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More AFMA failures come to light as Ombudsman confirms investigation

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Monday 20 August 2012


The Independent Member for Denison, Andrew Wilkie, has referred new failures in the Australian Fisheries Management Authority’s process in deciding the quota relevant to the super trawler Margiris to the Commonwealth Ombudsman.

The new concerns are revealed as the Ombudsman writes to Mr Wilkie to confirm an investigation into the ``administrative actions of AFMA in setting a Total Allowable Catch for the FV Margiris’’.

``As this factory ship heads towards Tasmania, the question mark over its fishing quota grows by the day,’’ Mr Wilkie said.

``In light of the mounting opposition to this super trawler, the Federal Government needs to suspend the registration of the Margiris until the Ombudsman determines whether the quota is in fact legal.’’

Mr Wilkie has unearthed new failures in AFMA’s process in deciding Seafish Tasmania’s fishing quota and referred them to the Ombudsman.

The latest concerns relate to the Small Pelagic Fishery Resource Assessment Group (SPFRAG) which advises AFMA.

Crucially some members of SPFRAG believe their views were misrepresented in advice to the South East Management Advisory Committee (SEMAC), which also advises AFMA and was central to Mr Wilkie’s original complaint to the Ombudsman.

``Two members of SPFRAG have formally complained to AFMA that their view that increasing the fishing quota for jack mackerel would be unsustainable was not communicated to SEMAC,’’ Mr Wilkie said.

``This follows AFMA admitting it does not follow its Act literally and a string of other failures in process.

``As it is the public can have no confidence in AFMA’s process in determining this fishing quota that has put out the welcome mat to one of the world’s biggest factory ships to fish Australian waters.’’

Mr Wilkie’s original complaint focussed on a teleconference of AFMA’s SEMAC on 26 March this year when a recommendation was finalised on the 2012/13 total allowable catch

for the small pelagic fishery.

Seafish Tasmania’s Gerry Geen is a member of SEMAC and - of SPFRAG - and it’s noted in the Chair’s Summary of the teleconference that Mr Geen declared a ``direct conflict of interest’’ in the setting of the fishing quota.

The Act required Mr Geen to absent himself from the meeting or for the committee to formally authorise him to remain. Neither occurred in this instance, although it should be emphasised it is AFMA’s, and not Mr Geen’s, behaviour that is in question.

In response to a request from the Ombudsman, AFMA wrote to Mr Wilkie on 1 August and argued that a literal reading of the Fisheries Administration Act 1991 was impractical and instead that a ```standing arrangement’’ was followed in dealing with Mr Geen’s conflict of interest.

``This is most worrying because AFMA must read the Act literally and comply with it because to do otherwise would be unlawful,’’ Mr Wilkie said.

Please find letters attached.

FURTHER INFORMATION: Philippa Duncan 0428 528 673