Super trawler: commercial interests trump sustainability

The Tasmanian Greens today released documents obtained under Freedom of Information showing that commercial considerations had apparently trumped a science-based approach in the decision to increase the catch limit for fish species targeted by the FV Margiris.

The information was obtained following a Greens request for documents held by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) relating to information that was used to set the total allowable catch (TAC) for jack mackerel for 2012/13.

The documents show that a letter from SeaFish Tasmania dated 15 March 2012 was sent to AFMA requesting an increase the jack mackerel TAC to support the operation of the freezer trawler, shortly before AFMA decided to increase the TAC.

“…that AFMA apply the General Metarule in the SPF Harvest Strategy on the setting of the RBC for jack mackerel east…the resulting increase in the jack mackerel east TAC would be sufficient to support the proposed operation of a freezer trawler by SeaFish Tasmania.”

The request came amid concerns expressed by one member of the AFMA small pelagic fishery advisory group, who stated that:

“I therefore do not support the Tier 2 RBC increase (for Jack Mackerel) because of concerns about sustainability of stock.”

A former member of the group was also compelled to write to AMFA to express his or her concerns, stating that the recommendation:

“… was arrived at in a way different to the other RBC recommendations following a proposal by a RAG member that a corporation of which he is part is planning to introduce a large trawler/freezer vessel into the SPF… and that this vessel would also undertake a one-off DEPM of an area of the SPF of his corporation’s choosing.”

Greens Primary Industries spokesperson Kim Booth MP said Federal Minister Ludwig must rule out the FV Margiris being granted a license to operate, and called for an inquiry to be undertaken into the AFMA decision-making process.

“Only two weeks after Seafish Tasmania wrote to request an increase in the total allowable catch, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority decided that not having up to date science wasn’t so much of a concern.”

“What this seems to show is that AFMA was falling over itself to comply with the company’s request, despite the concerns raised about the science underpinning a quota increase.”

“SeaFish Tasmania is the company that will profit from the increase in the TAC of jack mackerel east, and the fact that the company’s director sits on one of the advisory boards to AFMA only raises further questions about the process.”

“It also raises questions about whether AFMA has prioritised commercial considerations over a sound science-based approach to the fishery.”

“This information will only confirm in the minds of the concerned local fishing communities that there is something smelly about this super trawler operation.”

“Minister Ludwig now has no choice but to refuse an operating licence for the Margiris, given that there is clear doubt over the science, disagreement within the advisory group and clear commercial pressure from a participant in the process,” Mr Booth said.

Link: Documents obtained by The Greens under Freedom of Information.

August 11, 2012