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Maritime security and illegal fishing: a national disgrace.



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Maritime Security and Illegal Fishing: A National Disgrace

Labor’s Transport and Maritime Security Taskforce

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TERMS OF REFERENCE .................................................................................................. 3

TASK FORCE HEARINGS TO DATE ........................................................................... 4

FOREWORD ............................................................................................................................ 7

OVERVIEW.............................................................................................................................. 8

BACKGROUND ...................................................................................................................10

Structure of the illegal fishing industry.....................................................................10

The role of the Navy ................................................................................................12

CHALLENGES ..................................................................................................................... 14

Impact of illegal fishing on the Commercial Fishing Industry...................................14

The impact of illegal fishing on local communities...................................................17

One Arm Point .....................................................................................................17

Maningrida ...........................................................................................................18

The Tiwi Islands...................................................................................................19

Threats to Australia’s quarantine status ..................................................................21

Threats to our Ecosystems......................................................................................23

THE NEED FOR NATIONAL LEADERSHIP ............................................................25

The Howard Government’s failure to deter illegal fishers ........................................25

A problem out of control.......................................................................................25

The ‘tag and release’ policy .................................................................................25

THE WAY FORWARD .......................................................................................................27

Adopting a coordinated approach to maritime surveillance .....................................27

DETERRENTS......................................................................................................................28

An Australian Coastguard .......................................................................................28

Enlist the Merchant Navy into the surveillance task ................................................30

State and Territory Fisheries ...................................................................................30

Indigenous Patrols...................................................................................................33

Further consultation with the Indonesian Government ............................................34

MOU Box .............................................................................................................34

The development of alternative fisheries projects in Indonesia ...............................35 Sinking boats at sea ................................................................................................36

Quarantine Risk Management Procedures .............................................................38

CONCLUSION……… ……………………………………………………………………40

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TERMS OF REFERENCE

The Caucus Taskforce on Transport and Maritime Security was established to:

a) Identify weaknesses in Australia’s transport security, focussing in particular on

regional airports, land and rail transport.

b) Identify weaknesses in Australia’s maritime security, in particular:

i. illegal foreign fishing in Australian waters, and associated threats to border

control, public health, quarantine protection and fisheries resources arising from this

problem; and

ii. Carriage of dangerous cargo in Australian waters and through Australian ports,

in particular by foreign-crewed vessels;

c) Propose practical measures to address these weaknesses.

This report focuses on a range of practical strategies to address weaknesses in

Australia’s maritime security with regard to illegal foreign fishing in Australian waters,

and associated threats to border control, public health, quarantine protection and

fisheries resources arising from this activity.

A further report will be produced at a later date to address those terms of reference

relating to regional airports, urban public transport, and the carriage of dangerous

cargo in Australian waters and through Australian ports.

MEMBERS OF THE TASKFORCE

Chair: Anna Burke MP

Deputy Chair: Steve Gibbons MP Secretary: Senator Glenn Sterle Members: Dick Adams MP

Roger Price MP

Senator Ruth Webber

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TASKFORCE HEARINGS TO DATE

Perth, Western Australia, 2 February 2006.

Evidence was taken from the following people: Hon. Jon Ford MLC Western Australian Minister for Fisheries. Mr Guy Leyland and Ms Felicity Horn, Western Australian Fishing Industry Council Inc.

Broome, Western Australia, 17 February 2006.

Evidence was taken from the following people: Mr Brett McCallum, Pearl Producers Association; Mr Adam Masters, Mr George Hamilton, Mr Paul Cordingley, and Mr Dennis Linnaker, Northern Demersal Scalefish Fishery; Mr Graham Campbell (President) and Mr Ian Bodill (CEO), Shire of Broome; Mr Reith MacLeod (Airport Manager), Broome International Airport; Mr Larry House, Clipper Pearls; Mr Grant Smart, North West Tourism; Mr Chris Mitchell (Supervisor of Fisheries Officer International Operations Group) and Mr Tim Nicholas (Compliance Manager), Western Australian Department of Fisheries; Mr Wayne Bergman (CEO), Kimberly Land Council; Mr Chris Geraghty, Broome Port Authority; and Mr Craig Brockway, Australian Quarantine Inspection Service.

One Arm Point, Western Australia, 18 February 2006.

Evidence was taken from the following people: Mr Graham Maisey (CEO) and Mr Andrew Carter (Chairman), Bardi Indigenous Community; and An aerial tour of King Sound and Brue Reef was conducted, accompanied by Mr Barry Sharpe and Mr Paul Fitzpatrick of the Western Australian Department of Fisheries.

Murdoch University, Perth, Western Australia, 20 February 2006.

Evidence was taken from the following people: Professor Graham Wilcox (Virology); Associate Professor Stan Fenwick (Public Health); and Dr Mark O’Dea (Veterinary Virologist), Murdoch University.

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Northern Territory, 21 - 22 March 2006.

Evidence was taken from the following people: Mr Garry Tucker and Mr Kevin Langham, Australian Quarantine Inspection Service; Prof. Gordon Duff and Mr Joe Morrison, National Aboriginal & Islander Land and Sea Management Association; Council Rangers Tiwi Island Land Council; Mr Iain Smith, CEO, Northern Territory Seafood Council; Mr John Christophersen, Northern Land Council; Hon. Kon Vatskalis MLC Northern Territory Minister for Primary Industry and Fisheries; Ms Adele Pedder, Australian Marine Conservation Society; Mr Peter Robertson, Environment Centre of the Northern Territory; Mr Tony Wurramarrba (Chairman) and Mr Ross Hebblewhite (Manager), Anindilyakwa Land Council; Mr Chris Makepeace, Executive Director, Amateur Fishing Association of the NT; and Commodore Campbell Darby, NORCOM.

Canberra, 29 March 2006.

Evidence was taken from the following people: Mr Dean Summers and Mr Rod Pickette, Maritime Union of Australia; Mr John Allan and Ms Danni Whyte, Transport Workers’ Union of Australia; and Mr Bob Hayden, Rail Tram & Bus Union.

Tasmania, 3 April 2006.

Evidence was taken from the following people: Mr Arthur Dobson, Post-Polio Tasmania; Mr Bernie Smith (CEO); Mr Charles Black (General Manager Port Services) and Mr Richard Barnard (General Manager Infrastructure and Property Services), TasPorts Authority; Mr Mike Downie (Mayor) Central Coast Council; Mr Alvwyn Boyd, Mr Kevin Hyland and Ms Waratah-Wynard, City of Burnie; and Mr Paul Arnold and Mr Alan Leeson (Manager) Burnie Airport.

Melbourne 7 April 2006.

Evidence was taken from the following people: John Allan Federal Secretary Transport Workers’ Union Danni Whyte Transport Workers’ Union (Victorian Branch)

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Karratha, Western Australia, 12 - 13 April 2006

Evidence was taken from the following people: Mr Warren Fish and Mr Luke Blackbourn, Woodside Energy; and Workplace Delegates, Maritime Union of Australia, Australian Maritime Officers’ Union and Australian Institute of Marine & Power Engineers.

Brisbane, Queensland 19 April 2006.

Evidence was taken from the following people: Mr Jim Mullin (Executive Director), QLD Corrective Services; Mr Hughie Williams (QLD Branch Secretary), Transport Workers’ Union; Mr Bruce Mackay, Rail Tram and Bus Union; The Hon. Paul Lucas MP Queensland Minister for Transport and Roads Ms Margo Canavan, Pinkenba Residents Association; Mr Jason O’Brien MP Queensland State Member for Cook; Mr Mick Carr (Secretary) and Delegation, Maritime Union of Australia; Neil Green Queensland Seafood Industry Association

Cairns, Queensland, 20 April 2006

Evidence was taken from the following people: Mr Chris Bolland (General Manager Seaport) Cairns Port Authority; Mr Phil Warwick, Cairns Airport; Mr Wayne Bayne, Boating Industry Association; and Mr Jim Turnour, Federal Labor Candidate for Leichardt.

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FOREWORD

This Taskforce has been asked to identify weaknesses in Australia’s transport

security, focussing in particular on regional airports, land and rail transport. It was

also asked to investigate Australia’s maritime security, in particular, illegal foreign

fishing in Australian waters, and associated threats to border control, public health,

quarantine protection and fisheries resources arising from this problem.

Finally, the Taskforce was in addition asked to investigate the risks associated with

the carriage of dangerous cargo in Australian waters and through Australian ports, in

particular by foreign-crewed vessels.

The Taskforce has visited 10 locations and taken evidence from more than 50

witnesses.

This report is based on the evidence taken by the Taskforce from a large number of

witnesses from the most affected regions and communities along Australia’s northern

coastline.

The report focuses on a range of practical strategies to address weaknesses in

Australia’s maritime security system, with particular reference to illegal foreign fishing

in Australian waters.

A further report will be produced at a later date to address those terms of reference

relating to regional airports, urban public transport, and the carriage of dangerous

cargo in Australian waters and through Australian ports.

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OVERVIEW

The Howard Government’s failure to properly police Australia’s northern coastline has

resulted in an invasion of foreign fishing vessels. After years of neglect, the number

vessels entering Australian territory has reached crisis point.

In 2005 Coastwatch recorded 13,018 sightings of illegal vessels in Australian waters,

a 35 per cent increase from the previous year. Only 280 illegal vessels were

apprehended and a further 327 boats had their fishing gear and catch confiscated

representing just 4.6 per cent of all sighted vessels. This problem is now out of

control.

The Howard Government has put no meaningful deterrents in place to discourage

illegal fishers: there is almost no chance they will be caught; even if they are it is

unlikely that they will be fined or prosecuted. The funding package announced in the

2006/07 Federal Budget provides little more than additional funding to support a failed

approach while some measures are simply cosmetic.

Not only is there a dramatic increase in illegal vessels entering our waters, there is

also an alarming increase in the number of these vessels landing on the Australian

mainland. Illegal fishers are landing on the Australian mainland and establishing

supply camps. Many of these boats carry dogs that might have rabies and chickens

that could carry avian flu. These boats present a significant quarantine and public

health risk.

Illegal fishing is no longer confined to traditional subsistence fishers. Many illegal

fishing vessels now come equipped with echo sounders, radar and global positioning

systems. Sophisticated criminal syndicates can now view Australian waters as ‘easy

pickings’.

The lack of adequate surveillance of Australia’s northern coastline and adjoining

waters is also an open invitation to drug and people smugglers.

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In addition to threatening the economic viability of Australia’s domestic fishing

industry, the illegal fishing crisis poses a real threat to our quarantine status, public

health and national security.

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BACKGROUND

Structure of the illegal fishing industry

The Taskforce was provided with considerable detail about the changing nature of

illegal fishing activity in the north. Much of this information had been gathered from

Indonesian fishers and from various state and local groups’ own fact-finding missions

to Indonesia. The Taskforce was also briefed by Professor James Fox of the

Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies at the Australian National University.

Most illegal fishers are from Indonesia with the trade becoming increasingly

sophisticated in recent years. It is clear that traditional Indonesian fishers have been

replaced by highly commercialised fleets operated by a small number of owners. The

Taskforce heard there is an increasing presence of Chinese financiers involved in

funding illegal fishing.

The Task Force was told that the Bas [Indonesian boss] funds the boats and meets

the costs of each trip. Fishers are then in debt to the Bas. A successful trip nearly

pays out the debt - but not quite. An unsuccessful trip locks in the fisher to the Bas

for ever. Bodi - small, fast shark boats with two 24-28HP engines and GPS

navigation fishing mainly off the north-west coast of Western Australia - are operating

on the basis that only one in ten will ever be caught.

The trade has been concentrating on shark fin due to high international prices.

Price of Shark Fin (Rote/Kupang:2005) Rp per kg $AUD

Class I (Size > 60 cm) 1,200,000 171.00

Class II (Size 40 - 60 cm) 800,000 114.00

Class III (Size 40 cm) 200,000 29.00

Base (of Shark Tail) 65,000 9.00

Source: REPORT ON ILLEGAL FISHERMEN IN AUSTRALIAN WATERS: Shark Fishermen from Merauke, Dobo, Saumlaki and Papela, Professor James Fox, ANU

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Indonesian fishers are prepared to risk their lives to journey into Australian waters

because the profits from a successful trip are so great. According to Professor Fox,

around 40 Indonesian fishers drowned in Australian waters last year.

The Taskforce was told that in recent times there has been a shift to reef fish which

are sought by the Asian hotel trade. Trochus shell is also targeted.

The shift away from shark fin to reef fish is confirmed by the increase in the numbers

of Chinese and Thai trawlers engaging in illegal fishing in Australian waters. The

Taskforce was advised that recently there has been a shift to larger, more

sophisticated boats.

‘Ice boats’ with a crew of 12 to 14 have been sighted in increasing numbers. These

boats, ranging up to 60 tonnes, can operate in Australian waters for up to 10 days -

the life of the salted ice on board. They are more likely to carry animals and food

supplies on board, including fruit and vegetables, which present a significant

quarantine risk.

These boats are steel hulled with a foam interior (much like a giant esky) and are

difficult to destroy at sea. They are generally registered in Indonesia either at a

regional or national level. They appear to be from areas north of Timor.

A number of ‘mother’ (commercial) ships have been sighted in Australian waters.

These are sophisticated ships with crews of around 20.

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The role of the Navy

Headquarters Northern Command - NORCOM - is accommodated in Larrakeyah

Barracks and adjacent to HMAS Coonawarra in Darwin, NT. Commander NORCOM

is the most senior ADF officer permanently overseeing Australia's northern theatre of

operations, including Operation Cranberry, Operational Relex II and Operation

Breakwater. In March 2004 NORCOM had its operational responsibilities integrated

into the new Joint Operations Command structure. While the Joint Operations

Command is commanded by the Vice Chief of the Defence Force from Canberra,

NORCOM remains a decentralised element of this joint command. The decentralised

structure recognises the unique strategic importance of northern Australia to the ADF.

The Taskforce was briefed on the new patrol boats that will operate off the northern

Australian coast and the new crewing arrangements that will extend the operating time

of the boats. These boats will add to the effectiveness of the Navy carrying out its

traditional naval tasks in the region.

However, Navy boats are primarily designed and crewed for traditional naval duties

and are not the most cost effective way confronting illegal fishing. Cost effectiveness

is important because we need to maximise the number of hulls we can put in the water

to interdict illegal vessels.

While our sailors perform an admirable job with the equipment provided, the reality is

that the Navy's vessels are often too big and cumbersome to enter shallow waters and

creeks where illegal fishers often hide out.

The role of the Navy in combating illegal fishing is not indefinite - it is subject to

availability. As the rapid deterioration of the situation in East Timor showed recently,

RAN assets can and do require swift and forward deployment. In such instances

combating illegal fishing will take a back seat.

Questions have arisen as to the capacity of the Navy to interdict illegal fishing vessels

due to operational constraints onNavy resulting from specific rules of engagement.

The vessels of the Australian Customs Service - as a key civilian agency responding

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to foreign illegal fishing activity in the north - are now appropriately armed with deck

mounted guns. But it is illogical for Naval Officers and Customs Officers to operate

under separate chains of command and differing rules of engagement in performing

essentially the same task. This fragmentation needs to be addressed.

It is difficult for both the Navy and Customs to deal with these foreign boats at night

and they are difficult to locate in the mangroves during the day. Radar cannot detect

the small wooden boats in the mangroves.

While the Taskforce considers that the Navy applies its resources as best it can to

locate and apprehend foreign boats illegally fishing in deeper waters, its effectiveness

is limited by a number of factors including operational limitations on vessels and other

demands on its resources.

The Taskforce was briefed by the Commander of NORCOM about the operation of the

Offshore Protection Command. NORCOM’s capacity is a step in the right direction but

its capacity to deal effectively with what is a dramatically escalating problem of illegal

incursions into Australian territory is limited.

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CHALLENGES

Impact of illegal fishing on the Commercial Fishing Industry

The Taskforce spoke at length to representatives of the commercial fishing industry

and the consensus was that the Howard Government has failed their industry.

Numerous fishers expressed serious concerns that the Howard Government is

completely out of touch with their plight and that their livelihood, their industry and, in a

majority of cases, their family businesses were being destroyed by illegal fishing.

Commercial fishing in northern Australia is a key economic driver with direct

investment in wild catch fisheries in the Northern Territory alone in the order of $1.4

billion. The Taskforce was told that in the Northern Territory there are over 650

businesses directly involved in the seafood industry, employing approximately 1500

people. There are 330 registered commercial fishing vessels.

The commercial fishing industry has long accepted the need for an ecologically

sustainable catch. They have accepted limits on their catch and numerous other

imposts, but they cannot comprehend why they are reducing their take to sustain

stock while the Howard Government does nothing to stop illegal fishers plundering our

waters.

The industry told the Taskforce it has tried for many years to play its part in the

containment of illegal fishing by regularly reporting sightings of illegal boats, but the

lack of feedback or action by the Howard Government has left the industry feeling the

authorities no longer care.

The Taskforce was told of recent cases of Australian fishermen reportedly being

threatened by Australian authorities with charges of piracy if they intercepted an illegal

boat or destroyed the illegal boat’s nets. This approach has left the industry

despondent or worse - as one individual fisher said, they are “beyond despair”.

The industry repeatedly raised the impossibility of managing a fishery in a sustainable

way when the size of the illegal catch is unknown and control over the illegal catch is

non-existent.

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The industry representatives said they were not aware of any research being done

into the size of the illegal catch or the current state of fish stocks in our northern

waters, so they could not understand why they were being asked again to take a

reduction in catch when there was no evidence demonstrating the need to do so.

The commercial fishers in Cairns had serious concerns about the Howard

Government’s lack of action on illegal fishing. They have begrudgingly accepted the

closure of large sections of the Great Barrier Reef to ensure the reef is protected. The

Taskforce was told these closures had all but destroyed the charter fishing trade.

What the industry could not accept was the lack of patrolling of the Great Barrier Reef

to ensure illegal fishers do not destroy it. Commercial fishers told the Taskforce that

foreign boats are not only taking precious fish stocks, they are also contaminating the

Reef through the discharge of bilge water, oil and numerous other contaminants into

this World Heritage listed area. They said the Howard Government seems unable or

unwilling to act.

The Taskforce was told of a recent incident on Raine Island (a highly protected

conservation area where turtles breed) where an illegal vessel had moored for three

weeks to catch shark and was not apprehended, even after numerous calls to the

authorities. The commercial fishers in Cairns and surrounding areas are fined heavily

for going into the protected areas, but the illegal boats appear to be operating in the

area unchecked.

The Northern Territory Seafood Council was just one body that highlighted to the

Taskforce the need for a plan to combat illegal fishing, stating that there has been no

formal contact with the commercial fishing sector by any of the Commonwealth

agencies, and no feedback from Customs about reported sightings from fishers.

The commercial fishers have called on the Minister for Fisheries, Senator Eric Abetz,

to organise a national forum of stakeholders.

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COMMENT

The Taskforce is strongly of the view that government agencies should be

utilising the fishing industry in the fight to gain control of our northern fisheries

and protect our borders.

The Taskforce is of the view that a successful approach to halting illegal fishing

requires a national strategy with a high level of co-operation between all levels

of government, agencies and stakeholders.

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The impact of illegal fishing on local communities

One Arm Point

The Taskforce had the opportunity to visit a number of remote communities to gain a

first hand account of the impact of foreign illegal fishers in the north. The indigenous

community at One Arm Point in the northwest of Western Australia told the Taskforce

that it was very important for the community to preserve and protect its traditional

lands and waters.

The One Arm Point community, which has a population of approximately 350 people,

was furious about the activity of Indonesian trochus shell poaching, which has all but

wiped out the community’s commercial trochus enterprise. The community has built a

profitable trochus farm and had been harvesting the valuable shell at a rate of around

10 tonnes per year. Community leaders told the Taskforce that their survival very

much depends on this resource being protected and managed sustainably. Last year

the community made $85,000 exporting trochus shell to Italy.

Processing trochus shell is hard work “from sun up to sun down”, but the work is only

seasonal. The community told the Taskforce of plans to further develop the enterprise

to help them move away from a dependence on government funding through the

Community Development Employment Project. In their own words they are

“desperate to be self-sufficient”.

The community identified the need for full-time patrols to protect their resources as the

Indonesian illegals poach trochus even during the cyclone season. These patrols

should also reinforce border protection. The community also expressed great concern

about the possibility of disease being transmitted to native flora and fauna.

The One Arm Point community overwhelmingly supported the State Government’s sea

ranger program but said it was not enough. They say there is a need for the Federal

Government to permanently locate a border protection vessel in Broome.

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The community said it was considering suing the Howard Government over its failure

to protect their property from exploitation by Indonesian fishers.

Maningrida

The Maningrida community told the Taskforce the intrusion onto Aboriginal land by

foreign illegal fishers was an issue that caused widespread concern in Indigenous

communities. They said this was the result of the failure of the Federal Government to

assert national sovereignty.

Community leaders told the Taskforce they have long been alerting Customs and the

Navy of the presence of boats but have found the response inadequate. Community

leaders have also offered assistance regarding surveillance but with little response.

The community said since September 2005 there had been 26 suspected illegal

fishing boats sighted around Maningrida.

The community said there was a need to consider the cost of dealing with these

intrusions in the context of the cost of managing an outbreak of foot and mouth

disease through the Northern Australian feral pig population.

The community suggested there was a need to look at the funding arrangements and

conditions for Kakadu rangers as a possible model for the development of a network

of indigenous sea rangers across the top of Northern Australia.

The cost of the sea rangers at Maningrida is $250,000 a year. The community has

three boats at the moment and would be prepared to dedicate one of these vessels to

a surveillance role.

The Taskforce was told that there should be a rapid response capacity to back up the

sea ranger network along the coast. Consideration should also be given to

regionalising the holding of Indonesian boats rather than having them towed into

Darwin.

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Northern Territory Fisheries is currently providing the community with $60,000 for

surveillance work by the sea rangers. The Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation is also

supporting the program.

The Tiwi Islands

The Taskforce was told by the Tiwi Land Council that to provide an effective sea

ranger presence around the Tiwi Islands there was a need to expand the current sea

ranger program which employs two sea rangers.

These sea rangers have been operating since the early 1990s and are paid a full-time

wage by the Tiwi Land Council. The Council also receives funding through Northern

Territory Fisheries.

One ranger covers the west coast of Bathurst Island while the other covers the

Melville Island coastline. They operate two 4.5 metre vessels.

The Council told the Taskforce that in recent years there has been an explosion in

both amateur and charter fishing leading to the exploitation of fish resources and the

unauthorised access to Aboriginal land.

The Council said it had responded to this pressure by establishing special fishing

camps on the islands with the Northern Territory Amateur fishers. These camps are

monitored by the sea rangers.

The Council told the Taskforce it no longer receives any advice from Coastwatch

about possible illegal boats in the area - advice used to be given if a boat was located

from the air. The Council had no evidence of any Indonesian camps on the islands

but nets and marine debris are regularly washed ashore.

The Council advised the Taskforce that to provide an effective sea ranger operation it

needed two larger boats and two more sea rangers. The Islands are about 280

nautical miles from Indonesia.

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COMMENT

The Taskforce believes that local communities along Australia’s northern

coastline should be considered important stakeholders in the development and

implementation of a comprehensive and effective strategy to control illegal

foreign fishing. While the 2006-07 Budget allocated $6.9 million to the

Indigenous Marine Ranger Program, the Taskforce is of the view that this is not

sufficient.

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Threats to Australia’s quarantine status

The Taskforce was repeatedly told that there are an increasing number of foreign

vessels landing on the Australian mainland. There is also evidence that the crews on

these boats are establishing depots or outposts for the storage of their catch, food

supplies and fishing gear.

These landings are in remote areas with few, if any, controls to mitigate the risk of

introduced pests and diseases. The Taskforce was told that a large number of human

diseases including cholera, hepatitis, dengue fever, tuberculosis, polio and malaria are

prevalent among Indonesian fishers.

The presence of mosquito larvae on many of the apprehended boats also poses a

serious risk to human health, including malaria and dengue fever.

The risk of introducing these diseases is significantly heightened by the presence of

rodents and insects on these boats. The Taskforce was also told it was common for

these boats to carry parrots, chickens and dogs, further adding to the risk as potential

carriers of animal diseases including foot and mouth disease, Newcastle disease and

rabies. The Taskforce took evidence that invasive pests such as the black striped

mussel could easily be transported to the Australian mainland on these boats,

threatening Australia’s biosecurity.

The Taskforce was advised that pest incursions in remote areas resulting from foreign

boats making landfall could take up to five years before a pest population was big

enough to be detectable. The longer it takes to dispose of these boats, the greater the

quarantine risk from pests.

If established in Australia, these diseases would pose a significant risk to public health

and would cost the Australian economy potentially billions of dollars.

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COMMENT

Australia is largely free of the major diseases and pests that plague the rest of

the world. The economic value of our unique quarantine status is significant.

Australia’s freedom from many of the diseases and pests present in other

countries in the region has also preserved our unique flora and fauna.

Given the economic, social and environmental value of our quarantine status

the Taskforce finds it alarming that the Howard Government has allowed a

threat to this status to build through the illegal entry of fishing vessels into

Australian waters.

Further, the Taskforce is concerned that given the time a disease or pest

incursion takes to present, Australia’s quarantine status may have already been

compromised by the Howard Government’s inaction.

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Threats to our Ecosystems

The Taskforce heard that illegal fishing is having a devastating impact on the marine

environment. Illegal fishers are taking up to 25,000 tonnes of shark each year. These

sharks are killed only for their fins, and their bodies dumped in the water. Indigenous

communities in the Northern Territory told the Task Force that numbers of large

sharks have significantly declined in recent years.

The Taskforce was also told that Illegal fishers are slaughtering dolphins and dugongs

to use as bait to attract sharks. Considering the huge number of illegal fishers

entering our waters, this means that each year possibly thousands of dolphins and

dugongs in northern waters are being slaughtered for shark bait. Sea turtles are

hunted for their flesh and shell. Large numbers of dolphins, dugongs and turtles are

also being killed each year in nets which Indonesian fishers drop in Australian waters.

The Taskforce was told of concerns about the impact of illegal fishing on marine

biodiversity in Australian waters as illegal fishers ignore the boundaries of protected

areas such as marine parks, and do not use fishing measures designed to protect

non-target marine species such as turtles.

COMMENT

In some areas actions to protect the environment have had a significant impact

on regional economies and, in particular, the commercial fishing industry.

Restrictions have also been placed on recreational fishing.

While there have been concerns raised about how measures to protect marine

environments have been imposed there has been general support for improved

environmental protection.

24

While sectors of the Australian community have accepted significant

adjustments to their way of life to protect marine environments in the national

interest, inaction by the Howard Government has allowed foreign illegal fishers

to plunder our waters at an unsustainable level.

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THE NEED FOR NATIONAL LEADERSHIP

The Howard Government’s failure to deter illegal fishers

A problem out of control

The Taskforce was repeatedly told that the Howard Government’s current approach is

not resulting in sufficient apprehensions of illegal operators. Evidence given to the

Taskforce suggested that nine out of 10 illegal trips are currently successful.

According to evidence given by Coastwatch to Senate Estimates, 13,018 illegal

vessels were sighted in Australian waters last year:

Rear Adm. Crane - I may be able to help you with respect to the sightings. I have some sightings data here for both calendar and financial years. This is in terms of foreign fishing vessels. In calendar year 2004, there were 9,639 sightings by both Coastwatch and ADF assets. In calendar year 2005, there were 13,018 sightings. That is an increase of about 35 per cent. There was a similar trend in financial years 2003-04 and 2004-05. I do not think there is any doubt that there has been an increase in the number of vessels that we have sighted inside the Australian EEZ. Our difficulty is in coming to an absolute figure. The trend is certainly that there is an increasing number of vessels, but coming to an absolute figure is the problem.

Source: Senate Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee, Estimates, 31 May 2006

And according to the former Fisheries Minister, Senator Ian Mcdonald, Australian

authorities intercepted 607 boats fishing illegally in our northern waters in 2005.

According to Senator Mcdonald only 280 of those boats were apprehended. The

remaining 327 had their fishing gear and catch confiscated. That is, less than half of

all actions taken by Customs and Navy vessels against foreign fishing vessels in 2005

resulted in apprehension.

The ‘tag and release’ policy

The practice of legislative forfeiture was commonly referred to by commercial

fishermen who gave evidence to the Taskforce as ‘tag and release.’ It is clear the

Howard Government policy of ‘tag and release’ does not provide a disincentive to

those people engaged in illegal fishing.

26

The folly of administrative forfeiture has only exacerbated the problem, with crews

hiding gear on shore if they are apprehended and their nets seized. Numerous

witnesses before the Taskforce were adamant that early destruction of the vessels is

the only way to solve the problem.

According to the head of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, additional

funding will enable an average of two boats a day to be apprehended. This is totally

inadequate given the sighting on average of 35 illegal fishing boats a day in 2005.

The Taskforce believes the detection and detention rate must increase significantly if

the illegal trade is to get the message that the potential rewards are not worth the risk

of being caught.

COMMENT

The Taskforce was told by nearly all witnesses that the current polices for

dealing with illegal fishing by foreigners in Australia waters are not working.

The Australian fishing industry and the Australian community is now paying the

price for the failure of the Howard Government to properly respond to this

problem when its dimensions were more manageable.

The Taskforce believes Australia should be aiming for a 100 per cent

apprehension rate.

The Howard Government’s ‘tag and release’ policy is not working.

It was the overwhelming recommendation of the commercial fishermen who

gave evidence to the Taskforce that a zero tolerance approach be taken with

foreign fishing vessels and that, where possible, all foreign fishing vessels be

apprehended and destroyed at sea.

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The way forward

Adopting a coordinated approach to maritime patrolling

The Taskforce believes the level of foreign fishing incursions will not be reduced

unless there is a major increase in the physical presence of authorised patrols off the

northern coastline and adjoining waters out to the 200 nautical mile line.

Evidence to the Taskforce suggests that the current level of patrolling is proving to be

ineffectual as a deterrent to illegal operators. It is the view of the Taskforce that there

needs to be a significant increase in sea level surveillance and apprehension

capabilities.

Professor Fox wrote in his December 04/January 05 REPORT ON ILLEGAL

FISHERMEN IN AUSTRALIAN WATERS: Shark Fishermen from Merauke, Dobo,

Saumlaki and Papela:

“The apprehension rate of the fast bodi boats from Papela is low - so low, in fact, that the threat of apprehension now offers little deterrence. Given the number of bodi that are now known to sail from Papela, it is likely the present apprehension rate is less than 1% or 2% of boats. Unless this apprehension rate is increased significantly, it will have no appreciable effect on the numbers of Indonesian fishermen entering Australian waters.”

Comment

The Taskforce believes that a coordinated approach to the patrolling of Australia’s northern waters should be led by an Australian Coastguard and include support from the Navy, the Merchant Navy, State fisheries and

Indigenous patrols

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DETERRENTS

An Australian Coastguard

The Taskforce believes Australia can no longer rely on the tyranny of distance and

geographic remoteness as natural protectors of Australia’s border security, biosecurity

and economic interests in northern Australia.

Recent international events demonstrate that Australia needs to work increasingly

harder to dissuade illegal entry into Australia’s northern fishery and coastline.

To do this effectively, Australia requires a Coastguard that has the staff, equipment,

training and authority to provide protection and security of Australia’s maritime natural

resources, to prevent illegal activity in Australian waters and to detect breaches of

Australia’s coastal borders.

Australia’s northern defence is too fragmented and too poorly organised to undertake

this complex task. As the CLP Senator from the Northern Territory, Senator Nigel

Scullion said during Senate Estimates on 22 May, 2006:

“In 1999 I spent much of my time in a dinghy roaring around the Torres Strait. On

most of those islands - I am assuming it is for employment purposes, and it is a very

credible process if that is the case - you can look out the front and there is an

Immigration dinghy, a Customs dinghy, a Federal Policy dinghy, a Quarantine dinghy

and, invariably, a state or Commonwealth fisheries, AFMA, dinghy.”

An Australian Coastguard, as part of a single integrated border protection agency, is

the only way to bring together the required trained personnel, equipment and

technology for the tasks which can respond effectively and rapidly to defend

Australia’s national interests.

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The Taskforce received evidence that an effective plan to deal with foreign illegal

fishing could include the use of different types of vessels with different capabilities.

These are:

1. Intercept and Tow Vessels

High speed, purpose built vessels could have the capability to intercept, seize

and tow foreign illegal fishing vessels to holding and processing vessels;

2. Holding and Processing Vessels

Vessels that can hold crews from foreign illegal fishing vessels while health

checks are conducted and to hold them until they are transported to detention

facilities; and

3. Disposal Vessels

Disposal vessels could collect intercepted foreign illegal fishing vessels from

the holding and processing vessels; remove batteries, fuel and other environmental

hazards and then destroy them.

COMMENT

There is now an urgent need to develop and establish a dedicated and

specialised coastal and maritime security agency - an Australian Coastguard -

to protect Australia’s northern coast line and Australia’s adjoining waters from

illegal activities and intrusions, and to protect Australia’s natural environment.

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Enlist the Merchant Navy into the surveillance task

The Taskforce believes the seafarers in the Australian Merchant Navy are uniquely

placed to provide information about foreign flagged vessels plying Australian waters.

Evidence was received by the Taskforce that it would be relatively simple to train

Australian seafarers to report suspicious activity to a Coastguard for further

investigation.

State and Territory Fisheries

It is clear from evidence presented to the Taskforce that there is room for considerable

improvement in the coordination of effort across the States, the Northern Territory and

the Commonwealth.

The Taskforce was impressed by the level of work being undertaken by the various

state and territory governments and individual ministers. The state and territory

governments have called for a national summit to address the issue of illegal fishing.

There is a disconnect between the Commonwealth and other stakeholders in

response to this national crisis, and the lack of co-ordination amongst the various

agencies was of extreme frustration to the Governments of Western Australia,

Queensland, and the Northern Territory.

The Western Australian, Northern Territory and Queensland Governments have

applied to the Commonwealth Government for additional funding to meet the cost of

additional patrol boats. The State and Territory governments have also advised the

Commonwealth they would consider committing resources to assist the national effort

in enforcing foreign fishing compliance if:

• the Commonwealth would provide support in the prosecution and repatriation of

any foreign fishing vessel crews apprehended by State or Territory officers;

• the Commonwealth would continue to provide legislative authority under the

Fisheries Management Act 1991 to State or Territory officers so they can

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expeditiously deal with breaches committed by foreign fishing vessels in

Commonwealth waters which are detected by State or Territory officers;

• the Commonwealth would continue to support the provision of security

clearances to State or Territory officers;

• the Commonwealth would continue to provide high grade foreign fishing vessel

intelligence information on an ongoing and confidential basis; and

• the Commonwealth pays its fair share of the costs with the States and Territory

to improve coastal surveillance and intelligence networks by Indigenous

communities along the northern Australian coast and improve coverage on

breaches associated with quarantine, migration, disease and customs.

The Western Australia Government has tried to fill the void left by the Federal

Government by funding its own patrols, but they firmly believe this is not the state’s

responsibly and is not sustainable in the long term.

The poor quality of information sharing is causing enormous problems and often it

seems that no one knows who is ultimately responsible for responding to an illegal

fishing sighting.

The Taskforce was told there are inconsistencies between various state laws and

Commonwealth laws relating to illegal fishing. There are differing approaches to

apprehension across jurisdictions. Federally, most illegal fishers who are caught are

simply detained and then deported.

Concern was raised by various State Governments about the cost of housing illegal

fishers in state prisons. There was also confusion about who is ultimately responsible

for their incarceration and the associated cost. In some states there appeared to be

no formalised arrangement (such as a memorandum of understanding with the

Commonwealth) about detention of illegal fishers.

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COMMENT

The Taskforce believes there is a need to commit to the development of a ‘Team

Australia’ approach to the problem of illegal fishing and to end the blame game

and buck passing.

While the State Fisheries Ministers from Western Australia, Queensland, and the

Northern Territory have joined forces to tackle the problem of illegal fishing,

more can be done by the Commonwealth to develop a uniform approach.

There is a need for the Commonwealth to take the lead to ensure greater

cooperation and information sharing across all jurisdictions. Part of this

coordinated approach must include greater consistency of regulations and laws

across state and territory boundaries.

The Taskforce believes that further discussion and consultation is required to

determine the nature of the punishment applied to illegal fishers. Furthermore,

who houses them and who pays for their detention are questions that must be

addressed.

The Taskforce believes the Federal Government must engage with the state and

territory governments via a national summit on illegal fishing.

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Indigenous Patrols

There are currently 12 established indigenous marine ranger groups located along the

Northern Territory coastline with potential for a further two. The Northern Territory

marine rangers undertake a variety of activities including local monitoring and

surveillance of remote Northern Territory coastal waters, mainland coastal islands and

reefs.

Coastal Indigenous communities have cultural obligations to their country and intimate

knowledge of the waters around their country. The Taskforce believes the Northern

Territory Indigenous Marine Ranger Program should be expanded to coastal

Indigenous communities across the north of Australia.

COMMENT

The Taskforce believes that Indigenous sea rangers have a key role in any

effective program to address the growing problem of illegal fishing. Given that

almost 85 per cent of the Northern Territory coastline is Aboriginal land the

Taskforce is of the view that Aboriginal sea rangers have a key surveillance role

to play.

The Taskforce supports investment in an expanded sea ranger program

including funding for training and proper equipment. If the sea ranger program

is to be effective it should include salaried and permanent positions not only

positions funded through the CDEP program as is currently the case.

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Further consultation with the Indonesian Government

The cessation of illegal fishing also requires greater co-operation and consultation with

the Indonesian Government. The importance of sharing intelligence and a

cooperative approach to controlling the level of foreign fishing in Australian waters is

paramount in stopping illegal fishers from plying their trade.

Another reason for the lack of effective action by Indonesian authorities is a claimed

lack of the necessary physical assets to undertake the necessary surveillance and

policing to prevent illegal fishing by its nationals in Australian waters. While several

Howard Government Ministers over the years have announced the concept of joint

naval patrols, the Taskforce has been told that these are a long way off.

The Taskforce has heard evidence that there needs to be more full and frank

discussions with the Indonesian Government about the serious consequences for both

nations if illegal fishing is not curbed. Professor James Fox of the Australian National

University told the Taskforce that, although there are conflicting views, some experts

believe Indonesian waters are close to being completely depleted of their fish

resources as a result of illegal fishing in Indonesian waters. While it would result in a

surge in illegal fishing in Australian waters, it would also have a devastating impact on

the Indonesian population.

The “MOU Box”

In addition to exercising its rightful jurisdiction over its Exclusive Economic Zone

(EEZ), Australia recognised that subsistence fishing by Indonesian fishers in

Australia’s northern waters had been a traditional activity for many years prior to

Australia invoking its legal rights over the ownership of marine resources in the 200

nautical mile maritime zone from Australian land territory.

In 1974, Australia and Indonesia concluded a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU)

that permitted Indonesian traditional fishermen access to a box-shaped area in the

vicinity of the Ashmore Islands, Scott Reef and Browse Reef within Australia’s

Exclusive Economic Zone.

35

While well intentioned at the time the “MoU Box” initiative has proved to be highly

flawed in its application.

Evidence to the Taskforce suggested that the “MoU Box” is being extensively fished

not by traditional fishers but foreign commercial fishers. The “MoU Box” also provides

a convenient cover for foreign based illegal and unsustainable fishing in adjacent

Australian waters.

COMMENT

The Taskforce believes there is a need for a greater emphasis on more

meaningful dialogue, followed through with action, and intelligence sharing on

illegal fishing activities in our region. The Taskforce is of the view that the

current “MoU” arrangements no longer work and must be reviewed

immediately.

The development of alternative fisheries projects in Indonesia

The Australian Government has worked with AUSAID and the World Development

Bank to develop alternative fisheries projects in Indonesia including projects based on

aquaculture and tourism. While evidence was presented to the Taskforce that some

of these projects were ill-conceived and failed to provide sustainable alternative

sources of income, it was suggested that continuing and improving such programs

would be both a gesture of good will, and if successful, reduce the economic need for

some illegal fishing activity.

COMMENT

The Taskforce believes that effective, targeted assistance to Indonesian

communities currently dependant on illegal fishing in Australian waters must be

included in any plan to control illegal fishing. However Indonesian fishers are

36

unlikely to adopt alternative livelihoods in substantial numbers until the

Australian Government establishes effective deterrents.

Sinking boats at sea

The Taskforce had numerous discussions about the need to sink apprehended illegal

fishing boats at sea. There was certainly no unanimous acceptance of the need or

desire to sink the boats at sea, but from a quarantine perspective the Taskforce was

told this was desirable.

The Taskforce was advised there are international legal impediments to simply sinking

vessels. The London Treaty set out rules relating to the disposal of vessels at sea

and Australia is a signatory to that treaty. There is also a legal process that must be

followed in relation to the confiscation of boats and the process of bond payments for

their release.

The general position under international law (specifically under the Article 73 of United

Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS) is that foreign vessels and

their crews detained for suspected illegal fishing in Australia waters must be released

upon the posting of 'reasonable' bond or other security. The vast majority of foreign

operators fishing illegally in northern Australia cannot afford to post such security and

thus may be detained.

Section 106D of the Fisheries Management Act 1991 does however provide that on

behalf of the Commonwealth, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA)

may destroy a boat if satisfied that a boat is unseaworthy or poses a serious risk to

safety, public health or quarantine; or the expenses of custody and maintenance of the

boat between its seizure and condemnation are likely to be greater than its value.

It was suggested to the Taskforce that the powers under section 106D of the Fisheries

Management Act 1991 be utilised to seize and destroy, where practicable, all vessels

which are intercepted and are engaging in illegal foreign fishing. By seizing and

destroying all illegal foreign fishing vessels it is hoped that a genuine disincentive to

illegal foreign fishing activity will be created and recidivist activity reduced.

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COMMENT

While there are differing views on how best to dispose of foreign fishing vessels

the Taskforce believes the current approach is not effective in acting as a

deterrent to illegal operators or minimising the quarantine risk presented by

their boats.

The Taskforce is of the view that the option of sinking boats found fishing

illegally in Australian waters should be further explored.

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Quarantine Risk Management Procedures

While effective quarantine risk mitigation processes are carried out in a professional

manner by Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service officers the number of

foreign boats breaching the Australian border and the increasing number of landings

by these boats means the quarantine risk from illegal foreign fishers remains

significant.

There are increasing numbers of pets being found on these boats and that is linked to

the increasing number of larger boats involved in this activity. The crews are now

going to great lengths to conceal their catch and equipment.

There is also an increasing volume of fresh provisions being found on board further

increasing the quarantine risk. The Taskforce was also told that navigation and

communication equipment found on these boats is becoming increasingly

sophisticated - improving the ability of foreign fishers to avoid being located and taken

into custody.

COMMENT

It is the view of the Taskforce that there is a need to improve quarantine

management arrangements by upgrading the level of quarantine response to

landings and the location of vessels in remote areas.

The Taskforce was advised that large areas of the northern coast are uncharted

or poorly charted which presents a significant challenge for Customs and the

Navy.

It is the view of the Taskforce there must be a further enhancement of the

current arrangements to protect the northern coastline from the introduction of

exotic pests and diseases through foreign illegal fishing boats.

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Conclusion

The Howard Government has proven to be incapable of managing Australia’s

maritime security.

Beyond the spin lies the reality that over the last decade illegal fishing in

Australian waters has reached crisis-point.

While the Coalition uses the full-force of the law against the occasional refugee

boat, it has done nothing to curb the thousands of illegal vessels entering our

waters and plundering our reefs each year.

Last year alone, 13,018 illegal vessels entered our waters. Of these, only 280

were apprehended. Many illegal fishers are now setting up camps on Australian

soil.

If the Howard Government continues to ignore the illegal fishing crisis, the

consequences are dire. The Australia we know will change forever.

Our northern waters will be depleted of fish resources. Thousands of Australian

commercial fishers will lose their livelihoods.

Many indigenous communities will struggle to survive.

Australia will lose its quarantine status. Our citizens will be at risk of

contracting rabies, malaria, dengue fever, and possibly even avian flu.

Our billion dollar livestock and agriculture industry will be at risk.

Protected species will become endangered species. Endangered species will

become extinct.

The sophisticated criminal syndicates behind many of these illegal fishing rings

will take advantages of the holes in our border security and increase other

illegal activities, including drug smuggling and arms trafficking.

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Australia’s maritime security is a national disgrace.

The Howard Government must take responsibility for allowing a crisis of this

magnitude to occur under its watch. And it must, as a matter of urgency, take

action before it is too late.