By Lynton Barr
Editor of online recreational fishing magazine “Around the Jetties”
On the 30th of April I attended a film screened by SETFIA (The South East Trawl Fishing Industry Association) and the Lakes Entrance Fishermens Cooperative for the public. This was an excellent film examining many aspects of the offshore fishery industry, and in particular looking at the problem posed by having 40% of Australia’s offshore waters protected by Marine Parks. The relatively small marine protected areas in Queensland have cost over $300 million to introduce under the previous Government and only a further $100 million has been allocated to buy out offshore fishermen who will be removed in the national roll-out of parks. Despite the offshore fishing industry being a leader in worlds best practice, a vast area of coastal Australia has been removed from the fishery as a result of marine parks and this was despite Australia importing 70% of the seafood used in this country.
The film acknowledged that the World’s seas were under threat from overfishing, however a number of prestigious academics spoke on the film stating this was not the case in Australia, where scientific quotas protect the fish, and they argued that marine parks are not the only solution to ensuring a sustainable and renewable fishery. It was pointed out that as a result of the massive marine park off the Queensland coast Australia catches only 15,000 tons of tuna whilst Papua-New Guinea catches a million tons per annum from the same stock of fish.
The comment was made that the establishment of marine parks was more a political decision rather than an environmental protection. It was suggested we are importing $2 billion of seafood from poor third world countries, and the morality of this should be considered when we have an ability to provide that seafood ourselves, whilst at the same time having a sustainable and renewable resource with the current controls and quotas that apply to the Australian industry. The Australian seafood industry is regarded as the most scientifically managed fishery in the world, and many believe marine parks achieve nothing compared with the controlled offshore fishery. The lack of consultation with fishermen, and the fact that the introduction in 2013 of the world’s largest marine reserve put many fishing families at risk was a sad outcome of the previous Governments action and in the film the effect of this action provides a moving commentary as some fishing families face a bleak future.
The film concluded with a strong case being presented for the use of the Margiris, the super fish factory that was banned by the Government in 2012. The case presented relied on the fact that it would only have caught a scientifically determined quota, and there would have been no wastage because all the fish caught are processed at sea, and the Government could have provided an on board observer to all its fishing activities which were to be subject to filming including within the net. Again – a decision with little consultation and less understanding.
Drawing the Line was funded by a northern Australian fisherman, and raised many questions including the power of small groups to influence policy regardless of the effects on the Australian community. This is a film that should be seen generally as the decisions taken by Government have influenced the ability of Australians to access seafood whilst ensuring we continue to have a sustainable off shore fishery into the future. Thanks to SETFIA for making this film available to the public in Lakes Entrance.