Interview on ABC Hobart with Leon Compton - Geelong Star

4 May, 2015


COMPTON: ...trying as hard as possible not to kill any more dolphins or seals next time it left port, so over the weekend AFMA reported in one shot another four dolphins and two seals had been killed. You would imagine they would be trying as hard as they possibly can at the moment to avoid that happening, so what happens with the vessel from here. Senator Richard Colbeck is the Minister responsible for this vessel; he's also a Tasmanian Senator. Senator, good morning to you.

COLBECK: Good morning, Leon.

COMPTON: How is it possible that this is the best that the Geelong Star can do?

COLBECK: Well I think the first thing I should say is that everybody's really devastated about this regardless of their perspective. As you said it's not what anyone wants to see and I don't think you can portray it as anyone trying to do anything.

In fact, from the information that I have, the event over the weekend may have been contributed to by a gear failure on the vessel which left the net suspended for a period of time and the dolphins pushed past the excluder device at the mouth of the net, which was being trialled to provide the appearance of a barrier at the mouth of the net to keep them out. So it wasn't as I understand it during normal operations but none the less it's pretty devastating for everyone concerned.

COMPTON: Some people will look at this and conclude that whatever you do, this type of fishing inevitably kills dolphins.

COLBECK: Well that's not the experience in all jurisdictions. In fact my understanding in negotiations with Sea Fish is that when they were fishing this fishery previously they hadn't had this experience, so they're pretty devastated about it as well. So they were using similar gear off the east coast of Tasmania. So they're pretty devastated about it as well.

There's a significant amount of effort going into trying to find ways to mitigate these interactions because it's important more broadly for our fisheries because we do have seal and dolphin interactions in our other fisheries and the only way that you're going to get around it and that you're going to stop it completely is to stop fishing. That's not an option more broadly across all our fisheries.

COMPTON: The Environment Minister, we spoke with his office this morning and they've described the events of the weekend as appalling and outrageous. Do you agree with those sentiments?

COLBECK: As I said, I think everyone's pretty devastated with it; nobody wants to be catching seals and dolphins. That's why we have processes in place to try and mitigate seal and dolphin, excluders in the net to stop them getting in or to push them out if they do go in. That's why there's continued work both here in Australia and other jurisdictions to try and mitigate against this. But as I said, the only way that you're going to stop it completely is to stop fishing not just in this fishery but in a number of others, because we have them in a number of others. So the efforts need to be put in to improving and making these devices as good as possible.

COMPTON: Not withstanding that it might well have been a mechanical failure in this instance, I'm imagining that they were fishing to the strictest part of the AFMA regulation spectrum, I'm imagining they were fishing at day time, I'm imagining visually they were observing the rules to look for dolphins and avoid them if possible, and still this happens?

COLBECK: Well Leon, the dolphins and the seals actually come to the vessel, that's one of the problems. It's not as if the vessel goes looking for the animals, the animals see the vessel as a meal ticket and they come to the vessel.

COMPTON: Is it that, or is it that they come to the fish as they've always done and that this vessel and the nature of its style of fishing just grabs everything in and around the fish that it's targeting?

COLBECK: Well it's partly that, but the animals actually do come to the vessel. I've spoken with a lot of fishermen who have issues with this; it's not just in this fishery and its not just seals and dolphins. I've spoken to some skippers who know animals personally because they continuously interact with their vessels. So it is an issue, it's a problem that we continue grapple with and there's a lot of work going on through our fisheries management authority but also our scientific community to try and mitigate against these kind of things.

COMPTON: Do you still have confidence in the AFMA regulation surrounding this vessel, Minister?

COLBECK: Oh absolutely. I mean the vessel voluntarily came to shore, there are processes in place to put further restrictions on the vessel if necessary to continue to try and mitigate. This needs to be an iterative process. It can't be just about shutting things down because as I've said this goes across a number of other fisheries and with any luck we can learn some additional lessons out of these experiences as devastating as they are, to assist with other fisheries.

COMPTON: Is any vessel in the Australian Commonwealth fishery killing dolphins at the rate that this vessel is at the moment?

COLBECK: Look I don't know of one that's doing it at this rate but I do know another fishery where they have had serious problems and the actions of AFMA working with the fishing industry in that sector have considerably mitigated them. So the way that they set their equipment and where they set their equipment has been a significant factor in mitigating that. But there are other fisheries where they're having dolphin mortalities.

COMPTON: What if this vessel goes out next time and kills another four dolphins and two seals?

COLBECK: Well Leon let's just hope that doesn't happen. Let's hope that the devices that have been developed, the equipment that's been utilised can actually mitigate that. Nobody wants to see that happen.

As I've said, the only way that you're going to stop interactions with marine mammals is to stop fishing all together and seafood is one of the most important protein sources on the planet. It makes up a quarter of all the protein consumed on the planet and to replace that with grass fed protein for example, would mean clearing our rainforests 22 times over.

So we have to get this right. This is a very important element of managing our fisheries, we take great pride here in Australia about the way we manage our fisheries and the way that we manage all these interactions and we have to continuously improve.

COMPTON: Is there some point at which you will conclude that this vessel simply kills too many marine mammals to be worth it for the fishery?

COLBECK: It may come to that but let's hope it doesn't. Let's hope it doesn't, because that means we've got problems in all our other fisheries as well. So, let's hope that we can continue to improve the systems.

AFMA's got a process out with marine scientists right now calling for additional ideas around mitigating for seals and dolphins. The vessel was using a new experimental device to put a barrier at the front of the net which would reflect the dolphin's sonar when it was moving through the water to give the appearance of a barrier so they wouldn't try to go into the net.

But unfortunately it appears that due to a breakdown in a piece of equipment on the vessel, the net was left suspended and the dolphins have pushed past that barrier. Absolutely devastating for everybody concerned. As I said, we need to continue to work not just for this fishery but for fisheries more broadly, that we continue to work on mitigating these interactions.

COMPTON: Good to talk to you this morning.

COLBECK: Thanks very much Leon.

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