QUEENSLAND: by John OlsenNews Weekly
Red tape swamps fishing industry - FABA
, September 8, 2001
Excessive environmental controls combined with competing Federal and State bureaucracies were seriously affecting the Queensland fishing industry, according to John Olsen, President of the Queensland Seafood Industry Association. He was speaking at the recent launch of the Federation of Australian Business and Agriculture (FABA) in Brisbane.
Mr Olsen said that our society is "heavily reliant on the fishing industry producing world-class seafood. Our contribution to regional Australia is enormous. We supply seafood to the world, we are a national intelligence network in costal surveillance, and we are the seafarer's guardians during their our of need".
Yet this important industry is now under threat. "Some appropriate regulation of the industry has been needed for 20 years, but the recent rationalisation process of the Queensland East Coast Trawl fishery has affected fishers in a similar way that government imposed changes have impacted the forestry and dairy industries.
"It has led to economic ruin for some, marriage and family breakdown for others, and parents wondering where the next boat payment, or evening meal on the table will come from when their allocated fishing days run out.
"The impossible cap on fishing catch by the Federal Environment Minister, Senator Robert Hill, and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) which comes under his authority, has made the fair and equitable allocation of fishing catches to Queensland fishermen impossible. Their plan placed a 108,346 night limit on fishing in Queensland waters, to be reduced by 25 per cent over five years.
"Then they left the State Government and the fishing industry to work out how to allocate these quotas and still have fishers make a living.
"First came $10 million from the State Government and then $10 million from the Federal to soften the blow of the restructure process that has removed 98 commercial fishing licences from the state.
"Many who left the industry are in impossible situations as fishing is the only work they know. Others are trying to find a way out the industry with some semblance of dignity."
Mr Olsen said that if the political system had set out to engineer the fragmentation of the fishing industry's strong organisational voices as a precursor to the restructure process, "they could not have been more devastatingly successful. Fisherman has been pitted against fisherman in the clamour over the allocation of fishing rights. The rage lingers on."
He explained that technically the Queensland East Coast fishing industry is managed by the Queensland Fisheries Service and the Queensland Department of Primary Industries, under the umbrella of the Queensland Government.
"However, it could be said that the Queensland Government management structure is really only a de facto arrangement for Senator Hill, the GBRMPA and Environment Australia.
"Nowhere to be seen is the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, which is supposed to have jurisdiction on these matters.
"Instead, the GBRMPA is now taking the lead role in government and fisheries management, while showing little concern for the social and economic consequences of their policy decisions on the fishing industry and regional communities.
"For example, we were told that if we bit the bullet and accepted the GBRMPA limit on trawling days, then the industry would be declared to be ecologically sustainable in Queensland waters.
"But to our surprise, despite accepting 55,000 fewer fishing days over five years than what was earlier proposed under the Federal government plan, the GBRMPA reneged on the plan and refused to declare the industry ecologically sustainable."
Mr Olsen said that the power of the GBRMPA had to be "reined in", as the Authority no longer provided a balance in the industry. The Federal Minister must accept responsibility for a final industry plan and for appropriate compensation and assistance both for those staying in the industry and for those being forced out.
In addition to these competing government authorities, the fishing industry is also subject to the rules of the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service, the Department of Transport, and the Fisheries and Boating Patrol. The industry also has to contend with frequent criticisms from environmental groups and recreational fishing groups.
Mr Olsen also said that for the fishing industry to be sustainable, there needs to be careful planning of inland dams and weirs. Fish stocks need fresh waters flows from rivers and streams to complete the marine biomass.
Where weirs and dams are needed, "they should be located well upstream from the brackish water areas, into the fresh water regions. There needs to be high level environmental flows and there needs to be a free flow of seasonal flood waters to the sea. Where weirs are build, fish ladders of the highest standards should be the requirement."