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Tasmanian Rock Lobster Fishery

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 24 August 2022

Tags: Wild Fisheries

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I listened to Mr Barnett's contribution. I think he said it, himself - good policy leads to good outcomes. The problem in this situation is that the Liberal Government has utterly failed Tasmania's rock lobster fishery. Consequently, it has failed the people who are fishing today.

The member for Bass has made a number of statements about people's anxiety and stress. I understand how hard it must be for them because they have been strung along for a very long time. I know that the Labor Party has been actively supporting and following the Government's overall approach to the management of the rock lobster fishery but both the Labor and Liberal Party deny the reality of what is happening in our marine environment.

They deny the reality of climate heating and the impact it is having on warm waters. They deny that the climate heating is the fundamental driver for the shift southwards in the Leeuwin Current on the east coast of Australia that has brought long tongues of warm water and an increase in feral species, particularly the spiny sea urchin that has devastatingly predated on lobster beds. It has devastatingly impacted on the fishery.

Both parties receive major subsidies from fossil fuel companies from the oil and gas industries. We have right now the biggest ever exploration licence being sought by two enormous oil and gas companies, seeking to explore in the Bass Strait, around the coastline of Tasmania, South Australia and Victoria. It is, according to their evidence, the biggest ocean area that has ever been explored by two companies. It is bigger than the size of Tasmania.

We have already heard from rock lobster fisheries and from scallop fishers off the north-west of Tasmania. That scallop fishery, I understand, has basically been killed off by the impacts, they say, of seismic testing. We have already had a massive seismic testing that has done irreparable damage it seems to our fisheries.

Yet we have a disconnect where we have two parties that are encouraging the exploration. This party is encouraging exploration licences for these companies. On the one hand, they are saying they are trying to do their best by working Tasmanians and fishing industries. On the other hand, they are opening up the opportunity for more multinational corporations to send huge columns of energy down through the water column to hit the seabed, in the process killing off marine life that is in the way, sending shock waves to scallop fishers. It impacts, we believe, on rock lobster fishing as well.

We have the disconnect at the federal and at the state level still pushing to support the expansion of the fossil fuel industry, totally in denial of the inexorable connection between mining more fossil fuels. These companies, TGS and Schlumberger, do not plan to start for 15 years. Right now, they are pushing the federal government. What is the position of Tasmania's Government? Radio silence, like it was with the previous companies that were seismic testing.

We have a convergence of a perfect storm in our marine environment. We have two parties - the Labor and the Liberal parties - that are totally against any increase in marine-protected areas. Yet the science tells us that when we have more marine-protected areas, they demonstrate that rock lobsters can flourish. The population of rock lobsters in healthy marine areas provides the potential for a sustainable fishing industry by giving the opportunity for real growth of the juvenile and mid-staged and large lobsters that are needed to perpetuate a functioning ecosystem.

We have had a failure to regulate the fishing quotas earlier and so what we have now is a recognition that we are in a desperate place and the rules that are coming in are really severe.

Ms Finlay, you are nodding your head. I do not think I have heard the Labor Party pushing for these quotas to be reduced 10 years ago or five years ago, and yet the scientists from IMAS have been talking about the collapse of the rock lobster industry on the east coast and -

Dr Broad - Scientists here have helped the quota rate, which is fair enough.

Dr WOODRUFF - No. You get the answer to the questions that you ask. It has been very clear that the impact on our rocky reefs and consequently on the rock lobster fisheries, of sea urchins and all the other factors, including over-fishing that has occurred at times, means that we have the need now to put in these very strong quotas.

Unless there is forward thinking from this minister and the Government, I am afraid for the rock lobster industry and for all the other fisheries in Tasmania that we are going to be in a situation where nature will decide what happens. We do not get to decide whether there are rock lobsters. It is not up to us. You cannot just buy them. They grow in the ocean. They are affected by warming waters, by feral species and they are affected by being overtaken and over-fished at the times when there is not enough juveniles and older lobster in the population to successfully reproduce to the numbers that we are used to. We have to reduce. That is what nature is telling us in this industry. The Government is belatedly catching up with quotas and rebuilding targets and all the other things the minister talked about such as regional size limits, but that is a last-minute last-ditch effort to try to keep control of an industry, which the Government is failing.