Gone Fishing

Before we get too wound up in the hysteria of a big boat fishing out our entire fish stocks, let’s just pause for a moment and consider the facts of the matter.  A reality check, if you will.


  • There is no trawling allowed in Tasmanian waters, ie waters out to the 3 mile limit
  • The fishery is in Commonwealth waters, ie waters out to the 200 mile limit, and is managed by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA).
  • The fishery is managed under a quota system, which is determined by fisheries scientists to allow a sustainable catch.
  • A large amount of scientific work has been done to determine the size of the fishery resource.  The fact that data was collected some years ago does not mean the data is out of date.
  • The company has been fishing to its quota in these waters over the last 3 years, using 3 separate vessels.
  • Those vessels were limited in their ability to process the catch, with frequent returns to port to offload the catch.
  • The company is bringing out a larger vessel (the FV Margiris) which has the ability and the capacity to process the catch to a level of human consumption.
  • That vessel will catch only to its quota.
  • The vessel will be catching its quota in Commonwealth waters, from WA to northern NSW.  It will not be operating only off Tasmania.
  • Localised depletions and bycatch will be controlled through an approved management plan, and with proper consultation, to ensure there is no localized overfishing.
  • There will be an AFMA observer on board the vessel to ensure appropriate compliance.
  • Over 40% of Commonwealth waters surrounding the Tasmanian coastline is in reserves, which have been established to ensure the proper management of fish stocks.

Given these facts, what is the issue that has so aroused such anger?

The science is solid.  Scientists at AFMA, at Canberra University and at the Institute of Marine Studies here in Hobart have publicly stated that the vessel poses no threat to the viability of the fish stocks.  The data used is accurate and reliable.  Both Professor Sainsbury and Professor Kearney have made comment in recent days regarding the validity of the data.

It is not about ecology, because of the matters explained above. Whether the quota is caught by three vessels or by one vessel will not affect the ecology of the target fish.  Any catch above the quota limit will only occur if other quota holders trade their quota.  The overall catch will remain the same. 

Is it about envy, that a company can have such a quota in the first instance?  Maybe so, since I have seen signs rabbiting on about “greed”.  But if so, then it is a spurious argument, as the company has been operating quite successfully to its quota with three vessels.  There is no additional quota involved. 

Is it about the economics of the enterprise?  I note that the armchair experts in the conservation movement are now suggesting that the enterprise will not be profitable.  They always say such things, sitting back and proselytizing on such matters, without any idea whatsoever of the true economics operating.  Yet the facts speak for themselves – the company has been operating successfully for some years now.

Above all, it is about politics, and grubby politics at that.  Whipping up concern and doubt to suit a political end, to demonstrate their “deep concern”.  There has been an orchestrated campaign to paint this ship as the devil incarnate.  The Greens, true to their nature of driving the politics of fear and envy, have raised concerns that are patently untrue, and they know it.  They have sought information from the scientists, who have advised them there is no threat to the species.  They have chosen to ignore that advice

In fact, for a party that prides itself on its humanitarian values, it is quite ironic that they would deny food to those in need to satisfy the whims of leisure craft looking for sport.  Shades of the Mediaeval Age, with the lords of the manor enjoying the hunt while the villagers starved.  Shame upon them, for their blatant hypocrisy.  

Unfortunately, the State Liberals under Will Hodgman seem to have succumbed to populist politics, and have expressed support for the protestors, against the sound advice of experts and their Federal counterparts.

Even the independent member Andrew Wilkie has got in on the populist act, by rejecting the science and calling for the banning of the vessel.  How disappointing it is to see him fall for this cheap and populist 3-card trick.  We expect our politicians to show leadership on these matters, to lead from the front, and not succumb to such antics.

There’s not much point in paying out huge dollops of money to maintain science-based institutes such as CSIRO and IMAS to provide us with scientific advice if at the end of the day, we choose to ignore that advice, or worse still, condemn it and them. 

At the same time, the company has a responsibility to keep the public informed of its actions, and its intentions.  In this day and age, that means more than the odd media release.  And it certainly needs more than “a website under development” if it is to ward off the condemnation that is being directed at it.

What has happened here is a fear campaign to suggest a rapid depletion of wild stocks, when all the science says that is not so.  If the critics are prepared to say the science is settled on climate change, then surely the science is settled on this.  One cannot cherrypick science, ie to say that such and such a dataset suits my belief so I will accept it, whereas another set of data does not, so I won’t.  If we allow this to happen, then we are retreating to the mentality prevalent in the Middle Ages, in allowing belief and mob hysteria to take over from reason.  Then we will start calling for the burning of witches to protect us from droughts and floods, because really, it’s the same thing.

The real concern here is not the vessel as such, but the mentality that so rapidly leads us to condemn anything new.  We are rapidly becoming a community of naysayers.  It is so easy to say NO to new things and new ideas, and yet it is becoming harder to say YES.  Yet if we are to survive and thrive as a State, then change must occur – and we must be able to encourage and embrace change.

We must ward off the politics of populism, of envy, of vested interest, and of fear.