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Abalone Industry in Rough Waters

Andrea Dawkins

Andrea Dawkins  -  Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Tags: Primary Industries, IMAS


Tasmanian abalone divers are becoming increasingly alarmed about growing evidence in an industry at risk of collapse.  Do you acknowledge the industry here is in trouble?  Do you agree that unsustainable quotas set by successive governments over fishing, marine pollution and the devastating marine heatwave warming the east coast waters, have pushed the industry to the tipping point?  As one diver said last night on the ABC, 'We're knife-edge fishing it all the time and we've pushed it too far.  We just can't hope for it to come right.'  Will you act to protect Tasmania's abalone industry, step in and reduce the quota to ensure the abalone industry's long-term viability?



Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Bass for her question.  This Government is absolutely committed to strong evidence-based fisheries management underpinned, most importantly, by science.  This principle applies also the wild abalone fishery.  There is a very rigorous management process in place for the abalone fishery including setting the total allowable catch.  This process includes key inputs from scientific fishery assessments, the commercial abalone industry and the Abalone Fishery Advisory Committee, which comprises of fishers, managers, abalone biologists, abalone divers and quota holders, marine police and a conservation representative. 

The total allowable catch for the abalone industry has been progressively reducing over a number of years to protect the sustainability of the fishery.  Some in the industry consider these reductions as too draconian and that the total allowable catch should be higher.  Others consider the total allowable catch should be set much lower, as is being expressed by some divers in the media.  In 2010, the total allowable catch for the fishery was 2 660 tonnes.  The limit set for 2016 is 1 694, a reduction of nearly 1 000 tonnes or some 36 per cent.  The east coast zone limit is currently set at a historically low level and the west coast zone was reduced for this 2016 season.

Such decisions, as I am sure the member appreciates, are not taken lightly, as they impact quota holders, divers, the Tasmanian economy and the marine environment.  However,  the long-term sustainability of the abalone fishery is most important here and must continue to be paramount.  The management processes are ongoing.  Issues and the key settings in the fishery are continually being considered and reviewed and this is the case during 2016 and I expect that the appropriate recommendations for the 2017 season will be made at the appropriate time.  Any further impacts of warm waters will also need to be monitored and, as necessary, further management actions implemented.

In response to some quota holder concerns about declining catches in the abalone fishery, a review of the fishery assessment process was initiated by me towards the end of the 2014.  My department has worked with these quota holders in establishing the terms of reference, selecting a consultant and facilitating submissions to the selected consultant, Dr Ian Knuckey.  The Tasmanian Abalone Council and Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies cooperated with that review and Dr Knuckey has now submitted his report.  A principal recommendation of the Knuckey review was to develop and implement a formalised harvest strategy for the abalone fishery. 

My department has been working to develop a more explicit and formalised written harvest strategy for some time and a draft harvest strategy is in existence.  This draft harvest strategy is now ready for trialling in the fishery.  The harvest strategy will continue to be developed and progressed through planning and co-management processes to a point where it can be presented for me for consideration.

I take the member's points on board but say again that this is an evidence-based scientific assessment of the fishery.  We must have that rigour in place to ensure the sustainability of the fishery and those employed in the abalone industry.