Intelligence no prerequisite for politics

18th November 2014

Having recently spent two months travelling throughout Europe on a Nuffield Australia Scholarship researching varying fishing practices and management regimes I was, for a brief moment, proud that Australian fisheries are managed so well, so sustainably and that Australian fisherman are leading the world in using the lowest impact techniques available globally.

My pride in being an Australian fisherman quickly turned to fury, frustration and utter disgust following the recent events occurring in the lead up to the Victorian State election.

To announce a ban on what are globally considered low impact, sustainable fisheries defies common sense, ignores science, will cost jobs and decrease the level of access consumers and restaurants have to local produce all in order to gain a few urban votes that the government may otherwise lose.

The methods bay and inlet fisherman in Victoria use are considered passive, low impact and sustainable. Having just this week met with Greenpeace’s EU policy spokeswoman for Oceans and Fisheries, Saskia Richartz, I can honestly say that Greenpeace is advocating for commercial gillnetting as they consider it a passive, selective, low impact method of fishing that has minimal interactions with broader marine animals and the wider marine ecology. If Greenpeace, of all NGO’s, is advocating for the use of gillnets then the Napthine Governments argument that removal of commercial netting will make the bay’s more sustainable is absurd.

I read in The Age comments made by the Premier that this plan would mean better catches for Victoria’s 750,000 recreational anglers. It seems in his extreme and desperate haste to secure votes he has decided to ignore the other 5.1 million Victorians who rely upon commercial fishing to provide a source of fresh, healthy, nutritious food that the public is told they should be eating more of.

Melbourne more than any other Australian city, or perhaps more than any other international city, has a remarkable food culture that it should be proud of and advocating to the greatest extent possible. Seafood and its regional provenance is an integral part of that. To chase the votes of a handful of recreational anglers at the expense of the cities restaurants, tourism industry and sustainable fisheries is political opportunism at its worst. I doubt international visitors to Melbourne and any one of its thousands of restaurants have a large desire to consume Tilapia farmed in sewerage ponds of SE Asia, yet that is the choice now being offered.

Already Australia is importing 70-80% of our domestic seafood consumption, mostly from China and SE Asia where the question of sustainable practices are far from being answered. Aside from sustainability questions, as Asia’s rising middle class increase their income and living standards it is commonly known that a much larger percentage of their domestic seafood production will be consumed in their own countries and not exported as it presently is. This will have grave consequences for countries like Australia that have driven their own sustainable fishing industries into a state of near non-existence and substituted quality local product with inferior imports.

The voluntary buyback occurring in the Gippsland Lakes is a further example of opportunistic politics compromising seafood production at the expense of Victorians who wish to access local produce that has been sourced sustainably. If Minister Walsh actually cared about his portfolio as minister for food security he should be advocating and promoting the local industries that provide that security, not forcing them out of existence to acquiesce a minority of the Victorian population who are recreational anglers.

I’m sure Premier Napthine may not be aware of every intricacy of global seafood production or sustainable environmental practices; however there are many in Victoria and Australia who are and advise to government on such matters. That no such consultation was taken on a policy decision that has such far-reaching ramifications cannot be argued as ignorance, simply as utter, opportunistic and shortsighted stupidity. Worse is that it sets a precedent for all other governments that cheap votes can be brought at the expense of local primary production industries.

In a world where 800 million people presently do not have access to sufficient protein to sustain basic human health and with a human population set to increase by 2.5 billion within 35 years shutting down sustainable food production industries such as the Napthine Government is proposing to do was best summed up by the words of Voltaire from over two centuries ago, “common sense is not so common.”