Keep questioning the role of environmental groups

Posted in Industry News

The Queensland fisheries reform process has produced a much-needed policy debate amongst the commercial fishing sector, community and environmental groups.  The rights of the seafood consuming public are under threat when you consider WWF policies like their net free north Queensland proposal.  This kind of policy proposal is based on the policy farce known as the net free zones (NFZs).

See – WWF: Net-free fishing zones pass final hurdle

The zones were political, no science and no sustainability foundation for their introduction and more interestingly environmental groups applauded their introduction – no sympathy for the fishing families impacted or the loss of some 900,000 serves of fish (based on a 150g serve) annually.  This loss was not solely a commercial issue but a loss to the community that did not have to happen.

Net Free Zones_What was lost to the seafood consumer?

Why bring up the NFZ issue?  It provides a recent example of a policy supported by environmental groups that, despite no evidence of impacts to species of conservation interest, were hailed as a way to conserve those species.  The assumption that the Queensland commercial fishing fleet could do damage to marine animals conveniently ignores several hundred thousand recreational and the thousands of commercial (non-seafood) vessels transporting goods across the reef.

The fisheries reform process will throw up debates regarding the role of environmental groups and their hostile views of the commercial seafood sector which my industry will respond to.  This should be expected and is a necessary part of living in a liberal democracy where ideas and especially ideas you may not agree with are debated, the details of the debate are shared amongst the community and government.

The marine resource is a shared one and provides social, economic and environmental benefits to the community. In the current reform context in Queensland, which is heavily focussed on changes expected of the commercial fishing sector, the State government has established multiple pathways to ensure that individuals and groups have a chance to participate in the public discourse regarding the future of fisheries management.

1. Stakeholder Voice

At this stage, the Queensland government has developed the following pathways to provide views on how fisheries management reform can be achieved:

  • Consultation and feedback was sought on a green paper, the predecessor of the current fisheries reform framework being used by Fisheries Queensland.
  • Fisheries Queensland have formal feedback mechanisms in place seeking public feedback on management arrangement in the crab, inshore net and trawl fisheries.
  • There are others including the coral trout fin fish fishery and proposed changes to the Fisheries Act 1994 (Qld).
  • Fisheries Queensland have undertaken and are continuing to offer feedback sessions along the coast.
  • There are multiple advisory groups and an expert panel.
  • Industry, recreational and environmental groups have also established their own mechanisms to engage in the process.

This list suggests that all stakeholders have multiple ways in which to influence the government on how it will establish new fisheries management arrangements. Not all commercial fishers believe the process is sufficient and have noted their concerns with government.  I believe that stakeholder groups will see some engagement mechanisms as more critical than others. This leads us to the formation of the current fisheries working groups.

The fisheries working groups provide a means of influence over the reform process that key stakeholders view as important. The government’s formation of its working groups was undertaken with the express intent that individuals were chosen based on their experience not political or group affiliation. This is what drove the association and other commercial fishing groups to request that the department reconsider the membership of Ms Tooni Mahto, Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) Senior Marine Campaigner on the inshore working group.

See – eNGOs and the Queensland Fisheries Reform Process

The core argument, at least from the association’s perspective was as follows – could a representative from an environmental group take an impartial, strategic view of future management arrangements and work with industry to achieve positive outcomes for industry, the seafood consumer and the environment?

The recent announcement by WWF of its ‘Net Free North Queensland’ policy agenda is unacceptable. These concerns were relayed to the Minister and shared with industry and the community. We have concerns and like environmental groups we have posed questions to the government of the day.

See – Conservation Groups and Fisheries Reform

I would expect environmental groups to engage with the Minister if the association or other industry bodies were making public policy statements that would have been detrimental to the environmental cause. There is no written statement anywhere that I can source from an industry body that seeks the exclusion of the views held by environmental groups or individuals – the association has a view that environmental groups are not needed on fisheries working groups to ensure the environmental good is upheld, this role is one for government and my association has made that point.

2. QSIA Policy Perspective

Environmental groups pose a significant threat to the long-term viability of the commercial seafood industry in Queensland. The Queensland Seafood Industry Association will continue to advocate for the removal of any environmental group representative on working groups. Publicly available material provided to the Minister supports our position that the ideological stance of conservation groups places commercial seafood businesses at risk and the public’s supply of local seafood. Their continued presence on any working group is an untenable position and insults the thousands of individuals and families working in the Queensland seafood industry and places at risk the public’s right to chose local seafood.

The interest of the environment can be protected by government agencies that have a conservation mandate – the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and Department of National Parks, Sport and Racing. Why then should environmental, special interest groups have a seat at the policy table with commercial and recreational groups as well government?

The reason is political. Governments at all levels seem almost frozen with fear when the issue of the role of environmental groups is openly discussed. If we can agree that in an open democracy all topics are open for debate, it seems environmental groups and their motives are rarely challenged. That situation is changing and is a good thing for the commercial seafood industry. The recent AMCS media release regarding prawns, bugs and scallops has received a national response significantly opposed to the views expressed in the release.

See – AMCS media release, ‘Wild caught Queensland prawns off the sustainable seafood menu’

3. Open Public Debate

It was great to hear the views of industry regrading the latest AMCS pronouncements regarding Queensland wild harvested seafood.

See – Queensland Country Hour, Friday 13th April 2018

The current QSIA Board is demonstrating leadership by supporting the view that our commercial fisheries have value on many levels:

  • Our hard work provides seafood to a community that demand fresh, local caught seafood;
  • Our industry provides direct employment to an estimated 3,000 Queenslanders and thousands more across supporting industries;
  • Queenslanders and visitors (domestic and international) choose fresh local seafood and should not be denied that choice because of a political philosophy that places environment above economic or social values.

My industry sits at an interesting time where environmental politics are concerned.  I am guilty of standing back for far too long and accepting the notion that it is impossible to challenge environmental groups.   I don’t mean attack them for the sake of it, that approach is always counter-productive. What I see playing out in the public and policy arenas is a seafood industry that is more prepared to ask questions and unpack the environmental agenda.  Asking our political leaders uncomfortable but necessary questions regarding the role of environmental groups in fisheries management is a legitimate policy debate to have.  The final step is sharing our thoughts with the seafood consuming public who own the resource and rely on my industry to provide them seafood.

The seafood reform process is not simply a political fight regrading environmental issues – micro and small commercial seafood businesses in the wild harvest sector and hundreds more in the post-harvest sector will be impacted by the process. This industry values its environment and are operate in some of the most regulated commercial fisheries anywhere in the world.  Businesses in the fishing and broader agriculture sector should not sit back and just accept the singular view offered by environmental groups.

Environmental groups do pose a real threat to a balanced outcome in the reform process and need to be challenged in the same way industry challenges the assumptions of fisheries or conservation management. Challenging the environmental status quo is consistent with best policy practice and industry development.  The association is seeking a triple bottom line outcome balancing social, economic and environmental outcomes.  In the same way that balance has been achieved in relation to the Coral Sea marine park.

Author: Eric Perez, CEO – Queensland Seafood Industry Association

Image: Sustainably harvested bugs but don’t take my word for it – see fish.gov.au

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