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RURAL AND REGIONAL AFFAIRS AND TRANSPORT LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
24/05/2010
AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FORESTRY PORTFOLIO
Australian Fisheries Management Authority

CHAIR —I welcome everyone back. Questioning, Senator Siewert?

Senator SIEWERT —I have got AFMA questions. I want to ask about Australian sea lions first. They get caught up in fishing apparatus. Obviously I am following up the Goldsworthy report and I understand that AFMA has just released its strategy. Is it a draft or is it a finalised strategy?

Dr Findlay —It is a draft.

Senator SIEWERT —That is what I thought. What happens to that strategy from here? It was released last week, wasn’t it?

Dr Findlay —Yes, it was released on 17 May for a couple of weeks for stakeholder comments. Once we get all our stakeholder comments in, we will be revising the strategy and seeking its final approval through the AFMA commission to meet the wildlife trade operation requirements by 30 June.

Senator SIEWERT —Instead of avoiding bycatch, is the strategy going to actually reduce the amount of bycatch, particularly of female sea lions?

Dr Findlay —Yes, the goal is to bring about a significant reduction in the mortality of, especially, female sea lions and also to enhance the likelihood of recovery of all subpopulations, all 48 colonies in South Australia, for Australian sea lions.

Senator SIEWERT —Is it addressing the recommendations in the Goldsworthy report?

Dr Findlay —The Goldsworthy report highlights significant mortalities involved with the entanglement in gill nets. In response to that, back in December AFMA and industry introduced a series of interim measures, putting closures around all 48 colonies out to seven kilometres in a radius around those closures, more than doubling the observer coverage, and also putting on board cameras to look at rollouts out of nets. One of the great uncertainties out of the Goldsworthy report was the sea lions actually rolling out of the net before they come on board the boat and there was concern that that might be resulting in significant underestimation of the actual numbers.

Senator SIEWERT —The mortality, yes.

Dr Findlay —That work was put in place on 8 December. We received the full Goldsworthy report about six weeks ago. We have now had a series of stakeholder meetings to develop the draft that you have seen and we are trying to get that in place to get the mortalities way down.

Senator SIEWERT —What is your estimate of the reduction in bycatch, in particular for the female sea lions? Are you reducing it to zero? What is the estimate that you are working on in terms of reducing the number of mortalities for the females?

Dr Findlay —I should make a point here. The Goldsworthy report is based on an extrapolation of data from only 12 mortalities; therefore, the likelihood of any particular management action delivering a certain outcome is reasonably uncertain. We are obviously looking through the results of the Goldsworthy report and assessing the management actions that we are proposing against that. Those management actions include significantly larger fixed closures around the 48 colonies, in particular those at highest risk. We are looking at gear modifications to try to reduce the likelihood of interaction in the first place and to allow sea lions a greater likelihood of escape if they do interact, and, as the report suggests, using the observer coverage and, if we do continue to see mortality of sea lions, enclose further and further areas away from the colonies as time goes on.

Senator SIEWERT —There are a couple of issues there in terms of the measures that are being proposed. As I understand, at the moment those are largely untested measures and you do not basically know what impact they are going to have yet. This is, ‘Let’s see how it goes.’

Dr Findlay —There is very much an adaptive management component to it, using that observer coverage to say if we are going to put in larger closures to protect those colonies, if we see more mortality.

Senator SIEWERT —What is the time frame for testing the measures and making a decision about whether they are successful or not?

Dr Findlay —Once we have finalised the plan by 30 June, we then enter a cycle of normal review. We have invited stakeholders into that process. We have not actually fixed dates around that yet. It would depend a little bit on how the industry responds to the management actions and what triggers are being closed. Obviously, if the triggers are hit very quickly, we want to be reviewing those actions quite quickly. If they seem to be working, then we would not want to be meeting for the sake of it.

Senator SIEWERT —Have you done any modelling of the measures that you are proposing?

Dr Findlay —We have used a full set of observer data. In addition to the Goldsworthy report, we obviously have AFMA data collected over quite a number of years, which has independent observer data from those boats. The measures we have put in place: the fixed closures would cover more than 50 per cent of those observed mortalities. We are expecting a significant reduction by setting effort out of those areas. As I said, the modelling is quite difficult and it is based on quite a complex behavioural and habitat model that we do not actually have access to. Simon Goldsworthy is involved. The actual details of the model we do not have. Simon Goldsworthy has been asked to provide his comments.

Senator SIEWERT —Because it is his model?

Dr Findlay —It is his model. But he has been asked to provide input throughout the process.

Senator SIEWERT —When you say he has been asked to provide input, have you asked him to put the measures that you are proposing into his model?

Dr Findlay —We have not asked him to, but we understand he is doing that as part of the advice back to us.

Senator SIEWERT —You have not had that feedback yet? That is part of the consultation process?

Dr Findlay —I think we got a draft of it today, but I have not had a chance to read through that. We expect quite a number of comments coming through from researchers and stakeholders, both industry and conservation groups, and we will consider all those at the same time.

Senator SIEWERT —You said a couple of weeks for the consultation process.

Dr Findlay —We are expecting comments, by the end of this week. We do not have very much time, obviously, to get this thing turned around.

Senator SIEWERT —Because you want to get it turned around by 30 June?

Dr Findlay —Yes.

Senator SIEWERT —It is a relatively short space of time, but I presume you know the stakeholders who are involved in that.

Dr Findlay —That is right.

Senator SIEWERT —The fishery and the various scientists et cetera?

Dr Findlay —That is right.

Senator SIEWERT —You said you have doubled the observers. What is the number now?

Dr Findlay —The observer program covers the entire South East Fishery, not just off South Australia. The original budget was for 50 days on those boats. We have more than doubled that, to 120 days, and we are seeking advice at the moment about the likely confidence we can have in observer data these interactions are quite a rare event and reviewing the observer coverage will be part of the plan.

Senator SIEWERT —Thank you. That is all I have on sea lions.

Senator COLBECK —Can you give us your personnel numbers, Professor Hurry, please.

Prof. Hurry —We can.

Mr Perrott —Our current average staffing level at the end of April is 212 full-time equivalent staff.

Senator COLBECK —How does that compare to previous years?

Mr Perrott —At the end of the 2008-09 financial year it was 215 and the year before that it was 211.

Senator COLBECK —So relatively stable?

Mr Perrott —Yes.

Senator COLBECK —What percentage of those staff are based in corporate or administrative roles? The next question is: what are inspection duties? So just do a comparison of whether there has been a fluctuation in those numbers or whether they have stayed relatively—

Mr Perrott —We do not have that data with us, but we can take it on notice.

Senator COLBECK —Okay. Professor Hurry, have you had a look at the documentary that has been released recently, The End of the Line?

Prof. Hurry —Yes, we have.

Senator COLBECK —What would your assessment be of how well or otherwise that reflects on us in respect of the Australian fishing management process? I have a view, obviously.

Prof. Hurry —I will get Dr Findlay to comment on this as well, but I do not think it reflects on our management of our fisheries, which I think are significantly better than what is portrayed in the movie. I think some of the tools that we have in place in Australian fisheries begin to set us apart from others. I am not for one minute saying that we are perfect, but we have done some reasonably hard yards in the last five or six years, which has set us up reasonably well to sustainably manage our fisheries as we move forward into the future.

Senator COLBECK —Which is reflected in things like the last iteration of the fishery status report.

Prof. Hurry —Yes.

Senator COLBECK —Dr Findlay, do you have any further comment to add to that?

Dr Findlay —I think some of the doomsday scenarios portrayed in the film just are not right; even the authors of that work have pulled away from some of that. But it is fairly clear that a lot of the word’s fisheries are facing some pretty major challenges. In Australia, we are a lot better off than some of those places, but we did take a little while getting to this point and we have had to put in some significant management action, as Glenn said, over the last five or six years to get to this point.

Senator COLBECK —Are you aware of some work that is being done by Messrs Worm and Hilborn in relation to global fish stocks and resources?

Prof. Hurry —There have been a number of reports out by those two in recent times. There was one by Boris Worm and somebody else about large predators in the marine ecosystem and the belief that they were disappearing. It was then countered by a report by Hilborn and several other Australians, who said that that was not the case. There has been some recent work by Hilborn on how you assess fisheries and other things as well. I am not quite sure which one you are talking about.

Senator COLBECK —One was a July 2009 report by Dr Worm and Professor Hilborn, along with 19 other marine and ecosystem scientists. It was reflecting on some previous work, I think by Dr Worm, that talked about sea stocks being exhausted within 40 years. Effectively, the subsequent work had a better look at that and was contradicting that earlier work.

Dr Findlay —Yes, that is right.

Senator COLBECK —The reason I ask is that I have heard some recent reports in the media of the early work and, unfortunately, the latter work is not getting reported.

Prof. Hurry —I think there is a tendency to do that with fisheries: you report the bad stuff and the reports that are perhaps not accurate but give you good headlines, whereas the good news ones you tend not to report as often. I think the second report by Hilborn and Worm was more balanced, but I would have to go back and have a look at it.

—It was something that was raised with me particularly in the context of the NHMRC work that I spoke about earlier. As you said, there has been a whole heap of very positive things that have occurred in the industry over the last five or 10 years. The work that Senator Macdonald did with the structural adjustment package made a huge leap in sustainability of stocks and was actually recognised in the status reports as having had a major impact on the overall fisheries. I just wanted to get something on the record in the context of some of the reporting that is going on. The End of the Line is designed along the lines of An Inconvenient Truth, to try and whip up emotion within the community, but the facts of the matter are, in an Australian context at least, somewhat different to what has been reported in a film such as that, which is much more based on Northern Hemisphere fisheries.

Prof. Hurry —Yes. I think we are far better placed than a lot of the other fisheries that are commented on in The End of the Line, but there is a message in The End of the Line that you do need to manage fisheries properly. I suppose we have the luxury here of being able to afford to manage our fisheries properly. Other developing countries do not have the manpower and the resources that we have and they tend to be overfished. Those people then find difficulty in having them recovered. I think there is a message in The End of the Line that should not be lost on us and the message very much is, ‘We don’t want to be in that space’, and we are out of it.. But there is a message for world fisheries more broadly—that we need to be careful how we manage them.

Senator COLBECK —I would have to agree with some of the subthemes that run through it about that. That caution is certainly an issue. There are, particularly, some issues around some of the developing countries that have onsold the capacity for some of the bigger operations to operate in their grounds and the impact that that is having back at a local level. I think they bear some attention.

Can you give us some idea of the status of the CCSBT quotas that were agreed to in South Korea last year and whether there has been an agreement process through the quota holders for reductions yet?

Prof. Hurry —We have fished half of our quota. We set a two-year quota of 4,015 tonnes for this year and for next year, and industry fished pretty much to the 4,015 tonnes and will do the same in the coming year.

Senator COLBECK —What was that in respect of what our previous quota was?

Prof. Hurry —It was 5,265.

Senator COLBECK —So a 23.7 per cent reduction—so they are consistent over the two years—is the final decision.

Prof. Hurry —Yes.

Senator COLBECK —Has AFMA conducted any analysis on the impact of the cuts in the community, or has that been done by agencies such as BRS or ABARE?

Prof. Hurry —No, we have not, but we are in regular contact with the Port Lincoln industry through their management group. There was initially some reduction in staffing numbers that were needed, but how that has transpired through the season, I am unsure. The message we are getting from them is that the fish are good, they have caught them quite quickly out in the bight and there is some potential for the price to be up a bit. So the market might move reasonably well, but they are still doing it reasonably tough.

Senator COLBECK —What about other signatories to the agreement for quotas? Obviously there has been the much-publicised overfishing by certain states that have been involved. Is there an ongoing monitoring process in place between the member countries to keep an eye on that? Are we confident that that process is occurring?

Prof. Hurry —I think it is a lot better than it was in the early 2000s. Before we uncovered the Japanese overcatch, we had little idea of what the actual level of catch was. Industry, through Food Adelaide, continues to do a fair bit of market monitoring of the key tuna markets in Japan. The Japanese government has put in place some processes now. They land tuna only through certain ports, they monitor the tuna that comes in and there is a catch documentation scheme in place.

I think it is better than it was. I got a call from one of the Port Lincoln tuna farmers today, to say that he was in Japan last week talking with one of the industry people that they talk to quite regularly. His comment was that the Japanese had tightened up a lot on their system of management, and that was coming back from their industry.

So I think there would be some cause for hope that it has actually improved above what it is. There is a reduction in the actual frozen holdings of high-grade tuna in Japan, and I am reasonably hopeful it is getting better, but it is one thing that we do need to continue to monitor as we go forward. It is difficult to manage a fishery when you cannot watch the landings by the other countries and there has to be a certain amount of good faith involved.

Senator COLBECK —Yes, I understand that. We expect it from them and they expect it from us.

Prof. Hurry —Yes.

Senator COLBECK —You mentioned the frozen holding. What sort of stockpile do they have? That was one of the issues that was raised in the film actually. How significant is that stockpile?

Prof. Hurry —There is a publication that comes out monthly—Seafood International, I think it is—that reports the frozen tuna holdings in Japan and it reports frozen squid and mightfish holdings. It normally sits around 100,000 tonnes as the frozen inventory, and there has always been a question as to whether that frozen inventory was the total amount of frozen fish in Japan or whether the fish that is held in bond is a separate block of frozen fish—because it has not actually entered into Japan as an imported product; it is held in bond stores waiting to come in—and we will never be quite sure just what the total is, but the published total is always around 100,000 tonnes.

Senator COLBECK —How much has that reduced?

Prof. Hurry —Last time I looked I think it was down to around 90,000 tonnes, and I have not had a look at it for the last couple of—

Senator COLBECK —About 10 per cent.

Prof. Hurry —Yes. But let me check that and I will come back to you. The word from industry is that the frozen holdings are down.

Senator COLBECK —It will be interesting to see what the impact of that is. You opened nominations for the Southern Bluefin Tuna MAC in February and closed it in March. Has the new committee been appointed?

Prof. Hurry —Yes, it has.

Senator COLBECK —And announced?

Prof. Hurry —Yes, at the last board we approved it.

Senator COLBECK —So they are approved by AFMA, not the minister?

Prof. Hurry —No, we nominate them, and they go to the AFMA commission and the commission approves them.

Senator COLBECK —That was done at the last board meeting?

Prof. Hurry —Yes.

Senator COLBECK —Would they be on your website?

Prof. Hurry —Yes, they should be, I think.

Dr Findlay —I could not be sure, but they should be, yes.

Senator COLBECK —We will check it that way. Is there much turnover?

Prof. Hurry —No, very little. The chair, Peter Neville, stayed in place—

Senator COLBECK —There was no change at all?

Prof. Hurry —Yes.

Senator COLBECK —Okay. That is all right. Do you have a schedule of patrols by the Oceanic Viking in the Southern Ocean this financial year?

Prof. Hurry —Schedule of patrols for this financial year now or the coming financial year?

Senator COLBECK —This financial year.

Prof. Hurry —Yes. I will get Peter Venslovas to go through the Oceanic Viking figures.

Mr Venslovas —We do not have the schedule for the remainder of the calendar year.

Senator COLBECK —What about those that have gone?

Mr Venslovas —We certainly have the details on the patrols that have been conducted in the last financial—

Senator COLBECK —Are there any scheduled remaining?

Mr Venslovas —To the Southern Ocean?

Senator COLBECK —Yes.

Mr Venslovas —No.

Senator COLBECK —Or are we getting too close to the end of the financial year to be able to safely say that?

Mr Venslovas —There are no further patrols scheduled for the Southern Ocean this financial year.

Senator COLBECK —Can you give me the patrols conducted this financial year?

Mr Venslovas —By the Oceanic Viking: there was a patrol that was conducted from 15 June 2009 to 30 July 2009; there was a second patrol conducted from 8 June 2010 to 16 February 2010; and a third patrol conducted from 8 March 2010 to 17 April 2010. Intermingled with those were patrols by the French authorities.

Senator COLBECK —I was going to come to those. How many staff were aboard each of these patrols at the start?

Mr Venslovas —We try and deploy three officers on each patrol, but out of the three patrols there were three officers on two patrols and two officers on one patrol.

Senator COLBECK —What would your normal schedule of patrols have been?

Mr Venslovas —Four patrols per year.

Senator COLBECK —And you were down one because of circumstances prior to Christmas off Indonesia.

Mr Venslovas —The last remaining patrol that was scheduled for this financial year was rescheduled to be conducted in northern waters.

Senator COLBECK —I am not sure what that actually means. Perhaps it is a very good answer, I do not know, but I am not sure exactly what that means.

Prof. Hurry —I probably should leave it there, but the reality is that we conducted three patrols in the Southern Ocean this year and not the four that we—

Senator COLBECK —You had budgeted for four?

Prof. Hurry —had scheduled and we budgeted for four, and the other time was used on northern patrol work as a matter of priority.

Senator COLBECK —We did have some discussions about that other patrol at last estimates.

Prof. Hurry —At last estimates, we did. Yes, that is right.

Senator COLBECK —I can refer back to that conversation.

Prof. Hurry —Yes. But the other important thing is that we continue to work with the French patrols, and there were three of those down there this year as well. Normally the French schedule four. They lost a patrol because they had their boat working on piracy in the Indian Ocean. So we have covered six patrols in that broader Kerguelen and Heard and McDonald area and we have been able to patrol more broadly out in the CCAMLR area as well, so we have not just limited it to our own zone.

Senator COLBECK —Do we normally have observers on French ships when they are patrolling down there, or does that only occur on—

Prof. Hurry —We have Fisheries officers on the French vessels and we can give you the numbers of the staff we had on those.

Mr Venslovas —We have deployed two officers on each of the French patrols, and that is our normal process.

Senator COLBECK —Can you give me the dates of the three French patrols?

Mr Venslovas —Yes. The first French patrol for the financial year 2009-10 was 19 October 2009 to 23 December 2009, the second patrol was 1 February to 12 March 2010, and the third patrol was 5 April to 24 May 2010, which is today.

Senator COLBECK —Is there any reason for the overlaps?

Mr Venslovas —It is a coordination issue. With Border Protection Command, they liaise with the French authorities. Even though we coordinate with them—or Border Protection Command does, because of logistical issues and availability of vessels and so forth—there are small overlaps in time, but those overlaps do not really mean a great deal because it takes time to get down to the Southern Ocean anyway. It takes about 10 days to get there and 10 days to get back. So in terms of overlap which appears on paper, in terms of presence in the Southern Ocean, it is not such an issue.

Senator COLBECK —What is your view on the impact of the lost trips by us and the French?

Mr Venslovas —I would say there has been little impact on the deterrent effect. We have not had a vessel sighted in Australian jurisdiction since June 2005 and that was around Macquarie Island. As far as Heard and McDonald Islands go, the last interception was in January 2004, which involved the vessel Maya 5. From that point, we have not had any sightings whatsoever of vessels inside the Australian jurisdictional area around Heard and McDonald Islands. But there are vessels that do, from time to time, operate outside Australian waters in CCAMLR waters, that are running flags of convenience, that are not party to the CCAMLR convention that are of concern to us.

Senator COLBECK —That was my question. What, effectively, is the status of those vessels? Where are they more likely to come from?

Prof. Hurry —Normally registered in places like Togo or Equatorial Guinea or the Netherlands Antilles. So they use flags of convenience and they operate in CCAMLR waters as unregulated vessels. They are not illegal in the sense that, unless your flag country is a member of a regional fisheries organisation, you do not fish illegally. It is one of the problems with international law dealing with regional organisations. You can flag in a non-member country and fish in contravention of the—

Senator COLBECK —Outside the treaty.

Prof. Hurry —Yes, outside the treaty, which is what happens down there. There is a group of vessels down there that we have worked on with other countries for a number of years and will continue to do so.

Senator COLBECK —Roughly how many vessels are we talking about?

Prof. Hurry —Probably five or six, I would imagine, that have been regular over time. They have changed their names and probably have different owners, but they are the same set of vessels.

Senator COLBECK —We know their silhouettes.

Prof. Hurry —They are well known. They are publicised on a number of the NGO lists around the world as vessels of interest that operate in Southern Ocean waters. They are well known to CCAMLR member countries.

Senator COLBECK —What is the impact that they are having on the fishery? Do we have any sense of what they are taking out?

Prof. Hurry —I do not know whether James would have a comment on this. We estimate the catch and we factor that into the stock assessment that we do for the toothfish stocks in the Southern Ocean, but I do not know how much we actually factor in. We could probably take that on notice and come back to you. Over the last probably 10 years we have had a significant impact on the number of vessels that are operating illegally down there. Both we and the French have arrested a number and we have both destroyed quite a number of vessels. Us patrolling down there on a fairly regular basis I think keeps the process reasonably honest.

I agree with Mr Venslovas about the impact of the lesser patrols. It is low risk. We have industry down there operating pretty much year round now and they are not seeing vessels in our zone either, so we are reasonably comfortable that we are on top of it as an issue, but if CCAMLR more broadly, and we as part of that, can deal with these other unregulated vessels in the longer term, that would be a bonus.

Senator COLBECK —What is the changeover process for the new vessel which Minister O’Connor announced in April? When does the Oceanic Viking go offline and the new one come online, and what is the process for the changeover?

Prof. Hurry —It is probably a question better given to Customs tomorrow, but our understanding of it is that the Oceanic Viking goes offline from the end of June and in June the new vessel goes into the shipyards in Newcastle to be refitted and it is operational then at the end of the year, so there is a gap as we understand it at the moment.

Senator COLBECK —For six months.

Prof. Hurry —Yes, from when one goes offline till the other one comes online.

Senator COLBECK —So in respect of continued monitoring of the Southern Ocean, what are we doing to fill the gap? For example, under normal circumstances you would have expected two patrols in that time frame.

Prof. Hurry —Our understanding is that the French have provided Customs with their patrol schedule. I am not sure what it is and if I were aware of it—

Senator COLBECK —You would not give it to me anyway.

Prof. Hurry —I probably would be reluctant to discuss it. There are other things. There is commercial satellite coverage that we can use and, as I said, we have observers on the commercial industry boats that operate down there as well so, pending knowing what the details of the French patrols are, we think we can probably cover this period reasonably well.

Senator COLBECK —Not just concentrating on the southern waters and acknowledging that the Oceanic Viking obviously patrols in other waters as well, what is the process with dealing with those other waters? How is the slack being taken up for that six months?

Prof. Hurry —Sorry, Senator?

Senator COLBECK —The Oceanic Viking would not have been in southern waters for all of that period of time.

Prof. Hurry —That is right.

Senator COLBECK —It would have had possibly two patrols in southern waters over six months. I am assuming that you had budgeted for four patrols in the following financial year, as a general continuation of process?

Prof. Hurry —We did. We budgeted for four.

Senator COLBECK —So it would have spent time in other waters as well?

Prof. Hurry —Yes.

Senator COLBECK —What is the impact and how are we managing those other waters that would have been patrolled?

Prof. Hurry —I am unsure what its other commitments are for that six months. It really is a question for Customs because when it is patrolling in other waters, it is not normally doing Fisheries patrol work.

Senator COLBECK —Okay, so it is not looking at fisheries when it is in northern waters, although there was a Fisheries officer on it—

Prof. Hurry —We put Fisheries officers on it in case we come across fishing activities.

Senator COLBECK —So there would have been some observation while it was working on other duties in other waters?

Prof. Hurry —It is similar to all the patrol boats in north Australia. They have a mix of functions that they carry out as part of the broader patrol program.

Senator COLBECK —How are Fisheries responsibilities managed in those areas?

Mr Venslovas —I would just add to that, in relation to the patrols that have been covered in northern waters by the Oceanic Viking. We have had officers on board part of the time and not on all patrols. The reason that we deploy them on some of the patrols is that the vessel is out there responding to the seven maritime threats. At the same time, obviously illegal people smuggling is the big issue. Fishing is also an issue and that is why we deploy these people on board, but we do not deploy them on every northern patrol undertaken by the Oceanic Viking. We try to deploy our officers on other patrol vessels that are more likely to respond to the illegal fishing threat—that is, small vessels, wooden-hulled vessels and so forth—so mainly on the Navy patrol vessels and the Customs patrol vessels. We try to cover as many patrols as we can.

Senator COLBECK —In relation to the prosecution of illegal fishermen, I am aware of a case of some fishermen off the north-west. The defence was led by the presiding judge or magistrate in the case as to the defence that should have been taken for the fishermen on the particular vessel, effectively saying that if they were not caught fishing they could not be charged with fishing. Does that raise any concerns for us in actually protecting our waters that we have? Based on the outcome of that particular case, we effectively have to catch somebody in the act to provide a level of protection?

Mr Venslovas —I think the case you are referring to involves a fisherman called Muslimin. It was a matter that went to the High Court and it relates to apprehensions that are conducted in waters north of the Australian fishing zone but in an area where Australia exercises joint jurisdiction with Indonesia: Australia exercises jurisdiction over sedentary species and Indonesia exercises jurisdiction over species which occur in the water column.

In the Muslimin case, what occurred there was that he was apprehended in that particular area and he was charged under a section of the act which relates to the carriage of gear, as we did not have enough evidence in that particular instance to pursue the actual fishing charge. The final wash-up of the High Court decision was that they found that the possession charge—that is, carriage of fishing equipment—could not apply in that particular area. As a result of that, the fishing charge still applies, so in that particular area we need evidence to support a charge of fishing as opposed to just carriage of fishing equipment.

Senator COLBECK —Is that a problem with our law or is it a problem of that particular zone?

Mr Venslovas —It is tied up with the complexity with the arrangements in that particular zone. Certainly the provisions of the act which apply to fishing apply, but it is just a technical issue with regard to a particular charge under the act that cannot be applied in that particular area but can be applied in waters south of the AFZ boundary.

Senator COLBECK —Yet a fisherman in the GBRMPA region off Queensland who is found travelling through a non-fishing zone with gear in his boat can end up with an on-the-spot fine and a conviction recorded against his name just for being there.

Mr Venslovas —The issue or the difference there is that the area that applies in the Muslimin case is an area of shared jurisdiction. It is in fact an Indonesian exclusive economic zone, as far as swimming species go, so it is overlaying or overlapping areas of jurisdiction as opposed to total no-go areas.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I have a couple of questions about the Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery. How many boats are operating in the ETBF at the moment?

Prof. Hurry —I will get Dr Findlay to talk you through these ETBF issues.

Dr Findlay —The ETBF boats are down. I can check the exact number for you, but it is down to about 79 boats, from memory. The operational number of boats varies according to market conditions—price, weather and things like that.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Can you tell me what the management costs for the ETBF are?

Dr Findlay —The management levy for 2009-10 is $1.9 million.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —How much per boat does that work out to?

Dr Findlay —The management levy this year is not calculated per boat. It is calculated based on the proportion of holdings of statutory fishing rights allocated under the eastern tuna management plan. So those with large percentage holdings with large catch histories who did well out of the allocation pay a greater percentage than those who did not do as well out of the allocation. So it is not based on a per boat calculation.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I have been told that there are now only 35 boats in the fishery and that the average cost is $50,000 per annum for each operating boat. In view of what you have said about it not being calculated per boat, perhaps that is not correct, but does the figure of approximately $50,000, on average, per boat sound right to you? I am trying to do the arithmetic myself.

Dr Findlay —Based on those numbers, that is about right, but that is not how it is calculated. That is certainly not the billing process.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Is the fishery large enough for you to tell me on notice, unless you have it there, what every owner of any statutory fishing right pays up there? Can you give me the details of all of those, without their names of course?

Dr Findlay —We could probably tell you the range of levy fees by company or something like that.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Yes. Notwithstanding the answer you will give me on notice, it does seem, if it is about $50,000, to be an enormously high figure for management of an area with so few boats in it. The question is: what makes up the $1.9 million?

Dr Findlay —Those are the recovered costs for management of the fishery. It includes the costs of observers in the fishery and the industry contribution to the management. There also is a contribution by government to management action undertaken in the fishery—things like development of management plans, running the fishery on a day-to-day basis, issuing rights, collection of data, processing data, undertaking stock assessments, issuing statutory fishing rights, maintaining our systems for the trading of those rights and enforcing them with either the input or the output control arrangements that have been placed with the fishery.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Would I find how the $1.9 million is made up somewhere else or, if not, can you give it to me on notice?

Dr Findlay —The costs that are calculated are part of a management advisory committee discussion, so those calculations are provided through the management advisory committees to the industry and other stakeholders. I do not see that there is any reason why we could not provide you with that breakdown.

Prof. Hurry —Our budgets go to industry before we finalise them and they discuss them, but James can probably run you through this. About three things came together in that fishery this year that made it look as though the fees had gone up quite a bit, but the overall fee for managing the fishery came down from the previous year by about $200,000.

Dr Findlay —Slightly, yes, less than that.

Prof. Hurry —Yes, so it actually came down. We are trying to pull the cost down, but the fishery went to quota instead of being on a permit basis. The east coast tuna fishery was one of the big beneficiaries of levy relief as part of that process and that passed in the time before this budget. The third one was the—

Dr Findlay —There was a carryover amount.

Prof. Hurry —Yes.

Dr Findlay —There was a levy subsidy component in 2008-09 which was the ETBF share of the $3 million levy subsidy under the Securing our Fishing Future package. That reduced the levies in 2008-09 by $610,000. There was a carryover from 2007-08 of unspent levies that had been collected for that period into the 2008-09 year of several hundred thousand dollars, which brought the actual collected levy amount down to just over $1 million. So the levy collection this year of $1.9 million saw about a 90-odd per cent increase in that levy collection. Some holders, because of this new calculation were paying for their access to the fishery and not just a pro rata share based on the number of permits. As a result of both that 93 per cent increase in the total collection and their proportional share going up, there was quite a large increase for some holders. Some holders saw a reduction in that—

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Would you have any idea of the profitability of the fishery?

Dr Findlay —The profitability of the fishery is assessed through the ABARE statistics. I am not sure how recent their data would be, but we can certainly give you on notice the current information on the profitability of the fishery.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —At the time of the Coral Sea Conservation Zone fiasco, if I could call it that—I do not want you to comment on my terminology there—there was a suggestion that that may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back in relation to the fishery. Do you have any view on that? Will the Coral Sea zone have any impact on the broader profitability of the fishery?

Prof. Hurry —There is a move in that fishery for the targeting of albacore and deep-set lines and quite a bit of that is taken further up the coast off the Barrier Reef. It would depend what actually happened with the Coral Sea fishery. The fishery’s profitability depends on operating costs and the strength of the Australian dollar and whether they are exporting and trading overseas.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Of course.

Prof. Hurry —But there is a portion of that fishery now higher up off the Queensland coast and then there is the more traditional yellowfin and big eye fishery, and the swordfish fishery off Queensland, so it is a hard question. I do not know.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Have you received any approaches from fishermen to actually shut the fishery down and pay them out?

Prof. Hurry —No, not at all. We would not be doing that.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —The Coral Sea Conservation Zone: you are conscious of that from previous estimates, I know. Has that impacted as yet upon the fishing effort in the Coral Sea area?

Prof. Hurry —Not that I am aware of. I have not heard any rumblings, even that people are ceasing to fish up there because of the—

Senator IAN MACDONALD —There is a moratorium on the issue of any new fishing rights in that area, isn’t there?

Prof. Hurry —We would not have issued any more anyway. We had a set of permits that were available there that were yearly access permits, and that just continues. We have not done anything one way or the other on that.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —As I recall, not much comes out of the Coral Sea, though.

Prof. Hurry —It is not a big fishery and it never has been, which was one of our beliefs: that it was reasonably sustainable as it was. We had a limited number of boats in there that were fairly targeted. Plus there are a couple of large enterprises on the Queensland coast that deal in aquarium animals as well, that you are aware of.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I think you said they now fish for albacore and something else in that area. Is that a new species from that fishery?

Prof. Hurry —No, they have fished albacore for quite a long time in that fishery but they have moved into deeper sets and bigger albacore, and they are targeting it higher up on the Queensland coast than where they traditionally did. It is more an extension of the range of where they are fishing for albacore than a new species in the fishery.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —You mentioned another species, too.

Prof. Hurry —Swordfish they have always fished. They have fished it off the Brisbane mounds and further out wide.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —All right. Thanks for that.

Prof. Hurry —Just on costs, the other thing we are doing in that fishery involves one of the big costs in that budget, and that is observer costs. We are running some trials with industry, using cameras in that fishery to try and gather our observer data. If we can get this to work at a reasonable cost, we think that it has the potential to reduce the cost of observers in the fishery. We are probably a bit over halfway through that trial, and the footage that is coming out of it is looking pretty positive.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —You will have CCTVs on every boat?

Prof. Hurry —Pretty much so. The interest is both from the owners of the permits, who are looking to know what their crews are doing out on the water, and from us because it gives us a better picture of whether there is any interaction with seabirds, whether people are using tori lines and just what they are catching.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —So you would have a camera that goes by satellite back to AFMA headquarters?

Prof. Hurry —No. We have four cameras mounted at different stations on the vessel and a hard drive on there that collects the data. When it comes into port, we just unload the cassette, and then we go through and monitor the catch—what is recorded in the logbook—against the tape.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —And they are untamperable?

Prof. Hurry —They are not bad. You can cut the lines to them if you want to, but there is an interest from both the owners and us in this. It would be different if we were saying to industry, ‘You must have these things. They are good for you,’ but it was a conscious decision by both us and industry to go into a trial and see whether we could get them to work, and it is looking pretty positive.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —As an alternative to observers?

Prof. Hurry —Yes, and it also helps us with compliance. We have got a compliance budget for the fishery as well. We think it also helps industry further down the track, in marketing, because they can basically say, ‘We’ve got 100 per cent observer coverage on this fishery because we’ve got cameras on all our vessels.’ If it works there, we may well extend it into some of our other fisheries as a way of continuing to try to reduce our costs.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —That is interesting. Thank you.

CHAIR —Senator Siewert, do you have any more?

Senator SIEWERT —Yes, I do. Can I please ask about albatross? I am going to anyway!

CHAIR —Is there an animal we have missed in your questions, Senator Siewert? Sorry.

Senator SIEWERT —I refrained from doing SBT, because Senator Colbeck covered that. We have talked in the past about longlines, and I am just following up on the trawl issues. With the BRS report talking about the cumulative impact and now looking at issues around trawl, I am wondering what you are doing about updating plans to deal with the issues that have now been raised about the impact that trawl fishing may be having on albatross.

Dr Findlay —We have had our bycatch and discards group down on the boats boats developing vessel operational plans to deal with issues, in particular, in relation to warp strikes from seabirds. Learning from some of the experiences in New Zealand, we think there are some fairly practical measures we can put in place on those boats, although it is important to actually go and talk to each of the operators about how they run their boat, to understand what those operational plans might mean for them. Essentially, it comes down to keeping birds away from trawl lines, and that looks mostly at how you discharge offal or other discards from the boat. The response from skippers has been pretty positive and they are quite keen to get these vessel operational plans rolled out right throughout our trawl fleet.

Senator SIEWERT —What is the timetable for rolling the measures out?

Dr Findlay —I will have to come back to you on the exact time frames for that program. The industry is very keen to get on with that themselves. It is not something they see that AFMA needs to hold their hand to do. They are very keen now that we have got, I think, 10 or 12 operational plans in place, and they are moving quite quickly to get the rest in place on the boats.

Prof. Hurry —Individual vessels are using some of this gear or better fishing practices to avoid warp strikes from birds.

Senator SIEWERT —They are doing it already?

Prof. Hurry —Yes. We have a little bycatch group that actually works out on the boats with the fishing industry and it has been a pretty productive relationship.

Senator COLBECK —There are some organisations that have pretty impressive records, from my understanding. I was talking to one of the operators. They have not caught any for five or six years now, working the Southern Ocean.

Senator SIEWERT —That is on longline.

Senator COLBECK —On longlines, yes.

Prof. Hurry —Yes. The longliners in the Southern Ocean have been very good on that. There is no argument.

Senator SIEWERT —There has been good progress there, but the latest report is showing the trawls having an impact. I am specifically now asking about the trawl.

Prof. Hurry —Yes, and that is what we are answering.

Senator SIEWERT —You are not waiting for further work to implement mitigation measures now. You are starting to roll them out now; sooner rather than later. Is that the point?

Dr Findlay —That is right.

Senator SIEWERT —We have already talked about observer coverage and that has increased to 120 days, hasn’t it? So you are already working on observer coverage in general.

Dr Findlay —That is 120 days in relation to sea lions. We have a broader observer program for the entire South East Fishery, which has a larger amount of coverage; obviously it involves more effort. I can get you the exact numbers on that.

Senator SIEWERT —If you could, that would be appreciated. They are the main questions I had there. The other questions I have are actually for environment. Thanks.

Senator COLBECK —Can I just go back to a couple of things in the budget. The transfer of the liaison officer in Jakarta across to the AFP: what is your view on the impact of that and how do you intend to maintain a connection, given that occurrence?

Prof. Hurry —When we got the first lot of money on northern illegal fishing—it might have been the second lot of money—we put three officers in the Indonesian embassy. One was a DAFF official, John Ackerman, who is still there. A Customs officer and an AFP officer went in as part of the broader package. As part of the DAFF portfolio budget, the DAFF officer is still there as a fisheries and ag counsellor. I am not sure how they fund the Customs and AFP ones, but our understanding is that they are still in place in the embassy in Jakarta, and we have regular liaison with them. I think it is more of an accounting issue. It is probably better taken up with the Federal Police. The DAFF officer is definitely still in place, and our understanding is that the others are still in place and they are still liaising.

Senator COLBECK —So it may just be a pure transfer?

Prof. Hurry —Yes.

Senator COLBECK —I was not aware of the other details of the program. That covers that off. This comes out of the Customs and Border Protection Service, but it talks about a saving of $18.182 million as a result of the decline in illegal fishing, which has in turn resulted in reduced activity relating to apprehensions, detention of illegal foreign fishers, as well as a reduction in costs associated with towing and destruction of their vessels. Have you got any further detail on that as far as you are concerned? Does that line up with the experience that AFMA is seeing in that region?

Prof. Hurry —I think there is a block of discretionary money that, if we do not use it, we actually give back, and that is about the handling of illegal vessels, the amount we destroy and the number of people we actually handle in the process.

Senator COLBECK —I am not sure that it is out of your budget specifically.

Prof. Hurry —No, that would be the Customs one.

Senator COLBECK —I think it is out of the Customs budget, but I just wondered how it interacted with what AFMA was doing—

Prof. Hurry —I am not sure what the background of it is.

Senator COLBECK —given it is talking about the things that we are worried about.

Prof. Hurry —Yes. Our budget has stayed pretty much where it is. It is probably a question for Customs. I would be talking through my hat.

Mr Venslovas —I was just going to add that it probably is a question better directed towards Customs and Border Protection Service and just reiterate that our budget has remained the same on illegal foreign fishing issues.

Prof. Hurry —I think, as at today, we have got 21 arrests.

Mr Venslovas —Twenty-one for this financial year.

Prof. Hurry —Yes, 21 apprehensions. So our numbers are down significantly from where they peaked in 2005-06, when I think we registered 367 vessels. We have got a significantly lower level of handling than we had in the past.

Mr Venslovas —If I could add to that: we are undertaking, as a result of our position in terms of reduced levels of interceptions, a lot of in-country work to try and tackle the problem at its source by visiting key Indonesian ports to talk to the fishermen there and to explain to them what the implications are if they are caught in Australian waters. We are also working on a regional basis with South-East Asian nations to combat IUU fishing in the region collectively, and there are some good initiatives underway in a bilateral context with the Indonesian government in terms of capacity building and also joint patrolling along the line that adjoins both of our EEZs. There is a lot of effort being put into areas other than just the apprehension and prosecution side of things.

Senator COLBECK —So continuing to work along the coastlines and in the communities?

Mr Venslovas —Yes.

Senator COLBECK —In fact, the senator sitting next to me started some of that work by following on from my Tasmanian colleague, so another pat on the back tonight for Senator Macdonald and his work.

CHAIR —I am not going to bite, Senator Colbeck.

Senator COLBECK —I did not want you to bite. I thought you might have joined in actually and acknowledged that someone has done some good work and it is paying off: purely and simply credit where credit is due. It does not hurt every now and then.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Gee, I was just about to leave, too. Lucky I didn’t go!

Senator COLBECK —Going to the southern ocean vessel surveillance days, you mentioned that you would have had four patrols in this year. You obviously have issues with that, given the timing of the ship coming on. Funding has been reduced from $280 million in 2009-10 to $200 million in 2010-11 and then down to $120 million in the forward years. How does that fit in with what you would see as the patrol program? Obviously you are not going to do four patrols when you are cutting the budget from $280 million to $120 million.

Prof. Hurry —Are they the Customs figures?

Senator COLBECK —Yes, they are.

Prof. Hurry —I am sure we budgeted on four, didn’t we?

Senator COLBECK —So someone is not telling you what is going on?

Prof. Hurry —No, hang on.

Senator COLBECK —I am sorry to break it to you that way.

Prof. Hurry —No, that is okay. Peter might have some better information than I have on it anyway.

Mr Venslovas —The resources that we would normally have sent on that fourth patrol would be redirected towards the capacity-building initiatives that I was referring to earlier. It relates to what is happening not only in northern waters but also in southern waters in terms of providing assistance for countries like Malaysia in training on catch documentation schemes, how to identify toothfish to enhance their port state control measures. That will provide us with resources to focus a greater effort in that area in the forthcoming years.

Senator COLBECK —It is a significant reduction in presence. I am wondering how that matched up with—

Prof. Hurry —I have not seen those figures, and we were just assuming that we had a rolling program of four patrols a year down there. I would need to take that on notice and see what I can do with it.

Senator COLBECK —We will visit your friends in Customs and see what we can garner from them, obviously. I am sorry to surprise you with that.

Prof. Hurry —No, that is okay.

Senator COLBECK —Thanks.

CHAIR —Thank you, Senator Colbeck. Senator Siewert, have we exhausted your marine menagerie?

Senator SIEWERT —Yes. I did have one other question, going back to the albatross, if that is okay, before you go.

CHAIR —Wandering or—

Senator SIEWERT —No. I am now talking about the shy albatross. You talked about the measures that fishers are taking to deal with the warp cables et cetera. Are you doing any further investigation on that or are you satisfied that you have the measures—it is just about implementing the measures that need to be taken to address the issues around trawling and albatross?

Dr Findlay —There are two issues. The first issue is getting those measures in place and the second is monitoring that over time to make sure it is effective.

Senator SIEWERT —So you are at the point now where you feel you have the control mechanisms fairly well understood. It is purely an implementation process.

Dr Findlay —Learning from experiences here and elsewhere, we know what causes birds to come near warps. Addressing those measures on board the boats and working with the fishers to make sure that is practical should yield pretty good results, as it has in New Zealand. The ongoing observer program will be part of that in making sure that those measures are effective.

Senator SIEWERT —If those measures do not, through monitoring, obtain the outcomes necessary, is it possible that closures will be considered down the track? I am thinking specifically of the shy albatross, which is endemic and, I understand, may be particularly affected by trawling.

Dr Findlay —We would always seek to try and find measures to reduce the mortalities rather than use area closures. Time-area closures are a blunt tool, especially for birds. They have a habit of moving around and they are quite difficult to follow, so we would always try and seek to do those sorts of measures. Ultimately, if you could not come up with some solution, then time-area closures might be an option, as they are used in the longline fishery now, for example. At the moment, if we trip over too many birds—and those thresholds are set very low—we put in a time-area closure to get boats out of that area while the birds are doing their thing. But we try and do everything else but.

Senator SIEWERT —So that is a possibility down the track, the time-area closure?

Prof. Hurry —I know it is an issue for seabirds broadly, which is why we have accepted it as a problem and started to try and find ways to mitigate it. But, as to whether it is a specific issue for shy albatross, unless James has some other information, I am not sure whether we have specifically what the incidence is for different species, and we would probably need to have a look at that.

Dr Findlay —Data on warp strikes by species is very hard to collect. The time between a bird being there and being gone is very short, so the data is not always that great. We often know it is a bird; we are not often sure of the species. But albatross are always one species that you want to keep a pretty close eye on, given some of the issues with those species.

Senator SIEWERT —Thank you.

CHAIR —Thank you, Senator Siewert. On that note, I thank AFMA and the officers of AFMA.

[10.28 pm]