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Standing Committee on Agriculture, Resources, Fisheries and Forestry
20/08/2012
Role of science for the future of fisheries and aquaculture

JEFFRIESS, Mr Brian, Director, Commonwealth Fisheries Association

MADON, Ms Trixi, Chief Executive Officer, Commonwealth Fisheries Association

[10:36]

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

The committee has your submission, which we have numbered 47, and we thank you most sincerely for it. Do you wish to make some introductory remarks?

Mr Jeffriess : I would like to make two points. The first point, which we would hope the committee would consider including in its report, is the contribution that science has made to the sustainability of Australian fisheries. The Australian fisheries have recovered considerably. They are now sustainable and that is recognised internationally. Science has made an important contribution towards that. It would be an important step forward if the committee were to note those points in its report.

The second point is how the range of research has been widened even further, from not just what we would call straight scientific research but to a whole range of obligations which have taken away a large amount of the funding traditionally used for what we call scientific research. The requirements of the EPBC Act, the requirements contingent on marine parks, oil and gas, the type of funding required now for observers monitoring quota—all those things need to be seen as taking funding away from straight scientific research, which includes things like how to make a better fish, how to increase productivity et cetera. Those are the realities of government budgets these days. What we would ask the committee to consider is that the duplication within all those requirements be eliminated to free up funding for scientific research.

There is a third point about training. It is an important issue. Science in Australia is world class. It gives us a competitive advantage internationally. Unless that is retained, the international competitiveness of our industry will suffer.

We do not have the answer to that. My association alone employs three full-time scientists. The problem in Australia with continuing to employ people at that level is that you have to have a critical mass, and most industries in Australia, whether they be wild or aquaculture, just do not have that critical mass. That is a major problem. As the Museum said, governments are running out of money to employ marine scientists, so it is really up to industry to take up that challenge. The companies in general just do not have the critical mass to do it.

The last point is, I guess, an aside. I note the committee has had a focus on aquaculture, and that is appropriate. There is no doubt that is where the big tonnage and dollars are to be made in the future. The committee has noticed a couple of times that the basic requirement is that aquaculture be internationally competitive. There is no point in putting government funding or industry funding or stock exchange funding into companies which are going to target products which are just not internationally competitive target areas of Australia. That is the only comment that we would contribute on that.

The two basic points then are: Australian fisheries are now sustainable—science has made a critical contribution to that; secondly, the wide range of research which has taken funding away from basic scientific research. I think it is important that the committee recognises and notes those two things. That would make the committee's work very worthwhile in itself in the report—and, I think, uncontroversial.

ACTING CHAIR: Ms Madon, would you like to make a contribution, or are you happy with what Mr Jeffriess has said?

Ms Madon : I am happy with what Mr Jeffriess has said. I will just add that there are fundamental challenges of increasing costs—government requirements in particular—and community expectations in relation to knowledge of the marine environment. Overall, there are challenges in meeting, if you like, the restricted funding that is available over all, and how to better manage those funds or better ways to deliver on the science.

Scientists are important—and I noticed your workforce issues—but it would be quite good to note that fishers themselves provide a lot of information as well. They are increasingly being drawn into the development—or the research, if you like—and the call for knowledge. From recent media over the weekend you would be aware of the red map project in Tasmania, showing the movement of species further south. That is from community—and fisheries provided. There is also research that has shown the contribution of making the scientific outputs, say, in relation to mapping and species better overall when done in conjunction with scientists. So there is a contribution to be made by industry.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you very much. I apologise for the chair's absence; he has a commitment in the House this morning. I apologise on his behalf.

I am a recreational fisherman. I am also a person who has taken a great interest in the trawling industry and the fishing industry as a whole. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind, based on observations over a 20-year period at least, that greater responsibility has been undertaken by the industry itself in rectifying most of the practices that were receiving in some instances undue criticism over a long period of time. I want to commend you for that. The point I am making there is that not everybody is focused on trying to spin a yarn out there that our fish stocks are under threat when I know they are being managed exceptionally well. I am sure the chairman, as a Tasmanian, feels the same.

What impact has the restriction of the industry getting into some of the fishing grounds caused, particularly in relation to the impact that has had on a political decision made by various people—the governments of both political persuasions—following on from international pressure from organisations such as PETA? Has that created a feeling of unease and a lack of confidence in the industry that perhaps government is not taking a professional approach to the realities of what is happening above the surface and below the surface?

Mr Jeffriess : It is difficult at the localised level, where people have different views; but what the industry in general—nationally—wants is logic. It is trying to explain to a constituency where there is a complete lack of logic. For example, climate change and fisheries management is a simple issue, yet a major report being released at the weekend, as Trixi said, is saying that climate change is going to move species and move ecosystems, and yet you have marine parks being implemented with totally closed areas for 10 years. The government has tried very hard to identify areas where they would have the minimum impact, but climate change is a reality and the fish are going to be in those sanctuary areas. It is just impossible to explain that logically to a fisheries constituency. That is where the problem is.

They do their best. For example, trawling is now significantly covered in Australia by Marine Stewardship Council accreditation. They have made huge steps forward, but then governments of whatever persuasion implement totally illogical approaches to ecosystem management and to fisheries management et cetera. That is where our fundamental disconnect exists. Those are the political realities; we just hope that at some stage government recognises that sometimes simple logic should just override political considerations.

Mr SCHULTZ: Yes, I picked the point up that you made about the report that is coming out. Some scientists believe that with the warmer waters coming down that fish stocks and the species of fish are changing. My reaction to that is that for decades and decades the temperature of the water has been changing, and that fish stocks move around. I have caught some very unusual fish in the past that I would not have thought I would be able to catch. So I have sympathy for what you are saying there.

Does your organisation have a view on the priorities for research fisheries, and would the industry be prepared to contribute more money to research funding?

Mr Jeffriess : Yes, we are, but there is only a total amount of money available. That money is shifted from, say, within the research and monitoring group. Whereas 70 per cent may have been scientific research—that is, how to make a better fish or how to make a more productive industry—to 20 per cent, the shift has been that the money has now gone to observers—monitoring quota, monitoring climate change, monitoring marine parks or whatever it may be. That is the kind of shift which has occurred.

In our case, in tuna, we would welcome the opportunity to pay more money as long as it was directed towards scientific research. I regard the CSIRO probably as the best return on investment you could get out of any scientific community and investment in general. But their focus, and it is properly so now, is directed by governments into other areas other than straight scientific research.

The issue is that, at the end of the day, you are not going to have any industry unless it is internationally competitive, and its productivity improves all the time et cetera. And that is where your science should be directed, rather than the money being shifted to excessive levels of observer coverage or whatever it may be. That is not to say that they are not important; it is just that within a pool of money you can only do so much, and scientific research should be the core of it in our view.

Ms Madon : I might add to that. I think it is fair to say that a lot of the pressure, as Brian has said, is that fisheries management is covering a whole range of impacts on the marine environment, not just the fish stocks themselves. There are calls for increasing that knowledge and having better knowledge about the cumulative impacts of fishing overall. There have been questions raised, and we would be looking for reconsideration of the government's contribution towards research as well as the public good component of biodiversity conservation in relation to the management of fisheries themselves.

Mr SCHULTZ: What impact is the sometimes hysterical calling on people to do all sorts of things because of climate change—I call it climate variability—having on the industry and, more importantly, the CFA members themselves?

Mr Jeffriess : I think that, firstly, it frightens the banks, and the banks still underpin the industry—aquaculture more than fisheries. In fisheries you go out and catch and get paid straight away; in aquaculture you have to wait three years to get your money back when the fish are marketable. If you were looking at TASSAL or Huon Salmon or the third large company, you would be thinking that it is being farmed at the temperature margin of the resource et cetera and, no matter how much good work they were doing, if you were a bank you would have to be asking yourself questions. We are in tuna farming, and we get asked the question every week, 'What does climate change really mean? All I am saying is that climate change, whether it is cyclical or structural—I do not know—is occurring. We are having to deal with it. It frightens the industry and it frightens people. Most importantly, it frightens the banks, and they are still the foundation, unfortunately, of the industry.

Mr SCHULTZ: Thank you very much for that. In closing, I make an observation: I have just come back from Canada, and I took the opportunity to go up into Alaska. It is currently the season for salmon, and, if some of the people who are making noises about our sustainability had a look at what is happening there, they would get a different view of what is happening in the world.

Mr Jeffriess : Yes. Climate change will have some positives impact for a lot of species. Sardines in the Great Australian Bight, for example, will blossom to be better than they are now.

Mr MITCHELL: You mentioned public perceptions and so on, and obviously there is a bit of a perception around a particular vessel that is looking to dock in Devonport. I just want to get your view about the research that is done on that and if the research is still valid and how old it is.

Mr Jeffriess : I was an observer for long time for that committee because people who I am associated with fish that species and that fishery in the Great Australian Bight. But, on the other hand, it is the foundation of our wild tuna catching, so we are more cautious than anybody about it being over-caught. The problem here is that, if this boat is stopped on the basis of the fact that the research is three years old or the other perceptions, there is a threat to the principle of sound fisheries management. That quota, based on older research to some extent, is set extremely conservatively—it is set well below 10 per cent annual take of the biomass, and the normal benchmark in South Africa or California and everywhere is 20 per cent. So you can see that it is extremely conservatively set even though the research is a bit older.

I thought the case for that was very well put by Professor Colin Buxton in his evidence. What we are concerned about in this case is not the company and not the boat—that has nothing to do with us—but the principle of fisheries management. The last three or four governments have made a huge attempt to take the industry forward by emphasising that science is at the core of management and that you will suffer some out-of-business in the meantime. But we now see very clearly that that is correct—science is at the core of management and science has spoken on that particular proposal, and I think that is our view. The whole idea of localised depletion of a pelagic resource, particularly small pelagic fish, really has no foundation.

Mr MITCHELL: I heard you commenting about standardisation of size limits and quotas across the country to make it a bit more fluid.

I know you have issues with scallop fisheries where you have got Victorian regs and Commonwealth regs in Commonwealth waters, so it is about smoothing that all out so it is a lot easier for the people doing the fishing by having a more uniform approach.

Mr Jeffriess : It makes sense from every point of view. It would make it easier for the industry and easier for government. We as an industry cannot understand why that issue is not being addressed. There was a point made about that by the AFMA witnesses in evidence to this committee, but people have now been making the same point for 20 years and there has been very little progress in fact. So that is another area of duplication and the more duplication there is the less money there is for scientific research because there is only a certain pool of money to go around.

Mr MITCHELL: So you would strongly support a uniform approach on fisheries or TACs and the like?

Mr Jeffriess : Yes. We have a nonsense situation at the moment where the Commonwealth fisheries are very effectively managed and set a total allowable catch for a species of, say, 10,000 tonnes and then have to deduct from that a sometimes unmanaged state catch. So what is a Commonwealth fisher paying for in terms of their licence? The situation is not suitable.

Mr MITCHELL: You spoke of tuna. Does recreational fishing have an impact on your fish stocks?

Mr Jeffriess : It does. There is no question about that. That is a concern. With the Southern bluefin tuna, for example, now the stock recovery appears to be so rapid—and I say 'appears'—that the catch out of Portland has gone, according to the state government survey, to well over 300 tonnes. That is a bigger quota than South Africa has internationally. That is a bigger quota than the Philippines has. That is a bigger quota than the European Union has. So you can see the impact of recreational fishing, and we call it the charter catch because it is significantly charter based. Whatever persuasion is the government they have to address this issue eventually.

Mr MITCHELL: How do you think there are ways of doing that? Is there a tag process or something?

Mr Jeffriess : These fish are being landed and taken for eating. We have no issue with that but what we have an issue with—

Mr MITCHELL: What I mean is this. Should I, as a recreational fisher, be given, say, three tags which allow me to take tuna up to whatever?

Mr Jeffriess : That is a way of doing it and there is no question about it. But where is the quota going to come from? With Southern bluefin that is the issue. This is not a domestic state issue or a domestic national issue. This is an international issue where other countries are saying, 'Another part of your industry is taking quota unmanaged significantly. This is not acceptable. This is not fair'—or whatever it may be. The best solution which we are putting to both political groups is that someone buys some quota. If it is so valuable particularly to Victoria, as they say—and I believe it is—then they should buy quota like everyone else has been required to.

Mr MITCHELL: I think Victoria's tuna fishery is sensational. One of the things that I have been told is that you might pull in a 30-kilo tuna and think, 'Well, I'll put that one back,' and wait for a bigger one. I am told that the fish build up strong lactic acid within and once they go back into the water they are as good as dead. So do you think losing those mid-size fish would have a long-term impact on the fishery?

Mr Jeffriess : Not really. Again, the strength of the recovery appears to be so strong, according to the science, that it will not have a real impact. We are dealing with the principle of something. We are dealing with one part of the fishery rapidly increasing its catch but being significantly unmanaged. The state government is saying this is a very valuable commercial resource to it in the sense of generating tourism and generating other spin-off benefits. They really need to buy the quota if there is no real history of catching it—and it is only quite recent, outside of Tasmania. With Tasmania, they have always caught it and we accept that that is a reality.

Again, it falls into that area of the duplication between state and federal governments. That is where the fundamental problem lies, and it needs to be addressed.

Mr TEHAN: In your submission you talk about AFMA's available funds for research being in decline. Do you have any figures that support that?

Mr Jeffriess : We can submit those quite easily. It is quite clear that AFMA is struggling with its income from consolidated revenue. The actual levy base which industry contributes has increased at a reasonable level—the problem is that it is different between fisheries. It is the money they have got available from the Commonwealth budget which is the problem. Either AFMA will provide us with the figures or they can provide them independently, but more and more of the Commonwealth budget allocation to AFMA has gone to overheads—a whole range of other areas—rather than science. They have tried to shift that cost to the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation and other funding sources at the same time FRDC are being required to broaden their definition of research. The end result is less money for scientific research. FRDC is an outstanding organisation. Its charter requires it to do all those things and therefore the amount for straight scientific research which will increase the productivity of Australian industry is declining.

Mr TEHAN: If you could provide those figures, or get AFMA to provide them, that would be very useful. You also talk about the costly duplication of the EPBC Act and the Fisheries Management Act and the need to streamline the two. In a perfect world how would you see that operating? Would you exclude fisheries from the EPBC Act and have it all undertaken under the Fisheries Management Act, or vice versa? In a perfect world how would you see that operating?

Mr Jeffriess : First of all, the EPBC Act has brought some real benefits to fisheries. It brought discipline at a time—I think it was 1999—when there was a lack of discipline. Since then, fisheries agencies have reformed themselves, and science has been the major contributor towards that. But there are two issues about the EPBC Act. Internally, within that act, we, for example, in tuna are required to meet four separate but to some extent overlapping assessments at any one time. Sometimes we get a 12-month permit granted under that act, and we have currently got two years. The constant need to do that type of work, for AFMA to do that type of work and for scientists to contribute to that type of work et cetera is now, significantly, not required. The Hawke review only addressed that issue lightly and the government, at this stage, has not taken up that internal rationalisation. There are a lot of MOUs between agencies, but that cannot substitute for a legislative change.

Secondly, there is the actual duplication between the Fisheries Management Act and the EPBC Act. Again, there is a lot of negotiation between agencies, but, fundamentally, legislative change is required. We would, obviously, argue that you should shift total accountability simply back to the fisheries management agency, with the EPBC Act still being used as not the last resort but for monitoring every now and then—auditing, almost. So within the EPBC Act there needs to be reform—and Hawke pointed that out but only lightly—and then between agencies.

The cost of doing that is very substantial. AFMA did not answer the question in front of Senate estimates, but they have I note given this committee an assurance that they will submit the cost of the states doing it and AFMA doing it—that kind of constant strategic assessment, export permits or whatever it may be. If you do a strategic assessment within the EPBC Act and it says you are sustainable, why would you have to do another export assessment? It is taking money away from scientific research. That is our point.

Mr TEHAN: That is something we have sought, and I would suggest we make sure we follow up to get that. Has there ever been anything such as a regulation impact statement or any other specific assessment done of the cost? How are they going to be able to get us that figure?

Mr Jeffriess : They are trying to get us that figure, as well, for other purposes. They are saying to us: 'If you want to do those functions of providing that to SEWPAC we will deduct this amount of money from your levy.' They are just coming to terms with it themselves. It is not that difficult. You can cost the type of resources that are diverted for that purpose. It might be a rough figure, but it is real. They will be able to do that.

Mr TEHAN: I am sure it is within their capability to do it. I am just wondering how formal a process it is and whether they have given new any indication of whether they would do a full regulation impact statement to try to quantify it and get to that figure.

Mr Jeffriess : Not a full RIS, no.

Ms Madon : Mr Jeffriess has mentioned the issue of being internal within the EPBC Act, but the Hawke review also made a recommendation about streamlining between the two acts, which I think gave a little bit firmer commitment to that in principle, but still not at the priority level at which we would like to see that moving though.

Mr TEHAN: If legislation was put before the House to streamline this regulation are we likely to see environmental groups oppose it quite strongly?

Mr Jeffriess : No really. A lot is made of the gap between NGOs and industry in Australia, but many of us have really breached that gap. They have a legitimate view as a stakeholder. All we ever ask is that they be consistent and that they follow issues through. Without wanting to isolate particular groups, WWF, for example, is very consistent. They have a genuine long-term funded interest in a fishery or whatever it may be. A simple example is the white shark. When they moved to have that protected we were their strongest supporter because they put a legitimate long-term case.

There is no doubt some organisations, some NGOs, would oppose it. Some state governments may even oppose it. But if people recognise that this is taking money away from good scientific research then that gives strong support to the case.

Ms Madon : They do. I think there are too many NGOs that you could say are anti-fishing. They agree with that but they just want to make sure that fishing operations are sustainable and are having the least impact. I note that at least some of those organisations quite strongly consider that the EPBC Act has been the stronger driver in driving sustainability in fisheries. That has been their view. Also, they may have some concerns about that being devolved away. But that is not to say that that cannot happen. If in that devolution you have your systems, procedures and checks and balances they can be assured that none of what they think are the strengths of the EPBC are lessened, and there is absolutely no reason why they should be.

Mr TEHAN: It would seem to me that based on the evidence you have submitted to previous questions that, especially when it comes to the FV Margiris, getting the scientific information out has been difficult because of some of the things that have been said, especially by some of the environmental groups.

It would seem to me, based on the evidence you have submitted to previous questions, especially when it comes to the FV Margiris, getting the scientific information out has been difficult because of some of the things which have been said, especially by some of the environmental groups. Would you agree with that?

Mr Jeffriess : Some NGOs, yes. But most NGOs in our experience recognise the principles of fisheries management, and they have been a help in getting industry and other stakeholders to recognise all that. Our point to the NGOs is that you cannot suddenly then say, 'This is a single boat being run by a company we don't like,'—or something like that—'therefore we breach what we previously preached.' Most of them to not do that. If you look at the NGOs involved in the FV Margiris issue, there is a limited number and they are, to a large extent, localised. It is significantly a Tasmanian issue but the scientific basis of the way the quota is set, and how conservative it is—there is an observer on the boat at all times et cetera—gives us a lot of comfort that the thing will be managed well.

Mr TEHAN: You mentioned in your submission, with regard to southern bluefin tuna, that there are some remaining uncertainties. Could you be a tiny bit more particular about what those remaining uncertainties are?

Mr Jeffriess : First of all, the recovery is so strong that overfishing will start again on both the high seas and in other places. Second, the fish were in Australia this year and the main fishing areas were in a totally different area to where they had been historically. Whether that is climate change or the fact that the largest ever seismic survey took place right in the pathway of the fish into the area, we do not know. We and the CSIRO are doing a lot of work on that.

The third and major uncertainty is the need to be precautionary. Our quota on southern bluefin has gone from 14,500 tonnes in 1984 to 5,265 tonnes right throughout the 2000s. It was then reduced to 4,000 tonnes in 2009 and has now gone back to, effectively, 5,000 tonnes. There is scientific recognition of a strong recovery in place, but this fishery is so valuable commercially—and we add value through the farming process et cetera—that we need to be very precautionary.

Mr TEHAN: You talk about a solution to recreational fishing of the bluefin tuna, and the idea that the state government, or someone, should come in and have to be able to buy quota for recreational fishers. Has this ever been done before? Is this something which has been proposed for other fisheries where recreational fishers have started catching a significant amount of fish? Or is this something which would have to be put forward and trialled for the first time?

Mr Jeffriess : With lobster in South Australia, for example, the recreational sector is entitled, based on its catch history over a long period, to a certain number of pots. Pots and quota are the dual management systems in the fishery. They have been allocated five per cent of the fishery, so if the quota goes up to 2,000 tonnes they get their five per cent; if it comes down to 1,000 tonnes they have to be restricted. For anything above the five per cent the government is funding the purchase of extra pots from the commercial sector. That system makes a lot of sense.

Again, we understand the emotional problem of quotas in recreational fisheries rather than some kind of bag limit, whatever it may be, but they are the realities of this fish. The large-scale charter operations out of Portland are a good commercial enterprise, and that is what they are—commercial enterprises. To say that 'I am just another recreational fisherman' just does not seem to have good evidence to us.

Mr TEHAN: Would you think that five per cent of the fisheries have been taken by recreational fishermen at this stage?

Mr Jeffriess : Without giving fodder to Japan and other countries, I would say that, based on the Victorian government survey this year, of 300 tonnes alone, over a small area of Victoria and a limited number of months, and a significant amount of fishing in Tasmania, and New South Wales as well, you would have to believe it is somewhere approaching 500 tonnes. That is a major problem.

Except in Tasmania, where fishing has been a historical thing out of Eaglehawk Neck, this is a relatively recent thing, and it has happened because other countries, plus, or mainly, Australia, have taken quota cuts: as I say, from 14,500 tonnes—and those quota cuts were justified; we fully recognise that—down to 4,000 tonnes. That collateral is the borrowing from the bank, and if the bank sees the quota going from 14,500 tonnes to 4,000 tonnes the bank is just not going to lend you money. You cannot then invest in grow-out of the wild catch, and aquaculture, because that requires the bank to fund you for three or four years.

Mr TEHAN: So you are saying: for commercial fishermen, this has serious financial implications to it?

Mr Jeffriess : It does.

Mr MITCHELL: The bank uses your quota as the collateral.

Mr Jeffriess : Yes, it is the sole collateral, unless you give personal guarantees.

CHAIR: On the issue of getting to where that would need to be funded—buying quota: if it is a commercial operation or rec fishermen, states need to come to grips with some process of being able to fund that from within their internal situation, by putting a charge on a tag or how many fish taken, to fund those sorts of situations; that would be what you would envisage?

Mr Jeffriess : It is the only solution, I think; yes. Basically, to buy 300 tonnes of quota would cost about $30 million, and that is a permanent right. Having bought the quota, it would not worry us if people sold the fish; that is their legitimate commercial right. How the state government and Commonwealth government work that out with the local fishery groups is their issue. But this is killing us internationally, this issue. We should be celebrating this, in a sense, because it shows how strong the recovery of the stock is. But it is not the way management systems are run.

CHAIR: It is a gap in the process. Though we are trying to do things at a national level, we are meeting international standards, international conventions, but we have got other avenues which are coming into play, which is bringing that into disrepute, basically.

Mr Jeffriess : Yes.

CHAIR: There are a couple more questions I want to go to. One is the value of the tonnage of fish caught in Commonwealth waters. Do you know that?

Mr Jeffriess : Under Commonwealth-managed fisheries?

CHAIR: Yes.

Mr Jeffriess : About 230 million. And it is declining to static.

Ms Madon : I think it is a bit higher; I think it is—

CHAIR: Could you take it on notice?

Ms Madon : I think last year it was around 314 million.

CHAIR: Could you let us have it on notice?

Ms Madon : Yes.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Mr Jeffriess : Which is increasing, slightly, which is part of the recovery.

CHAIR: And the Commonwealth Fisheries Association covers a variety of people in the fisheries?

Ms Madon : Yes—in Commonwealth managed fisheries. So, right around Australia.

CHAIR: So you have membership right around Australia?

Ms Madon : Yes.

CHAIR: We have had a little bit of evidence about the way that we fish in Australia. We have a historical quota system—some people never fish, but they have a quota they lease and do that. We have certain sized boats that maybe are not as efficient as they could be. Is there a need for us to look at that in Australia, to see if we can fish more efficiently in our wild fisheries? Is the consumer suffering because we are not fishing as efficiently as we possibly could be?

Mr Jeffriess : No. What has changed is that now every major fishery in Australia is covered by individual transferable quotas. There is a lot of trading within those quotas. Each fishery, each industry in a fishery, finds its own level of efficiency or whatever it may be. The remaining problem is between the states—

CHAIR: Market to market—quota market.

Mr Jeffriess : That is right. So the south-east fishery has gone to a market fishery, largely, rather than an export fishery, except for some big boat species. It has found its niche. East coast tuna has found a very good niche of domestic market mixed with seasonal export markets. The ITQ system has the benefit that it enables you to find your individual level of efficiency within a fishery, and as an individual fisher. It is only the overlap and duplication between the states and the Commonwealth which is the remaining efficiency barrier.

CHAIR: It needs repair.

Mr Jeffriess : Yes, and it can be repaired.

CHAIR: We are a federation. We have solved many other problems in the past—we can find our way through that. Do you accept accreditation as a system of identification and traceability as to where our fish come from? I think we need this at an international level. It would help the world a lot in understanding and being able to trace illegal fishing. So does your association support accreditation?

Mr Jeffriess : Not strongly. There are two levels of that. Being accredited as a sustainable fishery—as I said, most of the prawn trawl fishery has now gone to MSC accreditation, and that is the best insurance premium you can buy—and, secondly, genetic testing of species to make sure they are being correctly labelled, and that is happening. It is now lower cost and is effective.

Ms Madon : Another good move is the fisheries managers. All the jurisdictions are developing a national standard for fisheries management. That will help in providing much better information as well as leading to some of those rationalisations, hopefully.

CHAIR: Do you think we can go that way in research as well? Do we need to find more collaborative processes, a national approach? I do not mean taken over by the Commonwealth, because a lot of work is being done by universities and state-based fisheries. But is there a need to make sure we are coordinating that in a process that allows us not to duplicate efforts? We certainly need to build, and we are looking at the science of wild fisheries and aquaculture. We can do a lot more in aquaculture in Australia, but we need to have a lot of coordination in that area, and, as you say, it costs money to do that, so we have to get funding to make it work.

Ms Madon : There is work happening in that sphere already under the national fisheries and aquaculture R&D strategy. There are moves developed—and hopefully we will have some information out more publicly soon—looking at rationalising or better managing the research resources, and a model of research hubs, which largely is where we are at to date, at universities, but also looking at all the providers, including private providers. So, yes, there has been a very strong focus on doing that. That has been worked on over the last two years and it is getting very close to having a model that is operating. That will need to be picked up in the research and development application and funding approval processes, to support that, but that is happening.

CHAIR: We have had a fair bit of research—I think there are about 85,000 recreational boats licensed in Western Australia and a quarter of a million in Queensland.

In relation to the take from rec fishing—and we are talking specifically about tuna here, in another commercial business operation—we have some surveys done. People go down to the boat ramps and look in the buckets and record this, and there are some surveys on phone records et cetera. But from the evidence we are receiving the scientists are saying that we need more knowledge—we need to know what the take is. Would that be your association's view as well?

Mr Jeffriess : It is. It is a question of who funds those surveys. There is no point in doing just one single-point survey; you have to have some kind of long-term index and things like that.

CHAIR: You build it of data.

Mr Jeffriess : Yes. FRDC receives many applications each year to do exactly that, and they are for many hundreds of thousands of dollars. FRDC obviously asks itself each time, is this a good investment?

CHAIR: If we did that on a national scale, somehow, and found the right way to put it into a database so that everybody has that, would that be a major plus?

Mr Jeffriess : It would be. Most recreational and charter fishers are highly responsible and, I think, want to contribute towards databases. It cannot be that hard.

CHAIR: Perhaps we could go to an area that is emerging: fishing management, which we do in Australia. We are recognised internationally, I think, as having one of the best wild fisheries management regimes. AFMA has been taken by both major political parties—maybe amended in ways, but just in evolutionary process. It seems to have gone in the right direction, with the advisory committees bringing the industry together with science. And now I think we have the NGOs and other people in there as well. So there is some talking going on about stakeholders' concerns. But we are now looking at the biodiversity that is in the sea as well, to make sure that that is healthy as well. Do you have a view on where that sort of thinking is going?

Mr Jeffriess : There are two points. The first is who should fund all that work. As the museum witnesses before us said, ecosystem work should be done, but who is going to fund it? Is it a FRDC responsibility? As soon as you do more work on the broader ecosystem you shift money away from science. Secondly, the point we made before is that once you have done that research you have to accept, to some extent, the outcomes of it. This is our problem with green parks. Green parks are desirable in many ways, but where a fishery is absolutely no threat of any type to the ecosystem, why would it be excluded from that area? It just does not make any sense. You can do all that ecosystem work, do your risk assessments of the threats of particular fishing gear to those, or whatever it may be. But to then ignore that, as governments do, and close total areas when there is no threat—why do all the research if you are not going to take any notice of it? That is our main point.

CHAIR: The issue between the EPBC Act and fishing management—and you covered this pretty well—has come up in other industries. Regulatory people in these areas need to be multiskilled, basically—knowing the biodiversity but also knowing the commercial realities. Is there a need for us to make sure that we have people who can look right across? I take your point that being assessed to see if the fishery is sustainable and then ticking all the boxes and then being assessed again as to whether you are export compliant seems to be a considerable amount of duplication in the process.

Mr Jeffriess : It also creates uncertainty. If you are strategically assessed as sustainable at one period and then 12 months later you have another assessment to see whether you are going to be export ready or sustainable, that is just bad public administration, to us. If someone can explain the logic to that—consistency that is not duplication—then we would be interested to listen. But no-one can explain that. Again, it is taking valuable resources away from scientific research.

CHAIR: The biosecurity systems that apply to seafood imports; are there a lot of different moves in that area or is it a single direction to look at?

Mr Jeffriess : I think the current system is sound. I think that what the industry, particularly Tasmania, needs to be concerned about over time is how much that current system might be weakened or diluted. We, for example, have gone into great detail as to what the level of testing of seafood imports is and it is reasonably sound within the biosecurity framework. The odd one gets through with antibiotics included, but it is a pretty rare thing. There is a lot of community banter about that but very little evidence that there is a problem.

CHAIR: We received evidence this morning from Food Standards Australia New Zealand and I was very keen to take up on that public banter that our standards that we impose on our imports are of a lesser standard than the standards we impose on our local food or the standards that we have for our own exports and our local consumption. They assured me that the standards are all the same right across the board.

Mr Jeffriess : We have had reason to go into great detail on that issue and their evidence is justified. It would be in our interest to say it is not, but the fact is it is a pretty level playing field. The emerging issue is whether Australia should be monitoring the sustainability of the resources from (indistinct) imports. But I think that will evolve in time.

CHAIR: We are banning illegal logs coming into Australia. It has been a long time to get to that level. One issue in your submission referred to risk within the maritime planning process, which led to shortcomings. It is in relation to fishing gear risk assessment, on page 5. Could you just elaborate on that a bit?

Ms Madon : The government, in assessing gear types for the various bioregions, undertook fishing gear risk assessments. They considered that as a tool in the planning process and that was it. Industry had concerns with the gear assessments that the government had undertaken for a variety of reasons, including that they were assessing potential risk and not actual risk. There were other questions surrounding methodology. For all of the bioregions industry undertook reviews of the original fishing gear risk assessment. It is fair to say there was some agreement in some areas but not in others about industry's concerns. By and large, there has been a lot of concern in the bioregional planning process, particularly with respect to the blanket exclusion of demersal trawl and the justification and rationale for that. If you look at it on a case by case basis in areas you will see that you do not necessarily have any substantial significant long-term impacts and that the risks and the impact should be assessed on an individual instance; there should not be a blanket rule.

CHAIR: Is this some sort of view from somebody coming in to the decision making? How does somebody reach that conclusion? Is this some sort of view that people want to impose without having science or logic? What is the logic behind the decision making? I think we all get frustrated if we cannot see the logic or the intellectual or the philosophy behind what somebody is trying to achieve. Is that right?

Ms Madon : That is difficult. Outside industry that is more difficult because there is not that much information.

CHAIR: You are saying that this is about justifying what people are seeking to achieve from assessing the risks of what this gear would do?

Ms Madon : Yes.

Mr Jeffriess : As Trixi said, we concede that it is not doing it any damage now, but you may find a different way of setting the same gear later and maybe do some damage. It is just irrational. On one hand you get the MSC accrediting internationally, and that is a very high standard of accreditation—

CHAIR: That is the EEC?

Mr Jeffriess : No, the Marine Stewardship Council, accrediting bottom-trawl fisheries—the Northern Prawn Fishery, the Spencer Gulf Prawn Fishery et cetera. At the same time, is it being banned from some number of significant areas? For some areas I think all of us can understand that bottom trawl has an impact—of course, it does.

CHAIR: But it depends on the bottom, I think, doesn't it?

Mr Jeffriess : Yes, it does. Ones like tuna long-lining—which we do not do—is a surface-setting longline. Tasmania's seamounts is a good example: they are at a thousand metres, or whatever it may be, and gear is set to 50 metres. By no stretch of the imagination could you can conceive that that is a threat.

The other problem is what SEWPaC have done in the marine bioregional process is have different consultants do different bioregions, so in one bioregion you get the consultant saying, 'That gear is a threat,' compared to almost identical ecosystems. SEWPAC's argument is: 'We've contracted these people, they're the experts.'

CHAIR: That is not setting the goal to start with, saying, 'This is the goal,' and then setting the process around that.

Mr Jeffriess : It is an ad hoc process, is the problem. You try and explain that to a fisherman. They lose confidence and faith in the whole system.

Ms Madon : We have been calling for it to be more robust, and that is science based, if you like, across policy and methodology—for a robust fishing-gear risk assessment framework. Industry may not be happy with the outcome of the assessment, but if they know that it has been robust and fair they will accept the findings.

CHAIR: The point is that it has to be logical and there has to be a process that somebody has reached in their own mind as to why they are doing that assessment.

Ms Madon : Yes, and there are too many questions at the moment about that.

CHAIR: I am trying to get a response on this from several witnesses as we do our report. Precautionary seems to have different meanings to different people. To some people, precautionary seems to mean that you do not do anything, that you can spend a billion dollars and then decide not to do something. I do not think that is the way forward. It is about getting to a stage where you can take a certain risk, but you assess what the risk is. Some people say you do not take any risks, so the precautionary principle is that you do not do anything unless there is not going to be anything changed. I would be interested in your definition.

Mr Jeffriess : I think the committee has asked some very good questions of other people on this issue. This is the value of the RISs: they really force the public sector and to some extent industry to put in writing what risks are about. There is a very good one done by AFMA on the gillnet fishery in South Australia. It is about asking what the real risk is, and there is some quantification of that. I noted your questioning of the Tasmanian Environment Trust, I think it is called, where the witness said, 'Well, we don't want to proceed with anything until we know exactly all the parameters involved.' In South Australia, for example, we always say, 'We put houses up on areas without knowing exactly what the underground ecosystem is that we are putting the foundations on.' But that is unfair, they say; that is a community right. It is all relative. I think AFMA do a very good job on that and it is transparent; they can identify some quantification of the risk. All activities in the environment will have a risk.

CHAIR: Yes. It is risking the risk, basically.

Mr Jeffriess : CSIRO have done an outstanding job for AFMA in developing these guidelines and benchmarks of risk. It is really down to a world-class, sophisticated level now.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Brian. I think we have met on other occasions.

Mr Jeffriess : Yes.

CHAIR: Maybe when this committee did an inquiry in about 1997. You were talking about some of the people in the fishing industry then. Managing Commonwealth fisheries: the last frontier was the name of that report.

Mr Jeffriess : That is right.

CHAIR: I think we also had something like 'the last of the cowboys' as a subheading.

Mr Jeffriess : That is right.

CHAIR: We had received some evidence along those lines.

Mr Jeffriess : The reports of these committees really do have an impact. That is why we are asking if you could specifically consider including some particular parts to really take the debate forward.

CHAIR: Thank you very much for your time today and for your submission. We will try to do our best. If you could send us that other information, we would appreciate it.

Resolved (on motion by Mr Tehan):

That this committee authorises publication, including publication on the parliamentary database, of the transcript of the evidence given before it at public hearing this day.

Committee adjourned at 11:41