Interview on ABC South East NSW - Recreational Fishing Survey



27 NOVEMBER, 2014

Topics: Recreational Fishing Council, recreational fishing survey, indigenous fishers, supertrawler.


PRESENTER: Recreational fishers have a role to ensure Australia's fisheries stay world class and sustainable, that's the message coming from the federal government, which made a campaign commitment to establish a National Recreational Fishing Council and reinvigorate lines of communication.

They don't just want to talk to rec fishers, they want to survey them every five years. That's why a workshop was held yesterday by ABARES to start designing the national survey. Joining me this morning is Senator Richard Colbeck, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture. Richard Colbeck, welcome back and good morning.

COLBECK: Good morning Tim.

PRESENTER: It's good to catch up with you. Tell us about the idea behind this NRFC?

COLBECK: There are a number of rec fishing organisations around the country, but what I thought I'd like to have is a group of rec fishers who provide me with direct advice as well as the consultations I have with formal groups that exist around Australia on directly recreational fishing matters. So I'll continue to consult with organisations like the Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation and the remnants of what was RecFish. I'll have a small group of people who are actively engaged in recreational fishing as an advisory council as well.

PRESENTER: How do you hope to go about putting together that Council?

COLBECK: I had a discussion about that with ARFF last week and I've asked them to put some names up. I've got some thoughts myself and I'll combine those and make my selection for the Council.

PRESENTER: What do you hope will come out from that information, and the question is why has it taken so long for data to be collected from the rec fishing sector? Why don't we already know for instance the impact of rec fishing? It seems to be a very vague area.

COLBECK: The reality is that most people who are engaged in rec fishing aren't interested in being involved in data collection, they just want to go and catch a fish and probably that's fair enough. But we do need to have a better understanding of the impact in the economy of recreational fishing - a lot of numbers get thrown around. The last survey that was done was about 2001, the states all do some collection work too, but what I'd like to do is to be able to coordinate all of that into a national focus and provide us with some better quality data on a regular timeframe. Previously it's been very ad hoc and based on decisions of individual governments. There are suggestions that recreational fishing is worth up to $10 billion to the Australian economy and I think we need to get a better handle on what it really is worth.

PRESENTER: It's that value of recreational fishing in the economy, and the other side of it is commercial fishing and we really do need to understand what's going on between the two sectors and the total impact on the fishing resource and the stocks.

COLBECK: That's the ultimate concept. We have, as I often say, a very good fisheries management system here in Australia. But when you come down to it, both the commercial and the recreational fishers and the indigenous fishers are accessing the same fish stocks. So how we manage that and how we ensure that it's shared up properly, and we know that what's being taken out is sustainable for the future sustainability of the stock; that is very important. We have very poor data here in Australia, as probably most countries do in respect of recreational fishing estimates, as to what the actual take is. One of the things we need to try and do is understand that better so that we can have additional confidence in our fisheries management system.

PRESENTER: How do you think you'll get good compliance with a survey of rec fishers? As you say, rec fishers are perhaps more interested in catching fish than supplying data and you need to really bring the rec fishers on board and get them willing to supply the information.

COLBECK: Look, I have to say I think I've got a pretty good engagement with the recreational fishing sector. They are certainly very interested in participating in this process, or particularly their representative groups are. And they've got fantastic networks, they have online blogs and networks, online magazines; they are really good at spreading the message out there. Of course they are increasingly being engaged in what their share of the catch is. You've got discussions about recreational fishing havens for example which are areas where they might be the only ones that fish. I think there are also some thoughts about dividing up between the commercial and the rec guys. We really need to understand better what's coming out for the sustainability of our fisheries and we're very keen to do that and increasingly the recreational sector are becoming much more engaged in that.

PRESENTER: Aren't fishing regulations generally speaking more of a state issue? Of course rec fishers do fish in commonwealth waters as well.

COLBECK: Well look it does vary and with respect of commercial fisheries and what we call offshore constitutional settlement arrangements with the states, and they are increasingly fishing off shore. Some of them travel a long way to go and catch a fish - out to sea, out to the shelf, places like that. So, this process does cross state boundaries and commonwealth boundaries and that's why we need to talk to the states about coordinating the work that they do with their surveys with what we're looking to do.

I'm having a meeting with state fisheries ministers in a couple of weeks to start working on that process. We need to work together to pull this data together, there is no point us trying to duplicate what each other is doing. So if we can work together to coordinate the type of data that is being collected, the timing in which its collected and then we can all share in it and use it to the benefit of state and commonwealth governments and of course those participating in the recreational fishing sector.

PRESENTER: You mention indigenous fishers and it's been a vexed issue because it certainly hasn't been sorted in NSW yet and I think it's pretty similar in other states around Australia. It is an issue that you're really going to have to engage with the indigenous population and just come to some sort of agreement that is accepted nationally to give indigenous fishers those fishing rights right around Australia.

COLBECK: Yes, and look I've actually started that process. The Fisheries Research and Development Corporation have an indigenous reference group, I've had a couple of meetings with them so far and that's been very productive. It's the start of the conversation as you say. I also have some responsibility in the portfolio for fisheries in the Torres Strait which has been very useful in informing me around some of the issues that indigenous communities look at. So we've started that process and there are representatives from each state on that IRG, whether that is the final and formal process for communication and engagement I'm not sure yet and neither are they. So we will continue that conversation and see where we take it from there, but we have started that process because as you say it's important.

PRESENTER: Just finally, there's already been some engagement with rec fishers over the Tasmanian issue of the supertrawler and environmentalists and fishermen from Tasmania have travelled to Canberra and delivered a petition with some 30,000 names wanting that two year ban, which has just finished, on having supertrawlers in Australia, they want a permanent ban and you've got 30,000 signatures from recreational fishers. So that gives you a pretty good sense I think of the feeling of recreational fishers.

COLBECK: Look, we've had a number of conversations with the Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation and in fact I spent a morning fishing on Sydney Harbour with a few of them a couple of weeks ago. That was one of the topics that we talked about and we talked about it again last week when they were in Canberra having a conversation. We are pretty firm on our views around how we manage our fisheries; we've always said that we'll base our management for fishers on science. We've obviously got the expert panel report, that's been released publically and that's part of what is informing the debate at the moment and we're considering that and will make a decision shortly.

PRESENTER: When would you hope to have this National Recreational Fishing Council in place?

COLBECK: After my meeting with the fishing foundation last week I've asked them to come back to me with some names, once I've got that I'll combine that with the list that I have and I'd like to try and make a decision very quickly, so hopefully early in the new year.

PRESENTER: Senator Richard Colbeck, I appreciate your time this morning.

COLBECK: Thanks very much Tim.

PRESENTER: Senator Richard Colbeck, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture.

271114 ABC NSW re rec fishing and supertrawlers
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