09 July 2015
The Independent Member for Denison, Andrew Wilkie, will be available to comment on the axing of the independent group providing scientific advice on the regulation of the Geelong Star super trawler.
“The super trawler is now completely off the leash,’’ Mr Wilkie said.
Without explanation, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) has axed the Small Pelagic Fisheries Resource Assessment Group (SPFRAG), the only expert group providing advice on the management of the Small Pelagic Fishery and Geelong Star freezer factory ship.
“The situation has reached a point so bizarrely at odds with the public interest that the community is questioning the probity of some politicians and bureaucrats, and indeed fisheries management in Australia,’’ Mr Wilkie said.
“This is an absolute outrage. The Federal Government has axed the only group providing scientific advice on this fishery and allowed the Geelong Star to turn off its tracking device to plunder in secret. And all the while it ignores public opinion and other commercial fishing interests, just to line the pockets of a foreign company that employs a couple of dozen Australians.
“AFMA would only have taken this step with political top-cover.’’
In April Mr Wilkie asked the Commonwealth Ombudsman to investigate concerns – shared by members of the now axed SPFRAG – that Seafish Tasmania, the operator of the Geelong Star, helped advise its catch quota.
“If this is correct, it’s like putting the fox in charge of the hen house and leaves a huge question mark hanging over the fishing quota and legitimacy of the Geelong Star fishing in Australian waters,’’ Mr Wilkie said.
“AFMA’s actions suggest it would prefer to axe the experts and continue business as usual, rather than deal with the systemic problems surrounding fisheries management in Australia.’’
Mr Wilkie said the allegations about AFMA’s process in setting quotas were very concerning considering the authority’s recent history and would leave many Australians questioning the management of Australia’s precious fisheries.
In 2012 Mr Wilkie reported similar concerns to the Commonwealth Ombudsman about AFMA’s setting of the quota relevant to Seafish Tasmania’s previous vessel, the super trawler Margiris.
The Ombudsman found that AFMA did not follow the law when the South East Management Advisory Committee finalised its recommendation for the quota relevant to the Margiris.
In particular the Ombudsman found that one of the members of that committee had a financial conflict of interest but was allowed to remain in, and contribute to, discussions about the quota.