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Clerical error threatens North West fishing industry

Media Release
Rachel Siewert 31 Aug 2011

An administrative error made more than ten years ago could see destructive bottom trawler fishing undertaken in important fishing and environmental areas in WA's North West waters.

The error, in a 1998 amendment to the Offshore Constitutional Settlement between the Federal and State Government, removes WA’s right to control fishing within previously protected areas of water depth of less than 200m in the North West Slope Trawl Fishery.

“This error has created a loophole that has the potential to severely damage fish stocks and the environment,” Senator Rachel Siewert, Australian Greens marine spokesperson said today.

“The fishery is designed to target scampi and crustaceans; however there is concern amongst many in the fishing industry that trawling in this shallower area would greatly impact stocks of fin-fish and would lead to the destruction of benthos and supporting habitats.

“In short, the existing fishing industries in the area would be at risk, and the environment would face irreparable damage.

“I have written to the Federal Fisheries Minister, Joe Ludwig, highlighting the serious nature of this problem and asking him to act to stop the changes and ensure this area is not open to further trawling.

“The reality is that we’re in this situation because an administrative error which occurred 13 years ago hasn’t been fixed.

“When it was noticed in 2007, the Government response through Australian Fisheries Management Authority was to close the area to trawling as a stop gap measure, but no further action has been taken.

“Now, the Authority intends to open the area and allow up to seven bottom trawlers to operate in water shallower than 200 metres off North West Australia from next month.

“The Federal Government is keen to re-plot the 200m isobath and appears to be pushing the WA Government towards an agreement on this matter, using the loophole as a bargaining chip.

“If this is the case, it appears that a relatively simple problem has become a political football within the broader renegotiations over the placement of the 200m isobath along the entire WA coast.

“This is a blatant disregard for the principles of ecologically sustainable development and management that AFMA is expected to uphold. I expect the Minister to take this issue very seriously and act accordingly in the best interests of the sustainable fishing industry and environment alike,” Senator Siewert concluded.

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