The Federal Government must urgently introduce a strict management plan to ensure the recovery of marine life in a special fishing zone near Broome, Fisheries Minister Jon Ford said today.
He raised the issue in Darwin at a meeting of fisheries ministers to discuss illegal foreign fishing.
Mr Ford acknowledged that great headway had been made in combating illegal foreign fishing in Australia’s northern waters, ever since the scourge was highlighted by the WA Government and other northern States and Territories more than two years ago.
However, the Commonwealth still needed to tackle the unprecedented destruction of marine life in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) Box where Indonesians were allowed to do traditional fishing, using non-motorised boats in an area off the WA coast.
Federal Fisheries Minister Senator Eric Abetz agreed at the meeting to involve the WA Government in developing any future management plan for the MOU Box, but Mr Ford said there was no guarantee that there would actually be a future management plan put in place.
“Senator Abetz has tried to deflect the responsibility of any stringent management plan to the Indonesian Government. But in the same breath, he acknowledges that Indonesian authorities don’t have the capacity to respond to this issue with any sense of urgency,” he said.
“We need to start putting together a strict management plan now and not wait until this area is completely stripped bare of any marine life.
“The Commonwealth clearly does not have this situation under control and they can’t just leave it in the hands of Indonesian authorities. The MOU Box needs a rescue package.”
The MOU Box contains substantial reef systems, including Scott and Ashmore Reefs, and has historically been prized fishing waters for Australian and Indonesian fishermen. However, the area has been subject to overfishing by Indonesians and illegal foreign fishing for many years.
A damning report produced by the WA Museum this week showed that marine species targeted by Indonesians in the MOU Box, including trochus shells and trepang (sea cucumbers), had all but disappeared from the area.
The charter boat industry also had ongoing concerns about the negative impact of Indonesian fishermen on the reef systems, with up to 50 boats sited around Scott Reef during a charter boat’s recent trip to the area.
“We will submit a stringent management plan to the Commonwealth that addresses the recovery of marine life and sustainability of future fishing,” the Minister said.
Mr Ford said recovery management strategies could include capping the number of boats at the reef at any one time, restricting the fishing season and prohibiting fishing of certain marine life.
Mr Ford was given assurances by Senator Abetz that the Commonwealth would re-open discussions with the WA Government over the future of the Joint Authority Northern Shark Fishery, which had been hard hit by overfishing, including illegal foreign fishing.
The Minister said that for the past year, the WA Government had been calling on the Commonwealth to address the management issues facing this fishery.
“We’ve made some progress today in that the Commonwealth is now willing to take another look at how the management issues can be resolved,” he said.
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