Fish quota scientist resigns over conflict of interest

THE ABC has revealed an Australian scientist has resigned from an advisory group on fish quotas over concerns fellow member Gerry Geen has an unacceptable conflict of interest.

Documents obtained by the ABC show NSW academic Dr Kirsten Davies resigned as chairwoman of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority’s resource assessment group, saying her concerns about the part-owner of a trawler’s influence were ignored.

Concerns about Gerry Geen’s influence on AFMA were raised by Dr Davies in her resignation letter from the Small Pelagic Fishery Resource Assessment Group (RAG).

In the letter, obtained by the ABC under FOI laws, Dr Davies claimed Geen’s inclusion on the RAG created a conflict of interest.

Dr Davies’ resignation letter states members of the body informed a meeting of the advisory group that they were selling or had sold their own fish quotas to Geen.

Geen is the director of Seafish Tasmania, which recently brought controversial 95m super trawler Geelong Star into Australia.

“While the RAG is an advisory body and not a decision-making entity, it does influence policy and activities, such as providing advice on the Total Allowable Catch (TAC),” Dr Davies’ January 8 letter explained.

“From my perspective as Chair, and, in my interpretation of the guidelines as described in FAP 12, this industry member’s perceived and/or actual influence in providing advice on aspects of the management of the fishery, given his company’s quota holding, presents a situation of an unacceptable level of pecuniary interest and conflict.”

Jon Bryant from Stop the Trawler Alliance said: “It’s not every day that a member of a government committee, a chair of a government committee, feels the need to resign over a difference of opinion on conflict of interest with the agency that she’s working for.”

It is not the first time concerns have been raised.

In 2012 the Commonwealth Ombudsman found AFMA breached the Fisheries Act in setting the quota for the former super trawler the Abel Tasman.

The Ombudsman’s report found Mr Geen declared a conflict of interest to a meeting of the assessment group that sets fishing quotas, but was allowed to remain in the meeting.

Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries Senator Richard Colbeck said he had confidence in the management of AFMA, and the RAG was a consultative group.

Read more here and here.

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