Shark Fishing Ban

15 Feb 2012 questionsarchive

I seek leave to make a brief explanation before directing a question to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Fisheries on the subject of the shark fishing ban.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Yesterday, the minister announced a daylight ban on shark fishing from metropolitan beaches, which is something that we on this side of the house support. What she did not mention, like in many such announcements, is how the government is going to afford to police the ban. The financial year 2010-11 for PIRSA showed that it is several million dollars in the red. My questions are:

1. Will this mean that another levy is placed on the state's fishing industry, which is already copping huge increases through cost recovery, or will it be done through some levy on recreational fishers?
2. Does the minister concede that when a government cannot balance its books to find the money to provide a basic service, when it has cut the industry grants and subsidies, it has well and truly lost control of its budget?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, Minister for Forests, Minister for Regional Development, Minister for Tourism, Minister for the Status of Women) (15:04): I thank the honourable member for her questions. Indeed, I believe that she is up to mischief—a great deal of mischief—suggesting that we are going to license recreational fishers, which is simply not so; we currently have no intention of doing that. In effect, it is a ban on shark fishing. What it is is a ban on the utilisation of hooks of a certain size and wire traces that are used and needed to catch sharks of a certain size. I have to say that we have been met with overwhelming support for this ban. Members of the public have been crying out for this for some time.

The Hon. A. Bressington interjecting:

The Hon. G.E. GAGO: Well, they have. The Hon. Ann Bressington gasps but—

The Hon. A. Bressington: Oh, I know that you wrote a letter over the Christmas break saying there was no problem


The Hon. G.E. GAGO: That's just an outrageous comment. This has been an ongoing problem on which we have been doing a great deal of work for some time. What we needed to do (and the Hon. Ann Bressington is a proponent of this, she advocates it) was consult with and involve key stakeholders in decision-making—and that's exactly what we did, the Hon. Ann Bressington.

We spent that time—indeed, many months—involving the appropriate stakeholders to land on agreement and support for this initiative, so that is why it did take us some time before we could actually announce the details of this. I know that the Hon. Ann Bressington and a number of members of parliament who have been genuinely interested in this topic and these concerns have written to me, but they wrote to me at a time when I was not able to divulge the details of the considerations.

The Hon. A. Bressington: Why not?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO: Because we consult with key stakeholders before announcing decisions. We actually involve the key stakeholders in the decision-making, which is exactly what we did. For instance, we involved the Australian Recreational Fishing Advisory Council, the peak body representing recreational fishers. I have a fishing council that comprises fairly significant fishers, key stakeholders, and I involved them as well and asked them to consider the issue. I have held numerous discussions with numerous individuals and groups over a long period of time. It was most important that we tried to get key stakeholders in this industry involved in the decision-making, and then we announced a decision that has support and has been agreed to—and that's exactly what we did.

Although we have received overwhelming public support for this, I am aware that there is a group of rec fishers that is not happy with this. They enjoy shark fishing. They like to fish for shark off our jetties and our beaches (but usually jetties), and they are not happy, and I can understand that. It does not affect commercial fishers because commercial fishers obviously go much further out for their catch. It certainly does not affect rec fishers at night, so a really keen rec fisher who wants to fish for shark can fish off the jetty during the evening. We know that members of the public are outraged and appalled at the sight of sharks being hauled up onto shore or hauled up onto jetties close to or on swimming beaches where families and kids want to enjoy the beaches. The sight of those sharks in close proximity is very frightening to the general public, and it is not surprising that they have raised concerns, so we have listened and we have taken action. In terms of the costing of this initiative, the costs will be borne within the existing budget of Fisheries. We already have a number of inspectors who work not only to get out there and help provide information and education to fishers but also to take action when there are clear and blatant breaches of fishing provisions. We also have our wonderful Fishwatch network, who I would like to acknowledge. They are a group of volunteers, amazing people, who are fishing enthusiasts and who understand the important balance between managing sustainable fish stocks while still enjoying fishing. These volunteers not only help us provide information to fishers, because they are out there every day, but they also provide a vital information network in terms of providing alerts back to the department when they see breaches of the provisions.

I have to say that the general knowledge, awareness and interest of the general public has also increased with time; they remain vigilant and are not shy about giving the department a ring, either, when they see something untoward happening. Police have powers, and local councils have the provision to make bylaws if they believe that is warranted in their particular area.

We know that sharks are a natural part of our marine environment. There are populations out there regularly—they follow the school fishes, the snapper and others—and are part of our marine environment. However, we also know that there has been an increase in the number of shark sightings, not only by our own inspectors and agencies. I have recently been over in the west, speaking to the abalone industry, for instance, and its members have also indicated an increased sighting of sharks by its divers as well.

So, probably for a range of environmental reasons—good environmental reasons around conservation and suchlike—there do appear to be more sharks in the area, although those numbers have not been confirmed. Certainly, sightings of sharks are up, and it is important that we take action. Those who want to flout this new regulation face a first offence fine of $315 and up to $21,000 for further breaches, so it could be a very expensive exercise.