Geelong Star trawler kills dolphins, seals

THE Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation (ARFF) today expressed concerns about the Media release by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) yesterday announcing the deaths of four dolphins and two seals as a consequence of industrial scale fishing in the small pelagic fishery by the Geelong Star on its first fishing trip.

This is a concerning and unacceptable number of mortalities given the short time the vessel has been fishing.

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ARFF urge AFMA to take immediate action to ensure this issue is addressed.

ARFF are also concerned about the statement in the press release by AFMA in relation to reporting of the deaths “Unfortunately, from time to time both commercial and recreational fishers will accidentally harm marine mammals and other protected species while seeking to put seafood on our tables.”

ARFF and its members are disappointed by this statement. To put recreational fishing in the same category as industrial scale commercial fishing in relation to threats to marine mammals reflects a complete misunderstanding of recreational fishing in Australia.

In addition, it is ARFF’s opinion that the statement was misleading in the context of threats to marine mammals and completely unnecessary, adding nothing to the intent of the AFMA press release.

ARFF has asked AFMA for a retraction of the statement.

ARFF is currently in discussions with the Small Pelagic Fisheries Industry Association (SPFIA), AFMA and the Government on the current commercial fishing activities in the small pelagic fishery.

The current situation of these mortalities and the statements by AFMA has placed the future of these discussions underconsiderable pressure.

AFMA's original statement on marine mammals

The Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) has strengthened marine mammal protection in the Small Pelagic Fishery (SPF), putting in place additional measures in the vessel management plan (VMP) for all mid-water trawl vessels operating in the fishery.

Vessel management plans specify the detailed operational requirements to minimise risks to the marine environment and all SPF mid-water trawl vessels are required to have an AFMAapproved VMP before commencing fishing.  VMPs are updated to take into account on the water experience and the latest developments in techniques to reduce interactions with protected species.

AFMA has been advised that the Geelong Star, the fishing vessel nominated by Seafish Tasmania Ltd to fish in the SPF, is currently completing its first trip in the fishery.

Consistent with the requirements of all vessels fishing in Commonwealth waters, the Geelong Star must report any interaction with protected species, including marine mammals like dolphins, seals or Australian sea lions.

The Geelong Star has notified AFMA of two seal mortalities and four dolphin mortalities.  Any mortality of marine mammals is a serious concern for AFMA and the Geelong Star will immediately be required to take additional precautions to further reduce the risk of marine mammal interactions. 

“AFMA has always said that we will update the Geelong Star’s vessel management plan to take into account on the water experience,” said AFMA’s CEO Dr James Findlay.

“Additional measures will now be imposed to protect dolphins and other marine mammals.  These changes include modifications to marine mammal exclusion devices and move on provisions, day-time fishing only or requiring the vessel to return to port if further dolphins are killed. 

“The company has re-affirmed its commitment to AFMA to do everything possible to protect marine mammals and the broader marine environment during fishing operations – this is pleasing to see.  

“Unfortunately, from time to time both commercial and recreational fishers will accidentally harm marine mammals and other protected species while seeking to put seafood on our tables.  We will continue to work with marine mammal experts and fishers to ensure that all reasonable steps are taken to minimise these risks. 

“The sustainability of the entire marine ecosystem, including marine mammals is a priority forAFMA and we take any marine mammal mortality very seriously.”

Ongoing monitoring of vessel operations is an essential part of fisheries management.  AFMAwill continue to deploy two officers on the Geelong Star to closely observe the operations for the foreseeable future. 

In response to the recently reported dolphin mortalities, the master of the Geelong Starsuspended fishing immediately.  AFMA’s on-board bycatch specialist then assessed the situation and the vessel moved 20 nautical miles away from its current fishing location.  The vessel master also initiated fishing gear and other operational changes.

The Geelong Star’s current vessel management plan can be found at afma.gov.au.  The updated vessel management plan will soon be published. 

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