Standing Committee on Environment, Communications & the Arts
Senator SIEWERT-I want to ask about sharks. Obviously you will be aware of the issues surrounding some of the shark fishing issues up in Queensland at the moment and on the reef. Could you tell me what the status of sharks is on the reef at the present time and what is estimated to be left of the original population?
Dr Reichelt-To the best of my knowledge, the precise assessment of the status of sharks is not available. With regard to the assessment done by the Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, which manage the fisheries in the marine park, it has been judged to be sustainable but in a precautionary way in that it is capped at 700 tonnes in their proposal which, I believe, is their current catch. From the marine park's point of view, I think we radically need to improve the assessment of those shark stocks. There is something like 50 species of shark. Some of them are rare and endangered. In fact, quite a lot are rare, like all high biodiversity regions.
From our point of view, we are working very closely with the Queensland government in this period. They have a regulatory impact statement that is out in relation to the fisheries that take sharks in the area. We have already expressed our concerns about the lack of knowledge of the status of sharks and the need to take a precautionary approach. In relation to that regulatory impact statement, we work very closely with the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, which administer the approvals under the World Trade Organisation for export fisheries. So they have a role in assessing the situation as well. So the three-the authority, the department and the Queensland government-are currently working together to resolve the issues around the status of sharks and, for that matter, other impacts of fishing with the nets such as impacts on dugongs and turtles. So it is under intensive discussion right now between the governments.
Senator SIEWERT-Yes, I am aware. You were saying that there is little information on the status of sharks. I am aware that that could be taken at a national or a regional level. So you do not actually have an understanding of the shark species in the park either?
Dr Reichelt-We have a pretty good understanding of sharks globally in terms of their biology, their status, their low productivity, their ability to be very easily overfished. I did the assessments of the southern shark in 1991 and we found that they lived to 60 years old and reproduced by having pups, not by spawning like fish.
They are an easily overfished group of animals. So to say we know nothing about sharks is not true. It is true to say that in high biodiversity regions like northern Australia there are many species of shark that we know quite little about. I think there is work being commissioned this year to within a year try to significantly improve that knowledge. But it does take time to build up. It is a large area and these are mobile animals. Does that answer your question?
Senator SIEWERT-Yes, partly. However, you did not answer my first question, and that is do you have an assessment of the estimated stock of sharks in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park?
Dr Reichelt-There is not an assessment of the total stock of sharks, nor the unfished state of the stock, if you like, pre fishing.
Senator SIEWERT-How can the department therefore say the industry is sustainable if that sort of information is not available?
Mr Borthwick-When you say 'the department', it is not our department that says that.
Senator SIEWERT-No, the Queensland department.
Mr Borthwick-Yes. I am just correcting you, because-
Senator SIEWERT-Sorry. The comment was made earlier that it is considered that it is sustainable-that is, the fishery is sustainable.
Dr Reichelt-If I could just clarify that. There has been an interim order given under the WTO to essentially allow the fishery to continue while more information is gathered. But it runs out, I think, in November this year.
Senator SIEWERT-Is what I have been told true, and that is that a large part of what is driving the shark industry is the fins?
Senator SIEWERT-Is it the case that the same thing we have been criticising our Asian neighbours for we are now also trying to get in on?
Senator SIEWERT-I wanted to know what the authority's opinion was around shark fisheries. If I understand it correctly, you are saying that you have concerns about it.
Senator SIEWERT-Have you expressed those to both the Queensland government and the department?
Dr Reichelt-Yes, I have.
Senator SIEWERT-And also to the assessment that has been carried out under the EPBC Act?
Dr Reichelt-Yes. The department and the authority are working closely together on that.
Senator SIEWERT-I will be asking them later. I just wanted to know whether you had expressed those concerns.
Mr Borthwick-You will be able to ask us when we come to marine and biodiversity. But to give you an indication of how seriously we feel about it, we share the views that have been expressed by Dr Reichelt.
Indeed, I went up and spoke to the Queensland Premier's department in conjunction with GBRMPA before Dr Reichelt was appointed to his position to discuss this myself with them and to indicate to them our concerns and the sorts of additional areas that we thought should be investigated. So we are working hand in glove with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and it will be a joint assessment that we are undertaking vis-avis shark fishing operations in the park.
Senator SIEWERT-Sorry, there will be a joint-
Mr Borthwick-There will be a joint view that we are coming to in terms of our discussions with
Senator SIEWERT-The department and the-
Dr Reichelt-The authority.
Senator SIEWERT-Thank you. I have a few more questions, but I will take that up under the marine section.