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Address to the Workshop on Recreational Fishing Rights and Resource Allocation in Commonwealth Fisheries, Greenmount Resort, Coolangatta, Queensland.



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Address to the Workshop on Recreational Fishing Rights and Resource Allocation in Commonwealth Fisheries

Greenmount Resort, Coolangatta, Queensland Tuesday, 7 October 2002

Well thanks very much Jonathon, and whoever chose this place for a conference should be shot. It's going to be very difficult to work in the next three days in such magnificent surroundings, although I'm sure that all of you will be here right through the workshop and won't be out on the beaches.

But for those of you who aren't from this area welcome to Queensland, just, and to NSW over there.

You have this conference in an area that, as I say, straddles the State border between NSW and Queensland. Its inhabitants will be, I guess, a little confused by the differing regimes in the recreational fishing in Queensland and NSW.

NSW has recently had some new recreational fishing laws and in Queensland we're talking about getting licenses for recreational fishermen.

And that reminds me of an incident that I saw yesterday morning on a beach up north. A fisherman was walking along the beach carrying a couple of grunter in a bucket. And they were slightly less than the legal size and the fishermen was approached by a fishing inspector and was asked about these grunter which clearly didn't quite meet the new 40cm limit.

And the fishermen said to the warden: "Look, fishing inspector, I didn't catch these fish, they're really my pets. Everyday I come along to this stretch of the beach and I just whistle a certain tune and these grunter jump out of the water into my bucket. I take them for a walk along the beach then I return them back into the ocean. The same thing happens every day; I just whistle this tune and the grunter jump out to greet me because they are really very close to me. They're my pets."

The fisheries officer didn't really believe the fisherman so he reminded him that taking undersized fish was illegal. And the fisherman turned to the fishing inspector and said "Look if you don't believe me come and watch and I'll show you how it works.

So he went down to the beach, threw the undersized grunter back in the water and the fishing inspector was quite wide-eyed and intrigued and he said "OK, now whistle to your grunter and show me that they will jump out of the water into your bucket." The fisherman said: "What grunter?"

They get better.

But, ladies and gentlemen, I thought I'd start with that story to try and lessen the pain of sitting inside over the next three days, as I say, at such a magnificent venue.

But I am very pleased to be at this conference, not to tell you stories about irresponsible recreational fishermen, but more to talk with responsible recreational fishermen and others involved in the fishery, including commercial fishermen, public servants from the States and the Commonwealth and other people interested in resource sharing, fishing rights, resource allocation in Commonwealth fisheries.

Last year, in response to a suggestion made during the Commonwealth Fisheries Policy Review, the Howard Government made a commitment to support a workshop on resource sharing, with a focus on identifying how to best provide fishing rights to the recreational sector. And it was part of our election policy and I'm pleased to be here today at this conference in honouring the commitment we made before the last election.

And it's great to see so many of you here today representing, as I say, various sectors of the fishing industry and stakeholder groups.

I too want to acknowledge the fabulous support from RecFish Australia, and John Harrison in particular, and also from the Queensland Department of Primary Industries in putting together this workshop and I'd also like to acknowledge the work that Glenn Hurry and Jonathon Barrington from my Department have done in organising this conference and getting the background papers out.

I want to particularly welcome our Chair for the conference, Dr Andrew Penney, from South Africa. He's over here at this time as part of the annual meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna, which is about to happen. So it's good that he's been able to join us because he has an expertise that I know will assist you in your deliberation. I also want to acknowledge Matt Hooper from New Zealand and Dr Russell Nelson from the United States both of whom will be making a contribution.

As you all know ladies and gentlemen, recreational fishing is a very important part of life to many Australians.

More than 20 per cent of Australians aged 14 and over go fishing at least once a year. In effect, we're talking about 3.5 million Australians a year dropping a line in coastal or inland waters angling for that elusive strike.

This integral part of the Australian way of life makes a significant contribution to the economy, and to the health and social well being of this country.

And our reasons for going fishing are as diverse as the species we seek, the techniques, the bait and the tackle we use, and the areas we visit to try and catch a fish and also the cultural way we as fishermen, and I as a would-be fisherman, try to put a fish in the boat or onto the jetty or onto the beach.

We fish for food, for relaxation, for companionship, solitude, family outings, sport, adventure, competition and to improve our skills, to escape modern pressures and to enjoy our environment and I do it to get as far away from

Parliament House as possible!

Whilst the recreational fishing sector is regarded as non-commercial, many businesses do depend to varying degrees on this sector. And here I'm referring to the fishing tackle industry, bait suppliers, the boating industry, marina operators, recreational fishing media, charter operators and publishers of fishing guides, and of course, accommodation places, resort and caravan park operators, the travel industry, all of these businesses which do run off the back of the recreational fishing industry.

The benefits of this sector also flow through to non-fishing related regional businesses, such as the general retailing section of any community in a popular fishing area.

The economic importance of recreational fishing in costal areas such as this part of the Gold Coast and particularly to regional and rural Australia is significant, and will continue to improve and continue to increase as we better look after the management of our fisheries resources.

Australia has a very vast marine jurisdiction - in fact our marine jurisdiction is larger than the land area of the continent of Australia. We have a wide range of aquatic habitats and a diverse marine life. We have more than 2,000 species of marine fish and we regularly harvest about 300 of those species.

The recreational fishing sector's size, complexity and sophistication have grown over recent years. Today's anglers have access to new technologies, new fishing gear and knowledge that was unheard of a decade ago. The sector has improved its fishing and boating skills, and we now can reach new fishing areas and fish at greater depths than was ever possible before.

In recent years the fisheries management agencies have recognised the size, importance and level of catch of recreational fishing, and the need to consider it as a key, emerging policy area.

Indeed, in some places like the Border localities, recreational catches can well exceed those of the commercial sector.

Recognising the expansion of the recreational sector, the Commonwealth Government, together with the States, funded the National Recreational and Indigenous Fishing Survey.

This represented a $3.3 million commitment, including $2.4 million provided by the Commonwealth Government, to better understand the needs, demands, and pressures related to recreational and Indigenous fishing.

The survey has been completed and the information collated and I expect the results from the survey's recreational component to be available before Christmas, followed closely by the results from the Indigenous component early next year.

These results will provide very valuable information on the number of people taking part in recreational and Indigenous fishing, their characteristics, fishing methods, the species that are caught, the economic activity that follows it, and attitudes to those activities and its management.

This survey will provide a detailed picture of the recreational and Indigenous fishing sectors, and will arm fisheries managers with the information they need to make strategic policy decisions that ensure the future sustainable use of our fisheries resources.

During the past decade, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority has managed Commonwealth fisheries resources. The two-pronged approach of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) has involved a strong focus on ecologically sustainable development and the establishment of strong access rights to commercial operators targeting Commonwealth managed stocks.

A review of the Commonwealth Fisheries Policy arrangements, which is nearing completion, has looked into all aspects of AFMA's management of Commonwealth fisheries and my Department's operations.

And I was pleased to meet with the Review Steering Committee in Canberra late last month to consider with them their findings and recommendations and to discuss with them the major fishing statement which will follow that review and which I hope to deliver to Parliament in November or December.

What struck me clearly during our discussions was that the AFMA/AFFA model for managing aspects of the Commonwealth fisheries is as valid today as it was a decade ago when AFMA was created.

And the same thing applies to AFMA's focus on ecologically sustainable development and secure fishing access rights.

Some of the preliminary findings of the Steering Committee include that: The institutional model, based on AFMA, for managing Commonwealth fisheries has been successful, and should be retained;

● as well it looked at sectoral allocation of access rights and the

management of individual fishing sectors and clearly indicated that they need to be resolved; ● fisheries management practice needs to continue moving to an

ecosystem-based operation; and, ● all stakeholders supported the goal of Ecological Sustainable

Development (ESD) in fisheries management.

The pressures on the sustainability of the fisheries resources around the world are, as you all know, very considerable. Even here in Australia, where we have first class fisheries management, there are some overfished stocks.

This has recently been revealed by the BRS Fisheries Status Reports, and though stock depletion is a major concern, I am happy that I'm in a position to report that rebuilding strategies are in place for these species that are now recorded overfished.

You only have to look at what's happening to the northern hemisphere fish stocks to realise that Australia is in a privileged position. Indeed, it's clear that had Australia not gone down the ESD pathway, our fisheries resources would be in a far worse state than they are, and far less capable of meeting today's challenges.

This was exemplified at the recent World Summit on Sustainable

Development, where Australia played indeed a crucial leadership role in the first agreement to come out of the summit, which aimed at restoring the planet's heavily depleted stocks by the year 2015.

That said, management regimes for fisheries resources need to evolve over time - adapting to changing circumstances of resource use and ecosystem pressures.

And let me emphasise that Commonwealth-managed fisheries are no exception to that truism.

One of the most difficult issues facing the fishing industry and the fisheries managers is how to balance the increasing calls from each sector for fishing rights against the need to manage Australia's resources responsibly.

On this matter, I will say that it is the responsibility of Governments and their agencies to ensure, on the Australian community's behalf, the long-term sustainability of our fisheries resources and the ecosystems on which they depend.

The primary consideration for fisheries managers and Ministers alike is whether the resource base is secure. If it is, then we can consider who should gain access to these resources, and under what conditions.

This aspect I understand and hope will be the focus of your workshop - to look at the principles that would support resource sharing between the commercial fishing industry, recreational, Indigenous and aquaculture interests.

On this point it's very important to bear in mind that with resource sharing and rights, comes responsibility. This conference will no doubt extend discussion to issues such as the level of recreational catch, research funding, licensing, and future management costs. Each and every one of us here today must be aware of our responsibilities. There is a need to ensure that we don't shirk from nor attempt to avoid those responsibilities.

Countries like New Zealand and the United States, have dealt with resource-sharing rights and responsibilities to some degree, and I am pleased, as I say that we will have speakers at this workshop who will share their local experiences on what has happened in other countries.

It is essential that while Australia learns from the experience of others, we also must find an Australian solution that is appropriate to this country's unique circumstances and our unique way of life.

The circumstances I have in mind include a massive coastline, generally favourable climate and oceanic conditions that encourage fishing in its many and varied forms.

Local environmental conditions mean our seas are less productive than elsewhere in the world, but they are home to a vast array of species and ecosystems, which all require responsible management and use.

A fine example of this, and I have to say it is the envy of the world, is the Great Barrier Reef.

Ladies and gentlemen, these are issues, which you - as representatives of the various fisheries resource user groups - are here to begin to address over these few days.

The first step is to identify and develop principles of recreational fishing rights and responsibilities. Due to the inherently different status to the commercial sector it would be naive to think that a simple transference of commercial principles to the recreational sector would suffice.

The second step perhaps is to develop frameworks for resource sharing for the recreational fishing sector, consistent with the principles applying to other sectors and consistent with ecologically sustainable development.

And the last is to develop possible mechanisms and arrangements for rights-based management for the recreational fishing sector that are compatible with the frameworks applying in other sectors.

I can't stress enough how vital this final point is. It must be recognised by all who access Australia's fisheries resources that they belong to the people of Australia. There's no room for the mentality that fish belong to any particular individual, group, or industry sector.

This also ties in with the common goals that we all must share. Just because different people catch fish with different gear and for different reasons, doesn't mean that their aims are mutually exclusive. In fact in my opinion the opposite is the case. Every Australian who has ever caught, or dreams of catching a fish, should be working towards ensuring that their children, and their children's children can enjoy the same sensation.

I anticipate that one of the key outcomes of this workshop will be an agreed set of principles that the Government will use to assist in underpinning the mechanisms that will be used in allocating rights to various user groups.

A second important outcome will be an action agenda to assist in implementing recreational fishing rights, resource-sharing mechanisms and arrangements in the Commonwealth-managed fisheries.

To achieve these aims, I would encourage you all to balance your time between reviewing how Australian fisheries jurisdictions share resources, creative and innovative solutions to questions, and how Commonwealth fisheries managers could implement resource sharing.

Examples of how the States are addressing these issues at local level will no doubt stimulate, what I imagine will be at times a fairly lively discussion on the approaches applicable at the Commonwealth level. As the recreational effort in Commonwealth fisheries is most likely to be managed by the states, it's important that all regimes be as consistent as possible.

I suggest your time will be well spent on documenting the active steps needed to address these issues. And, equally as important, in what order these steps should be taken.

Ladies and Gentlemen I wish you well in your endeavours over the next few days and I do look forward to taking advantage of and using the results that you come up with at this workshop.

If you can picture Australia in 10 years - a time when, for all intents and purposes, these resource-sharing issues will have been well and truly resolved - you should be able, ladies and gentlemen, to look back at this workshop and think to yourselves "Gee this fishing's good, better than a decade ago, and more secure than it ever was and just think, I actually helped in achieving that."

And on that note, I am delighted that our Government is delivering in a pro-active way its commitment to this workshop.

I do, before concluding, again thank you for your involvement. As I've said to many of you in this room before, whilst it is a lovely place to come, I appreciate that most of you are very, very busy people and when you get back from this conference your normal days work will still be sitting there on your desks and you'll have to catch that up.

It is a commitment for you to be involved in this workshop and I do very much appreciate that. Without your input we are never going to solve this quite complex issue. In fact I was talking to the media just a little earlier and the Journalist said to me 'Why hasn't this been done before?' And I said 'Well I guess it hasn't been done before because it's always been too hard'. And I think that is probably one of the reasons why we in Australia haven't previously addressed this quite complex issue.

It's an issue which I have to say I would have a lot of difficulty in trying to resolve by myself and that's why we have taken the opportunity of gathering together in one room some of the finest minds in this area of work in Australia and indeed from around the world.

So thanks very much in advance for what you will do. I am quite confident that the contribution that you make over the next few days will make a little easier, a very difficult area.

It will also ensure that in Australia we do have a fisheries regime flowing on from the commercial sector to the recreational and Indigenous sectors that will make sure we're still here fishing sustainably in 10, 20, 50 years time and that with the minimum of fuss and antagonism.

So thanks very much for your contribution and I have pleasure in declaring open this Recreational Fishing Rights and Resource Sharing in Commonwealth Fisheries Workshop.

Thanks very much.