Mako madness!

The animal liberation and conservation movements have had fishing in their sights for years, says John Willis. Now, the battle has begun for our rights as fishers and boat owners.

Mako madness!
Mako madness!
Recreational fishers across the country finally had a small win in a long battle over the recent mako shark debacle. However, every day in every State and Territory, we’re confronted with new laws and legislation that often seem like unjustified nonsense.

The ongoing battle for Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) is a worldwide phenomenon in which the intentions of so few are affecting so many. It’s also true that most recreational fishers these days recognise that without suitable habitat, our own fisheries will decline. With that awful possibility in mind, many older fishos have become passionate advocates for fair and sensible environmental protection.

While the marine parks battle rages along Australia’s coastlines, another enemy looms behind the scenes. Not content with enraging the shooting lobby, the animal liberation and conservation movements have had fishing on their "BAN IT" list for years.

Large-scale international operations such as the Pew Charitable Trust, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), and the Humane Society International, have made it their business to infiltrate our governments. These groups have been granted open-door access to politicians who, at the same time, have refused to discuss the subject with local pro fishing groups.

To quote an extract from Hansard on 22 June 2010 by Senator Richard Colbeck from the Liberal Party in Tasmania:

What really disturbs me is that, particularly on the part of Minister Garrett, (former Minister for Environment, Heritage and Arts), decisions are made following consultation with environmental groups but not with other stakeholders who are part of the overall process. We have seen Minister Garrett do this on a number of occasions.

For example, he put an emergency listing over the Coral Sea after consultation with the Pew foundation but with nobody else. And, of course, consultation over the decision concerning the fishing of mako and porbeagle sharks was made with the Humane Society International at the government’s side, and nobody else."


Make no mistake, there has been long term strategic planning behind recent attacks. Back in February 2006, the Melbourne Herald Sun newspaper reported:

"Animal liberationists have focused on Victoria’s 600,000 anglers in a new campaign against sports they claim
are cruel.

Animal Liberation spokesman Mark Pearson said recreational fishing was a ‘barbaric sport’ and the group had planned first strikes against gamefishing. Other action in its bid to wipe out angling would follow if authorities did not act, he said.

Mr Pearson vowed the attack on gamefishing was the first step. ‘Once we’ve opened the door to this debate, it raises further questions, such as the fellow down on the wharf who chucks the fish back without eating it,’ he said.

They were good to their word. In December 2009, Australia’s recreational fishers awakened to the news that Minister Garrett was to introduce a ban on fishing for mako and porbeagle sharks, under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, from 29 January 2010.

It seems that the problem arose from the International Convention of Migratory Species, convened in Rome in 2008, to which Australia is a signatory. At the time, Croatia expressed concerns over diminished sharks stocks in Northern Hemisphere waters, particularly the Mediterranean. To be fair, the demands on all marine species within this highly populated area are high so it’s little wonder the Croatians and their neighbours were worried.


But that’s not the case in Australia. In fact, there’s no evidence even suggesting, let alone proving, that these species are endangered in Australian waters, nor in fact anywhere in the Southern Hemisphere. Thankfully, due to the efforts of local recreational anglers and 25 years of information gathering through voluntary gamefish tagging and recording programs, research reveals that there is little reason to be worried about mako numbers in southern waters, and little or no translocation between the hemispheres.

No wonder Australia’s anglers felt unfairly treated with the introduction of a ban based on flawed scientific justification.

The mako and porbeagle shark debacle emphasised the inadequacy of the Australian Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. Rather than facilitate a multi-tiered classification for conservation, it only allows for blanket bans. In contrast, the International Convention has distinct classifications for total bans on critically endangered species such as the great white shark, and a "management" classification for species of concern, as is alleged for makos.

The Government, recognising deficiencies in the Australian Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, commissioned the Hawke Report to review the legislation. Its recommendations included action to amend the Act to reflect international standards. However, Minister Garrett ignored advice to delay the introduction of the ban and stopped all mako fishing in Commonwealth waters as of January 29, 2010.

Mako sharks are of particular interest to southern Australian anglers who have a very limited range of gamefish. Victorians were born and raised on "flake" for their Friday night fish and chips, and mako is one of the species that can be marketed under that generic name.

However, mako is classified as a "bycatch" species for the commercial sector and so the take in Australian waters is very small. The further north you go the less demand there is for the species. On the other hand, there’s been huge interest as far up the coast as Coffs Harbour, and excellent big makos captured from the gamefishing Meccas in Port Stephens, Sydney and Bermagui.


Recreational fishers Australia-wide recognised Minister Garrett’s ban as a direct attack on their sport and reacted quickly. There were rallies in Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania, with the largest numbers attending grass roots gatherings at the Victorian coastal towns of Hastings and Torquay. Fishers mingled with politicians and scientists in well-organised displays of discontent.

It was pleasing to see the response of fishers and boat owners who worked tirelessly and responsibly in a very trying process. Although it was Christmas holidays, anglers presented strong opposition to the laws, and the offices of Peter Garrett, Tony Burke (former Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) and former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, were all left with no doubt about the fishing community’s anger.

The boating and fishing media, representative organisations, politicians, tackle shops, wholesalers, and many media and grass roots figures, all went in to bat with a unified voice, leading to the ban being overturned in Federal Parliament on June 22, 2010. The campaign also reinforced the need to have strong, independent, media-savvy political activists working on a case by case basis, while our non-political peak bodies such as VRFISH and RECFISH, work through their respective channels.

The grass roots campaign was fought by many sectors throughout the recreational fishing community, accompanied by a newly formed lobby, WEFISH, which quickly attracted over 9500 signatories.

However, the mako debacle was merely a test case for Australian boaters and fishers constantly being pressured by unjust regulations — and it doesn’t stop there. A ban on fishing for thresher sharks has already been passed with little or no resistance, and other popular species are high on the target list.

One thing I’ve learned from many years of activism on behalf of recreational anglers is that we should never rely on science in an argument. The government owns most of the science in this country and has the finances to commission "research" that supports its policies — even when they’re flaky.

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