Backlash over canning of fisheries advisory committee

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THE federal government has been criticised for axing an advisory committee responsible for providing advice on the management of the Small Pelagic Fishery – the fishery the controversial freezer trawler Geelong Star operates in.

THE Small Pelagic Resource Assessment Group analysed fishing practices within a 200-mile band off the coasts of NSW, Victoria, Tasmania, SA and WA.

The Australian reports former group member Jon Bryan has criticised its disbanding, particularly in light of recent controversy over the Geelong Star, which has killed nine dolphins in Australian waters over a matter of weeks.

“We believe that this is a critical time for this fishery and the worst time for a scientific advisory committee to be abolished,” Mr Bryan said.

Federal Independent MP Andrew Wilkie said the “outrageous” move meant factory trawlers are “off the leash”.

“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.

Senator Ricard Colbeck, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, has insisted that stakeholders will still get a say, despite the decision by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority to close the group on June 30.

“The terms of each of the members of that group came to an end last month and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) is considering how to best obtain future scientific and economic advice about the SPF – I understand a decision will be made next month,” Senator Colbeck said.

“It is important to ensure a high level of advice is provided to the AFMA Commission and I am confident that AFMA will ensure that this continues to occur. I understand the independent AFMA Commission is taking into consideration the matters raised by fishery stakeholders about SPFRAG before making any announcement on a future science advisory process.

“The advisory process will continue to provide fishery stakeholders with the opportunity to have their say about the science, including stakeholders from the commercial fishing industry, conservation groups, recreational fishing interests and science bodies.”

Senator Colbeck said it is disappointing to hear that some misinformation is being put into the public arena around this process.

“The suggestion that the SPFRAG is some sort of oversight committee in the management of the fishery is simply not true – that is the role of AFMA and its commissioners,” he said.

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