Back to All News

Australian Fisheries Management Authority

Estimates & Committees
Rachel Siewert 24 May 2011


Australian Fisheries Management Authority
CHAIR:  As is normal for estimates, we integrate AFMA with the departmental executive.

Senator SIEWERT:  In 2009 I asked questions about the proposed boundary changes to the Commonwealth North West Slope Trawl Fishery. Where is the process up to? I understand there has been some recent movement on the proposed changes.
Dr Troy:  In December last year, officers from AFMA and the Western Australian Department of Fisheries met with Commonwealth and state operators to discuss options for amending the offshore constitutional settlement arrangements. A key outcome of that meeting was that industry voluntarily agreed to set up a closure in the North West Shelf trawl fishery area, covering the same area and offering the same level of protection as the former AFMA legislated closure. This closure will remain in place until September this year while we are trying to renegotiate and review the Western Trawl Harvest Strategy. We are establishing a joint Commonwealth-state harvest strategy working group to help in developing complementary management arrangements across both sectors and we are still waiting on nominations to that group from the Western Australian Fishing Industry Council, after which we will convene a meeting of the working group.
We have had port visits with Commonwealth and state industry members in the last few weeks to discuss catch history, target species and to develop proposals for the realignment of the boundaries, but none of those meetings were particularly well-attended by industry operators, so we have not made much progress.
Senator SIEWERT:  Thank you. Sorry to be confusing, but we are talking about two areas up there, aren't we?
Dr Troy:  That is right.
Senator SIEWERT:  You are talking about the one for which AFMA agreed to the temporary closure. That is further up the coast, isn't it, than the area that is the 200-metre isobath closure?
Dr Troy:  Yes.
Senator SIEWERT:  The one that you were just talking about is on track, by the sound of it.
Dr Troy:  Yes.
Senator SIEWERT:  No-one turned up, but the process is underway.
Dr Troy:  In both instances, there is a process underway, but the more northern portion is the area where industry has agreed to a closure.
Senator SIEWERT:  Where are we up to do with the other one?
Dr Findlay:  I might be able to help. At the moment we are dealing with both of them as part of a broader package rather than dealing with them individually. There were various moves to say, 'Let's deal with one and deal with the rest later.' We are not keen to see that split. We would rather see it all sorted out at once.
Senator SIEWERT:  I appreciate that. Even if they were handled together, there is still a second part to it, in terms of where you are up to with the other one.
Dr Findlay:  As I said, we are trying to deal with them concurrently. They are all defined by the 200-metre isobath line and we want to redraw that line once rather than having to do two or three tranches of negotiations.
Senator SIEWERT:  Is it proposed that the second area is opened then? That is what I presumed from your comment.
Dr Findlay:  I am not sure. At the moment, the existing boundaries remain in the fishery until the line is redrawn.
Senator SIEWERT:  Yes, but neither of them, as I understand it, at the moment are being fished.
Dr Findlay:  The levels of effort are very low, on our side—yes.
Senator COLBECK:  We are talking about trawling?
Senator SIEWERT:  Yes. You are in discussions. Where is the industry up to with the second one?
Dr Findlay:  It depends on which industry you are asking us questions about.
Senator SIEWERT:  The trawling industry.
Dr Findlay:  They would obviously like a speedy resolution to this issue so that they can get a clear definition of what their grounds are likely to be into the future and get access to some of the grounds that at the moment they are excluded from.
Senator SIEWERT:  In other words, they will agree to the closure of the first one but not the second one?
Dr Troy:  I might be able to assist here. There are two areas. The area further to the north is an area where the actual 200-metre isobath is—if I get this right—and it is inshore of the boundary. That results in Commonwealth operators being excluded from the area. The area to the south is the opposite. Sorry—I have it around the wrong way. Commonwealth operators could go into the area to the north but have voluntarily decided not to. In the area to the south, because of the way in which the boundary is drawn, Commonwealth operators are excluded from areas that are in fact deeper than 200 metres. Neither area affects state operators because their entitlements go out to the AFZ. There is no suggestion of a closure in the southern area because it is more an expansion of the area available to Commonwealth operators rather than a closure.
Senator SIEWERT:  As I understand it, at the moment trawlers have not been to the one further to the south until now.
Dr Troy:  That is correct. Because of the way in which the boundaries are drawn, they could fish because the boundary is inshore of the 200 metres.
Senator SIEWERT:  That is right. But the argument being put is that, because it has not been trawled, that area is actually in good condition and there are ecosystems there that will be damaged by trawling. Have you heard that one?
Dr Troy:  I am not aware of that, no.
Senator SIEWERT:  Okay. Maybe I should get some people to put some submissions into you. I know that we have discussed this in this forum before.
Dr Findlay:  Back in 2009 we were certainly hearing those sorts of commentaries.
Senator SIEWERT:  What I want to know is: what studies have been done? As I understand it, at that time there was going to be some further work done to look at the ecological values of that particular area. Has that work been done?
Dr Findlay:  Not that I am aware of, no.
Senator SIEWERT:  Why is that?
Dr Findlay:  At the moment we are still at what I would call stage 1 of a discussion that is far from over, and at the moment it is essentially giving the industry what they should have always had, and it would be part of a broader risk assessment process which we run for all of our fisheries.
Senator SIEWERT:  So when is that assessment going to be done?
Dr Findlay:  It would be based on our priorities. Our priorities are based on the size of our fisheries. It is not a very big fishery, and at the moment up there we are not looking very large impact, so it probably would not be on the top of our list.
Senator SIEWERT:  You are saying that it would not be?
Dr Findlay:  Scheduling a time for it? No, it would not be on the top of our list at the moment.
Senator SIEWERT:  So that area would not be released until that study was done?
Dr Findlay:  I am not saying that, no.
Senator SIEWERT:  In other words, there is a potential that that area will be opened before you have done the study and before you actually know what is going to be lost?
Dr Findlay:  That area has been studied extensively—the North-West Slope.
Senator SIEWERT:  That particular area?
Dr Findlay:  This is a line that goes all the way down the Western Australian coast, so it depends which particular area you are referring to. But that area has been subject to extensive studies by CSIRO, and those would be part of our risk assessments normally.
Senator SIEWERT:  The particular area that I am talking about is the area that is now proposed to be opened and that, as Dr Troy has just said, has not been subject to trawling because of where the line is.
Dr Findlay:  I am saying that there is lots of that area; there are little bits of it all the way long.
Senator SIEWERT:  So you mean there are more areas that you are considering?
Dr Findlay:  What we are trying to do is to redraw the 200 metre isobath about where it was supposed to be originally drawn. That means that, where the line has been incorrectly drawn, there are little bits and pieces all the way along that edge.
Senator SIEWERT:  I understand that this one is about 6,000 square kilometres.
Dr Findlay:  If you can give me some more details, we can go and have a look and see which areas you are referring to.
Senator SIEWERT:  Maybe what I will do is put some questions on notice about the exact location.
Senator COLBECK:  Dr Findlay, you are right: this was raised in 2009. My recollection is that the minister provided a moratorium, if you like, on the process for two years. Is that right? You might be able to remind me of the time frame, but there was a moratorium provided on the recognition of the new 200 metre line.
Senator SIEWERT:  To June 2011, I understand.
Senator COLBECK:  That is my recollection, but rather than going on that—
Dr Findlay:  This is the area up to the north that Senator Siewert is referring to.
Senator COLBECK:  Yes, that is correct.
Dr Findlay:  Not the other line. So, just dealing with that northern area, the original closure that AFMA had in place for quite a number of years was due to expire in about 2009. When we were talking about this last time, we agreed to extend the closure up to, I think, December 2010. It is that closure which has now been removed because we said to Western Australian fisheries that if we did not get enough progress we would remove that closure, and then the industry has voluntarily agreed to maintain the closure.
Senator COLBECK:  That is the northern area.
Dr Findlay:  That is the northern area.
Senator SIEWERT:  That is the northern area, not the southern area.
Dr Findlay:  The southern area of those boundaries stay in place until there is agreement to change.
Senator COLBECK:  I understand that. My question was: we were given a time frame to actually start to deal with it, we have gone through that 18 months, effectively, past the end of last year—so we are nearly at two years—but we are obviously still not anywhere near getting it resolved, so how long is it going to take to get it sorted out?
Dr Findlay:  As I said, at the moment AFMA has removed its closure, and we were hoping that the fact that that closure has now been removed would provide enough incentive for the Western Australian government and Western Australian operators to come to the table and have effective negotiations about a better set of lines for the future. We are still hopeful that that negotiation will occur. Unfortunately, I cannot put a time frame on it at this stage; I would like to see it happen as quickly as possible though.
Senator COLBECK:  Is it worth the effort?
Dr Findlay:  We have a number of operators who certainly think it is.

Back to All News