Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Interview, Fran Kelly, ABC Radio National: Super trawler - FV Margiris

22 August 2012
E&OE only

KELLY: Minister, good morning, welcome to Breakfast.

BURKE: Good morning Fran.

KELLY: Now, you've expressed various concerns over recent weeks about this super trawler, it's the first to operate out of Australian waters. What is your concern?

BURKE: My priorities are less on the red bait, the target species, and more on the various listed species of environmental concern. So issues largely of by catch whether it be dolphins, sea lions or sea birds like albatross. It's to try and make sure that the fishing method that is being used doesn't create a problem for those species.

KELLY: I know you met with Gerry Geen from SeaFish Tasmania yesterday, he spoke to us earlier, he said he's pretty certain he could allay your concerns about the by catch in particular. They have various measures, which he explained to us in detail, about how to really decrease and make sure the by catch of larger fish or dolphins is minimised. Were you reassured?

BURKE: The conversation we had yesterday was a good one but I'm still some distance from having the information that I'll need to be able to make a decision about whether or not the legal powers that I have under the Environment Act are going to come into play.

KELLY: On those powers, do you or does the Minister for Fisheries have the power to refuse the Margiris a licence to fish in Australian waters?

BURKE: The issue of the licence is a sole province of the Fisheries Minister but as with anything that hits what are called matters of national environmental significance, the sorts of species I referred to are well caught by that, then there are powers of intervention that rest with the Environment Minister.

KELLY: What kind of powers would they be? Would they be powers to stop the Margiris fishing?

BURKE: Before I get the advice there's a limit to the extent to which I actually know what would be activated. But, for example, environmental powers, if they are fully activated can prevent certain forms of action occurring. Now, whether those forms of action matched what the Margiris wants to do or not depends entirely on the advice that I end up getting. Where the scientific work needs to be worked through, where there's a quota argument where we have managed fish stocks and the level of fishing that's being contemplated for the red bait that they're targeting. The science is well formed that you can take those volumes from the fishery.

KELLY: So you accept that?

BURKE: I accept the science of that, yes, absolutely. The question then becomes whether those volumes, if taken by one vessel, using these particular fishing methods throws up anything that wasn't contemplated when the science was last done. That's the issue where I think it's quite reasonable that that question be checked and checked thoroughly. I'm still waiting for some work to come back.

KELLY: Just on that question, from what I've read from what your concerns have been stated in the past about depletion of fish stock, that's really your concern, this notion of having a super trawler swoop in and take this whole quota itself. Yet the scientists and even AFMA I believe when they gave a green light to this quota seemed to suggest that there could be a positive having a super trawler taking a catch this size because it stays out to sea it can move over a number of fisheries. In fact, the quota specifically states that it can't take it all from one area, from one fishery and that could be an improvement on what currently happens. Are you persuaded by that?

BURKE: I think the people that you've been referring to have been using the same terminology as me but have meant something slightly different by it. When I've been talking about localised depletion, I've been concerned by the depletion of sea lion numbers, sea bird numbers, dolphin numbers. They've been dealing with it, quite specifically, on the target species. Now whenever you go fishing with a trawler, you don't just get the target species and they have methods in place to try and minimise getting any by catch but whether those methods go far enough to meet the satisfaction of the areas that I'm charged with protecting is something that I'm getting answers on.

KELLY: We spoke to one of the directors of Sea Fish Gerry Geen earlier who said AFMA the fishing management authority is a tough regulator, the science is rock solid, he can't really see, foresee any argument which would persuade you or Senator Ludwig to knock this back. What do you think the likelihood is that the Margiris will be fishing in Australian waters within a month or two?

BURKE: Well certainly if the legal powers under the environment act don't end up being triggered, then what you have just described I presume will happen. If they are triggered, then whether that goes to it being checked and finds that it still gets a clean bill of health, whether restrictions are put on it in how it can operate, or whether there were some very serious barriers, are all legal possibilities. How things end up running, depends entirely on the science. I do have confidence in the science that's been done but we need to remember that when that work was done, a vessel of this type was not in the mix and it was not contemplated and that's why I want the information brought up to date.

KELLY: Gerry Geen says that they will bring the super trawler in this year, he hopes this year and then have a look at it. Is one option, one power you have to put some conditions on the operations, perhaps one year at a time to put a limit on the Margiris coming one year and then reviewing.

BURKE: There are some things similar to what you have described that are legally possible, but you need to remember that with some of these species we are talking about, what might seem like one year's impact, can be quite diabolical for them. Albatross number for example you have for some species you are down to a very small number of breeding pairs across the whole world. These decisions need to be made cautiously, accurately and based on the evidence and that's why I have commissioned the work that I have.

KELYL: It does sound like you are seriously concerned about super trawlers operating in Australian waters, there is now an investigation by the Commonwealth Ombudsman into formal complaints by two members of an assessment group that their objections to the doubling of the quota for the jack mackerel this year were not properly addressed or passed on within the regulatory approval process. Are you concerned about those allegations and do you think it's a good idea to refuse the Margiris a licence to fish in Australian waters until the ombudsman has reported? Does that seem sensible to you?

BURKE: That part of it I have to say I haven't gone into in close detail because it's not my area of responsibility. I know it's been a legitimate part of the public discussion but I have to tell you, I have been absolutely focused on the individual species i'm responsible for.

KELLY: Tony Burke thanks for joining us on breakfast.

BURKE: Thanks Fran

KELLY: Tony Burke is the Federal Environment Minister.