Baz's Blog: the fun side of slaughter

Can catching fish really be that complicated?

Baz's Blog: the fun side of slaughter
Baz's Blog: the fun side of slaughter

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Maybe someone who knows will explain what’s going on. Only it can’t be scientists because they know nothing.

A few issues ago I wrote about plans being hatched by various State governments and the Greens to establish so many marine parks along our coast you’d have to find a crack between them to go fishing. Protecting fish was, they said, the entire motivation. While that debate stumbled on, leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, was clomping to the conclusion that we need "truly meaningful and environmental protection measures, while at the same time minimising the economic and social impact to the industries and communities that rely on access to these waters… blah, blah, blah…"

Maybe Mr Abbott was banking on a theory proposed by his think-tankers that no matter what a politician says to the public, if he includes the words "meaningful", "environmental", and "protection" in the same sentence, some of us dopey bastards will believe him.

But good grief, what a turnaround we’ve seen on this debate. The Federal Gummint, through its own Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA), has decided, if the media is correct, that we’re not killing anywhere near as many fish as we should and that wholesale slaughter would be a really neat idea. In short, the AFMA is about to rudely exceed catch quotas set by scientific specialists who spend decades studying the subject so they can stop ignorant politicians and high-powered lobbying groups screwing up their carefully considered calculations.

But have the worried and well-meaning media got it right?

They have and they haven’t. They have in the sense that making a big noise about ignoring scientific evidence is the right thing to do, and might shake the gummint out of its torpor, but they might have jumped the gun.

According to recent editorials, with the catchcry "Let’s kill ‘em all!", Australian commercial longliners will be allowed to kill almost 10,000 tonnes of tuna, marlin and broadbill in the period from March 1, 2011, to February 29, 2012. As Fishing World reported recently, that’s 60,000 fish more than scientists say is a sustainable catch. Those close to the action are also saying that AFMA will approve a quota of 1500 tonnes for swordfish, 400 tonnes for striped marlin and 3000 tonnes for albacore.

I don’t wish to spoil a good story but those figures aren’t as alarming as they seem. The present Recommended Biological Commercial Catch (RBCC) quota for swordfish is already 1331 tonnes and for striped marlin 362 tonnes. In fact, the only substantial increase in the quota is that recommended for albacore, an additional 988 tonnes.

What is of more concern are the quotas set for yellowfin tuna — 2655 tonnes against a recommended 1512 tones — and for bigeye tuna. The slower growing and maturing bigeye is already in deep trouble in the south-west Pacific and would suffer mightily if the quota was increased from the recommended 734 tonnes to a wholly unsustainable 2000 tonnes.

But the thing is, none of this has happened yet. The AFMA has not approved quotas so strenuously propounded by the commercial fisheries. In fact, the Authority’s management committee recently deferred raising quotas when it saw that this whole thing was turning into a Cyclone Tracy shitstorm.

Special interest magazines did a good job raising the alarm about AFMA’s plans, even if they’ve been temporarily aborted, but then, out of the blue, the Boating and Fishing Council of Australia (BFCA) launched its own air strike, which turns out to be a poorly aimed missile with a rubber-band motor and a dud warhead.

According to the BFCA, who seem a tad confused, the problem here isn’t with commercial fishermen but with poor scientific evidence. In short, everything marine scientists have said about catch limits is a load of old cobblers. "So long as the science is comprehensive, sound and open to peer review," said the group’s spokesperson Dean Logan, "we will support the umpire’s decision. Until then we reserve the right to remain sceptical."

And he does have the right. But the scientific evidence isn’t sketchy, it certainly isn’t inadequate, and what’s more there’s no evidence to support the BFCA’s silly assertion.

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