the program in Australia on that—but I have been out of that for a few years. I would talk to the aquaculture experts that we have, and I would ask them to give you reasons why you would not start with the north of Australia for major development. I am very mindful of what South-East Asian countries can do, with climates and conditions that are very similar to what we have in the north of Australia, and I would like to know why those areas could not be developed for aquaculture that would be beneficial to Australia. I would be looking at the Coral Sea and the North West Shelf. They are the two areas where we really have neglected the development of fisheries because of the misinterpretation, the wrong interpretation, in the North West Shelf that trawling was fundamentally wrong, which it is not. There are areas where you should not have it; but, over soft bottoms with the right gear, it is not a problem at all—or, to put it correctly, it is a very easily managed problem.

CHAIR: So it is the way we do it?

Prof. Kearney : It is the way you do it and the way you manage it that is the issue. But I would certainly be looking at the Coral Sea. The world's biggest fishery is there; that is our share of it. It would be reasonable to expect it to support catches that are very close to Australia's total current catch, all species combined.

CHAIR: Mr Tehan has a question for you.

Mr TEHAN: I appreciate you taking the time to give evidence to us today. Can you give us a bit of background to how you got into this area and the various roles you have done, how you developed your expertise, bearing in mind that one of the issues we are looking at is ensuring that we can get other people doing similar sorts of things.

Prof. Kearney : I did my PhD at the University of Queensland and went to Papua New Guinea to head up the tuna research program there. While doing that I quickly understood that Papua New Guinea's tuna problems were not understanding where its own tuna were going but where they were coming from and how much they could catch. I managed to convince six governments around the world—Australia, New Zealand, France, the United States, Japan and the United Kingdom—to fund a program for about $5 million to enable me to charter a vessel and go around the whole of the Western Pacific and work out how many tuna where there, which we did, and that program is still running 30 years later. We demonstrated then that the standing population of skipjack tuna was three million tonnes and, most importantly, there were three million tonnes in the water at any point in time of one species alone and you could catch three million tonnes a year. That is how quickly they grow and how quickly they reproduce, which was a major breakthrough at the time. It changed things.

Then I went to the United States as Chief Scientist for the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission. I came back to Australia as director of research for New South Wales Fisheries for eight or nine years. I then went to the University of Canberra as Professor of Environmental Science and head of the School of Resource and Environmental Science. Since then I have been working about half-time in my own capacity and doing an odd consulting job, but writing papers out of my own interest. I took on a major research project last year to write some scientific papers in relation to marine parks funded by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation. That is my history in a nutshell.

Mr MITCHELL: You mentioned earlier the issues with South East Fisheries being closed. Can you name some of those ones that have caused the problems?

Prof. Kearney : Again, I would rather you got the specific information from them. I am not quite up with them. I was for a long while. I chaired the research committee that looked at the assessment of all of those fisheries for five or six years, so I was familiar with them. But I would not like to mislead you by giving you outdated information. However, the recent data that I looked at suggests to me that several of those species were overfished—redfish, certainly gemfish and one of the wahoos. This really worried me.

I was particularly perturbed when I was a member of the board of AFMA that that fishery was not being adequately reined in. It was being allowed too much freedom. I was adamant about that. I wanted the areas open to fish trawling to be reined in, and they have been—I believe excessively so. I think we have gone overboard again. We have thrown in the great marine park bogy and said, 'We're going to close some areas without really assessing the strategic issues of what we were closing and why and whether that was the right thing to do.' I mentioned orange roughy, for example. To have 99 per cent of the area closed to the fishery gets pretty silly. If you think about what should be done, it should require that somebody revisit it. That is what I think has not been done.

Fish trawl fisheries over hard bottoms need to be very carefully managed. There is absolutely no doubt about that. But that does not mean that you do go and say trawling is bad, because there are prawn trawl fisheries over soft bottoms. The one in the Clarence River has been assessed to cause no detectable impact. I do not mean not much; I mean none. It has amazed even the fishermen. They could not believe it. It is because the currents are so strong that the bottoms move anyway, which people do not accept. The sand moves all over the place, anyway. The damage from those is minimal, and you can fish them very heavily without doing any serious damage, provided, of course, you have a management plan in place that looks at the management of the total fishery, which is one of the reasons why marine parks fall down so badly.

They try and solve problems by drawing lines on the water without taking a holistic approach to the issues. That is a terrestrial concept, coming back to the question I was asked earlier about terrestrial concepts. The concept of area management of that sort came from forestry, where you are dealing with sedentary, non-mobile trees in an area that you can draw a line around and control. It was a perfectly rational way of going about it. That is where the concept of the CAR principle—the comprehensive, adequate and representative principle—came from. But it has no relevance, really, to the marine environment. The marine environment is just entirely different. This is one of the real problems we have today. The principles that have been used to create those closures are not relevant to the areas that are closing, and the principles need to be reassessed in the total strategic assessment, along with the sustainability of seafood.

CHAIR: When you think about large trawlers, the economics I think are working that way now. There is one in Tasmania, and I spoke about it yesterday on radio. There seems to be some hysteria happening around my state on that very matter. Its quota is 18,000 tonnes of jack mackerel. Because it is a large vessel, people have become hysterical about this vessel being seen to destroy fishing. My assessment is that it is all about the quota. If the quota is sustainable, that is what we should be focused on.

Prof. Kearney : You have hit on the question. If I had asked you for one, I could not have asked you for a better one because it exemplifies the problem that we have. The public have been told things like in the movie TheEnd of the Line that factory trawlers are inherently evil and they do all these nasty things and everything else. Therefore, having one in Australia is something that has to be opposed. This needs to be considered as a strategic issue. I don't know the specifications of that one boat, but I do know about the species that they want to catch and I know that the quantities that they are talking about are so far below what the fishery could sustain that that is not an issue. If that one boat was debated in the context: 'There is a sustainable harvest that can be taken from this area. What is the most cost-effective and efficient way of doing it?' and that one boat turns out to be the way of doing it then that is what you should do.

People have been misled to the extent that they would be happy to have 40 little boats out there with fishermen whom they think are making a living but probably aren't, who are chuffing around and burning more fuel proportionately and doing all sorts of things that they should not be doing, when there is a perfectly efficient way of doing it and making money and providing probably a better quality of product out of it. These are the issues that we need to assess.

What is the purpose? Is that boat appropriate for taking that quantity of fish and producing it at a quality that meets the markets for which it is intended or may be intended in the future? They are the strategic issues that I want debated. I do not wish to make a pronouncement on that boat, but I was asked about the sustainability of the jack mackerel fishery and the quantities I was told it was going to catch are so far below those that can be taken from there quite sustainably that I said, 'It's not an issue that I wish to take much further.'

CHAIR: We seem to agree on that issue. Thank you very much for your time and your submission. We do appreciate it.

Prof. Kearney : I heard my name mentioned by the previous person. Can I answer a question that he asked you to ask me?

CHAIR: Please.

Prof. Kearney : He said to ask me about the issue of the supply of fish in marine parks and whether the species are protected. It is true that if you close an area to fishing, any sort of fishing, there will be more of the species unless it is a highly migratory species of the target species in that area. But you must not assume that this consistitutes a benefit; it may in some circumstances. It normally consistitutes a benefit for divers who wish to go to an area and look at the species that are visible, particularly things like coral trout that are habituated—they come up and look at you. You will see more of them. That is a definite advantage and it is a real advantage of having an area closure.

If I ruled the world, I would have some areas closed around every resort in the Great Barrier Reef, but they would be small. They would be big enough for divers to use. You must not assume that having more of those species in that area represents a net result elsewhere. If the fishery is well managed, you have the density of fish in the whole area over the distribution of species, which is what it is about: the right density that gives you maximum surplus production. Having more fish there actually decreases the surplus production. Closing bigger areas actually forces more effort onto the areas that are open and causes more damage than it would by doing it under proper management of the whole species across the whole area. You must not assume that there will be benefits to other areas from having more of a target species in an area that is closed for a specific purpose. In fact, it is an allocation issue not a conservation issue to allocate some fish to divers who want to go and look at them. It happens to be a good thing to do and if I ruled the world I would have a few relatively small areas—two- and three-kilometre areas is about what you want—closed to allow divers to go there and enjoy those marine environments.

CHAIR: Thank you very much for your time and your submission. We will send you a copy of the Hansard.