Lobby Group Recfishwest Caught Out on Misleading and Alarmist Anti-Marine Park Fear Campaign

ABC today revealed that there are internal tensions in the recreational fishing community about the extent to which the current “Keep Australia Fishing” fear campaign against new marine parks has sought to misrepresent the truth.

Listen to the story or read the transcript here.

I’ve had a look online and found the documents referred to in the story, minutes of the Australian Angling Association meeting where Recfishwest says in its official report to the association:

Most articles and media statements are misleading, inaccurate, alarmist, mischievous, or aimed at stirring up people. Sure there are suspect political reasons for some decisions, and some are not supported by sound science aimed at the real threats, however talking of “vast areas locked away from recreational fishermen” is simply wrong and alarmist. 


The map tells a story. Look at the map online and you be the judge. Do the white areas deserve the description “Locked out of vast areas?” Vast areas which are actually used by recreational boat fishermen? 

Despite these official views, Recfishwest continues to campaign on the basis of ‘large scale lock outs’.

The recreational and commercial fishing industry have been running a fear campaign against the new marine parks since they were launched by the Federal Government, drastically overstating the extent of marine parks and the impacts on recreational fishing and on the commercial fishing industry.

For example, many adverts have featured kids blocked from fishing on the beach, when the proposed commonwealth marine parks start 5km from shore and cannot possibly affect shore fishing.

Even in the response to the questions on World Today, Recfishwest talks about being locked out of the head of the Perth Canyon, when in fact there is only one small sanctuary in this area and the main areas where people fish, the fish attracting devices (FADs), are still open to fishing.

Interestingly too, the campaign is focusing entirely on the new commonwealth marine sanctuaries in Geographe Bay, and ignoring the state marine sanctuaries put in by the WA Liberal Government right next door.

Fortunately both levels of Government and both sides of politics have seen past this fear campaigning and understand the strong science case and community mandate for establishing marine sanctuaries in Western Australia’s waters.

UPDATE – More evidence the fisher’s arguments don’t stack up to any evidence based scrutiny, they’ve only got rhetoric to fall back on.  Hear The Squid on talk back on Howard Sattler’s drive program after a long dribble of misinformation about lack of science and vast ‘lock-outs’ from Karl Langdon, via Western Angler: Listen here

UPDATE 2 – Bit of history here too.  A debate with Western Angler’s Scott Coghlan from March 2011, where again the arguments of the fishers just don’t stand up to the facts. Listen here.


Move to legislate against Super Trawlers entering Australia

Fremantle MP Melissa Parke has today announced that she will bring a bill to Federal Parliament when it next sits seeking to stop super trawlers from operating in Australian waters.

It’s a great opportunity for Australian Parliament to demonstrate Australia’s commitment to sustainable fishing, marine conservation and solving the global overfishing crisis.  With more than 80,000 Australians signing online petitions (add your voice here ccwa – stop trawler alliance), here’s hoping the majority do the right thing and back this important piece of legislation.

The move also comes amongst new revelations that the quota for the Margiris may not be legal after conflict of interest breaches of process in setting the quota (ABC report).  Independent MP Andrew Wilkie has described the quota as now not being worth the paper it is written on.

Press release below:


Federal Member for Fremantle, Melissa Parke, today announced she will introduce a private Member’s bill when Parliament next sits to protect the future of Australia’s oceans and fisheries.

“I have very serious concerns about the impacts of a super‐trawler like the MV Margiris on the Australian marine environment and as a result I intend to bring a private Member’s bill to prevent this kind of large‐scale trawling operation in Australian waters,” said Ms Parke.

“It’s very clear to me that the precautionary principle has to apply in this case. Our oceans and fisheries are both too precious and too fragile to be subject to the Godzillas of the fishing world in the form of super‐trawlers.

“That’s the last thing we need at a time when the Labor government has just put in place the largest network of marine sanctuaries in Commonwealth waters, including the largest single sanctuary off the south‐west corner of Western Australia.

“At 142 metres long, the MV Margiris is the world’s second largest trawler and there are legitimate concerns about the size of the vessel, its fishing quota, and the methods it uses to catch fish. I am also concerned about the potential for marine animals like dolphins and seals to become caught in large fishing nets.

“As fishing technology becomes more advanced we have to regard the sustainability of our oceans and fisheries as paramount. There is a real and growing risk of localised overfishing and we need to better understand the potential impact of this vessel and similar large and crude fishing practices on our precious ecosystem and smaller fishing

“I am giving consideration to how the bill will operate to ensure that when there’s an attempt to introduce new vessel types, technologies or practices that will damage or pose unacceptable risks to our oceans and fisheries there are effective safeguards and protections in place to stop that from occurring.”


Australia’s ‘World’s Best’ Fisheries Management – a Dangerous Mantra?

It’s a key message for the fishing industry and their lobby groups, supported by government Fisheries Departments and the a number of Australia’s fisheries scientists in the media, and it goes a little something like this – Australia has the best fisheries management in the world, so you can stop worrying about our oceans.

The mantra is also regularly reinforced by politicians, and often too by Greenies trying to maintain some common ground with the fishing industry in a tense political atmosphere created by the public debate around marine reserves, certification of fisheries and ongoing issues of stock depletion and by-catch.

With the world’s second biggest super trawler steaming towards our shores, it has again been cited as a reason for allowing this vessel into our waters despite a history of super trawlers being implicated in the destruction of fish stocks, the marine environment, and fishing livelihoods the world over.

But is this true? Can we simply trust our fisheries managers and go back to sleep?

A quick look raises concerns immediately.  At a statistical level, for Australia’s commonwealth managed fisheries, 18% of Australia’s fish stocks are currently considered overfished or subject to overfishing; and for a further 42% there isn’t enough information to tell the status which is perhaps even more concerning.  This is just for target species, there is no published measure of impact on species taken as by-catch, which ranges from dolphins and sea-lions right down to fish, corals and sponges.

At a species level there are also red flags.

Hearing the mantra, some might be surprised to hear that there have been many collapses in Australia.  Some of the worst are on the East Coast where for a couple of examples the Harrison’s dogfish population was reduced by around 99%of those before fishing in some areas, and the grey nurse shark population is estimated at below 2000 individuals. In 2006 long lived deepsea orange roughy was the first commercially harvested fish to be listed as an endangered species in Australia. It was a drastic case of a common problem – that of not properly understanding the biology of the fish being harvested, and being far too overconfident in setting the limits on catches.

Much of this is historical overfishing, but is worth raising because it is the history of fisheries management in Australia, and it is not that long ago.  Still well within the time period that fisheries managers claim proves we are the best in the world.

Another examples that is well known to fishers is the decline in coastal demersal fish species around the country. Fishing restrictions, seasonal bans and other more extreme management measures are becoming far more commonplace (QLDWA). Some would argue these are just example of fisheries management in action, but they are also evidence of fisheries in decline that as yet have not recovered.  They are reactionary responses to fisheries in decline, not proactive and precautionary management that is building a healthier future for fisheries and oceans.

Other issues are in the area of by-catch. For example three zones of the South Australian shark gillnet fishery have been closed on account of ongoing by-catch of endangered australian sea lions. In the same fishery in Western Australia the Department of Fisheries is refusing to implement observer programs to measure the impacts on sea lions. The Pilbara Trawl in Western Australia still continues to take dolphins every year, alongside a number of other protected species.

It’s also worth getting beyond the data and just looking at things in a practical sense – how many people are out there highlighting that the fishing is as good as, or better than, it was a decade ago, or two?

Even the flagship of Australia’s fisheries management, and the world’s first MSC certified fishery, the Western Rock Lobster fishery has recently undergone a sustained recruitment failure that has led to a halving of the fishing fleet. The fisheries managers have responded by cutting the fleet, but have been unable to explain or remedy the collapse.  Time will tell if the fishery recovers.

For the rest of Australia’s fisheries that don’t have the resources to conduct the sort of scientific management applied to Western Rock Lobster where the annual recruitment is directly estimated by measuring the settlement of larval lobsters, the game is much more about predictions based on catch data (often unreliable) and computer modelling.  Being a little over simplistic, but hopefully capturing the general idea, the size distribution and overall tonnage of catch is used as a surrogate for what is happening underwater, and models to predict the impacts of future catch are constructed based on this.  A lot of assumptions have to be made given the limited information about the biology of almost all of the species we catch.  The ecosystem effects of removing large numbers of one species are even more poorly understood. In many cases catch data doesn’t go back far enough to know what the fish stocks were like before fishing started, so its hard to find a baseline against which to measure performance.

Its a method that can work, but only if it’s applied with the appropriate caution and checks and balances.  The limits of the method need to be clearly understood. Overconfidence is not compatible with this sort of methodology.

Dr Jonathan Neville, an aquatic scientist and author from Tasmania has written a number of pieces about the overconfidence of Australia’s fisheries managers, and the lack of application of the ecosystem based systems and precautionary principles they claim give Australia the best management regime in the world. See some of his work in the Tasmanian Times here.

The danger of overconfidence by fishing managers is akin to gambling, it is playing an experiment with one of the most valuable resources we have in a healthy ocean full of fish.

The truth is that Australia does probably rank near the top in terms of fisheries management, but that’s in context of a global overfishing crisis.  Being the least bad can be interpreted as being the best, but it doesn’t equate to being adequate, or good.

There is some excellent research work being done in Australia, it’s usually easy to spot because these are the fisheries scientists who are open and honest about the limitations of their models, and are always advocating for more data and research.  I have also seen this work blatantly misrepresented by fisheries mangers.

Our fisheries managers and the industry at large needs to adopt a more humble approach and work with marine scientists, marine biologist, conservationists and others to restore our ocean ecosystems, rather than continuing to cite a mantra that might be good PR, but isn’t good for the fish.

The mantra is dangerous because it can block consideration of new science evidence that might disagree with old methods, and blinds managers to lessons that should be learned from mistakes.

Rather than reciting the mantra and attacking critics, our fisheries managers should be advocating a more precautionary approach, setting lower catch limits. embracing alternative management measures, and supporting the establishment of marine protected areas for conservation and as an insurance against future mistakes.

Super Trawler Opposition Increases

Opposition to the world’s second largest super trawler, the FV Margiris, is mounting in Australia.

On the weekend, the protests against the giant ship fishing for small pelagics in Australia’s southern waters spread to Western Australia when hundreds of people rallied in Fremantle spelling out a human message “stop the trawler”.  Federal member for Fremantle Melissa Parke and the Fremantle Mayor both spoke against the trawler at the rally.  The WA Fisheries Minister has expressed concern, and state Labor opposition and Greens have also spoken against the vessel, with Gosnell’s MP Chris Tallentire attending the rally on behalf of the state opposition.  State independent member for Fremantle Adele Carles also attended.

In the Federal Parliament, Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie has rasied the stakes on his campaign to expose serious problems in the process used to determine the allowable catch for the trawler.  Initially he referred concerns about a conflict of interest to the Commonwealth Ombudsman, now he has also unearthed concerns from some committee members that there concerns were misrepresented in the process.  More here.