Foreign owned factory freezer vessels – are they in the national interest?

The Federal Government has granted permission for the 95 metre foreign owned factory freezer vessel – the Geelong Star – the largest freezer fishing vessel to fish Australian waters – to fish over the top of some of Australia’s iconic off shore recreational fishing and marine tourism spots around Australia’s coast line. But is this in the national interest?

After being banned from fishing the NSW coast for 6 months for killing a dolphin – one of nine it has killed since it started fishing in April this year – it will be back fishing the NSW coast this December – just in time for the Christmas holiday season.

Though the Government claims the vessel’s operations are sustainable – it is licensed to fish around 16,000 tonnes of fish a year. That’s more fish than goes through the Sydney fish markets each year and for recreational fishers equates to a hell of a lot of bait that is being extracted from our recreational fishing grounds.

There is a growing concern by recreational fishers and local communities that the boat will affect the recreational fishing and tourism opportunities in the areas it fishes. Holiday makers, recreational fishers and tourists are vital for the hundreds of coastal businesses and communities over the Christmas holiday period.

So what’s the problem here?
The vessel targets small pelagic species or baitfish that are the food source for sea mammals such as dolphins, seals, sea lions as well as a range of iconic recreational fish species including marlin, tunas, kingfish and sharks.

It’s a simple equation:

  • Take away the food supply and the larger sea mammals and fish disappear and go else where to find food.
  • If the larger sea mammals and fish disappear so do the recreational fishers and tourists.
  • If the recreational fishers and tourists disappear so do the businesses and jobs and local communities that support them.

 

Federal Government MPs – including Sarah Henderson from the marginal seat of Corangamite (Victoria) has called for her own government to ban the vessel, in response to growing community concerns in her electorate. Bob Baldwin from the NSW coastal seat of Paterson has also called for Malcolm Turnbull and Barnaby Joyce to act on the issue.

The contribution of recreational fishing (not including marine based tourism) to the NSW economy is estimated at $3.6 billion a year. Nationally it’s estimated at $10 billion a year. Much of the economic benefit is linked to coastal fishing and is generated over the summertime period.

A growing number of Australians cannot work out why the Federal Government is supporting this foreign owned vessel fishing a vital fishery for recreational fishing, tourism and local communities when the returns from its operations have been estimated at $20 million a year. As it is a foreign vessel, it is unclear how much of this return will actually stay in Australia. In addition, the fish it catches are not destined for Australian markets but overseas markets.