EXCLUSIVE: Kelly steps in to reduce gamefish slaughter

IN a win for anglers, plans to allow commercial long liners to slaughter unsustainable numbers of tuna and billfish have been reworked following intervention by federal fisheries supremo Mike Kelly.

As well as moving to reduce commercial exploitation of gamefish stocks, Dr Kelly, the parliamentary secretary for fisheries, has rejected calls by extreme green groups for the establishment of massive no fishing zones in federal waters, including the Coral Sea, saying he is not “a big fan of drawing lines on water”. He has also reassured anglers that the federal bioregional planning process, first initiated by the Howard Government, would have “very little impact” on rec fishing.

As previously reported by Fisho, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) last month presented a new quota system for the Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery. This quota, if implemented, would have resulted in the long line fleet being able to catch almost 4000 tonnes more tuna and billfish than scientists say is sustainable.

Implementation of the quota system, due in late January, was delayed for two weeks following protests by anglers via an online campaign spearheaded by Fishing World.

Following those protests, and subsequent intervention by Dr Kelly’s office, a revised quota system was announced by AFMA today, with proposed catch levels being dropped. Full details of the revised AFMA quotas, and comparisons with the original proposals, can be found HERE.

In an exclusive interview, Dr Kelly told Fishing World he had “actively engaged” with AFMA over the past fortnight to force it to reduce the proposed quotas.

“We worked closely with AFMA on what they were proposing,” Dr Kelly said. “I made it clear that there wasn’t enough attention being paid to the sustainability of the fishery and that any decisions made would have to be based on the available science.

“AFMA is not a law unto themselves. During our conversations with them they realised they had to work with other groups (like anglers) and they also had to explain their proposals to a broad audience. If that sort of thing didn’t happen, they understood that parliament may not feel inclined to support their proposals.”

Dr Kelly said he had been concerned about sustainability issues with the original AFMA proposal, regardless of the angler campaign and other protest action by groups such as Greenpeace.

“There were a few statistical stand-outs (in the original AFMA quota proposal) and there seemed to be some questions about the sustainability of what they were proposing.”

The backdown by AFMA is a major win for anglers as it should result in a more productive and diverse gamefishery. Dr Kelly said he was aware of the significant socio-economic benefits of the recreational fishing sector, especially in relation to gamefishing, and said he was committed to developing “sustainable and responsible” fisheries.

He said the commercial sector could not be seen as a “growth industry” due to environmental limitations inherent to a wild catch fishery. There was now significant opportunity to develop an aquaculture industry to offset and perhaps even replace some sections of the commercial industry, he said. Aquaculture could provide fresh fish for local consumption and export markets and a reduction in commercial pressure on wild stocks would allow the recreational sector to maximise sustainable angling opportunities.

Dr Kelly, who holds the key “fishing” seat of Eden-Monaro in southern NSW for the Labor Government, was a senior military officer before being elected to parliament in 2007. He said he specifically asked for the fisheries portfolio after the most recent federal election because he was interested in, and understood, the issues facing recreational and commercial fishing.

During the interview with Fishing World, Dr Kelly made it clear he would make future decisions on fisheries matters based on scientific advice and consultation with user groups. “I want to make decisions based on the available science while also making sure we provide the mechanisms for groups and the community to provide input.”

Helping the recreational sector develop the organisational skills to effectively engage with government was a priority, Dr Kelly said. “At the moment working with you guys is like trying to herd cats! There are so many groups, so many opinions.”

The Australian tackle industry, in association with allied industry groups and organisations such as RecFish and ANSA, is currently working on a strategy paper, part of which will outline ways the recreational sector can improve its communications performance.

But slick PR and lobbying strategies don’t guarantee Dr Kelly’s attention or support. He told Fisho he had met with various high profile environmental groups, including the US-based Pew organisation, which is currently pushing to have Australia’s Coral Sea declared a no-fishing zone.

“I’ve listened to all these groups and I’ve heard what they say,” Dr Kelly said. “Then I told them that I’m interested in the science and making decisions based on what the science says. If the science says something needs to be done, if there’s a problem, then I’ll do something about it. But I’m not interested in feel-good policies.”

Fishing World asked Dr Kelly if he had seen any scientific reports highlighting the need for the Coral Sea to be declared a no-fishing zone.

“No,” Dr Kelly said.

He also said that he was not in favour of establishing marine parks in federal waters, saying he “wasn’t a fan of drawing lines on the water because fish don’t recognise those lines”.

In recognition of concerns about possible restrictions to access to fishing areas, he said the bioregional planning process currently being investigated by the federal Government would “have very little impact” on recreational fishermen.

“(The federal process) is part of an international treaty obligation that’s all to do with looking at protecting the ocean floor. Any impact that would occur as a result of that would likely be with commercial trawlers, and we’ve got a compensation process for people in that industry in place if needed. I would think (the bioregional process) would result in very little impact on what recreational anglers do.”

The new quota system for the ETBF comes into effect on March 1.

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