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Fisheries decisions should not be gutted by removing Environment Department oversight

26th August, 2015          

Today 12 environmental groups* have called on the Minister for the Environment, the Hon. Greg Hunt, to give an assurance that he will retain his Department’s role in the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) assessment and approval of fisheries management plans, plans for threatened species and wildlife trade operations and management plans..  

In the past, oversight by the Environment Department and specifically the ability of the Department to put conditions on approvals has been the major driver of environmental improvements in fisheries management, such as strict management measures for fishermen to protect Australian Sea Lions and dolphins.

After confirming that senior members of AFMA are intent on ‘streamlining’ fisheries decision-making, consistent with the Government’s “One Stop Shop” agenda, environmental groups across Australia are concerned that this may entail the Environment Department being cut out of fisheries decisions they are required to oversee by the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

Suzanne Milthorpe, NSW Campaign Manager at The Wilderness Society said, “Just as we don't allow students to grade their own work, we know that independent oversight is a vital part of robust decision making, especially when it comes to issues as important as our fisheries management plans, threatened species and wildlife trade approvals. Allowing AFMA to approve its own work would be a disaster for threatened species and the marine environment.”

Humane Society International Director Michael Kennedy, “In our collective experience, Departmental oversight required by the EPBC Act and specifically the ability of the Department to be involved in each decision, including being able to put conditions on certain approvals, has generated a lot of improvements in fisheries management. We would not have the protections we have for dolphins and sea lions in the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery (SESSF) off the South Australian coast without the Environment Department’s involvement. The strength of the EPBC Act is internationally recognised in this regard.”  

“We have received legal advice that the EPBC Act would need to be amended to transfer the Department’s powers to AFMA and today we call on the Minister for the Environment to stand by his and his Department’s statutory obligation to be involved in fisheries decision-making.”  

Samantha Vine, Head of Conservation for BirdLife Australia concluded, “With the Government’s “One Stop Shop” agenda stalled in the Senate, environment groups are concerned that the Government will pursue “One Stop Shop” by stealth. Changes to the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) in 2014 which permitted NOPSEMA to make decisions on environmental approvals are an example of this. This type of streamlining only generates bad environmental outcomes by ensuring bad environmental decision-making.”

*Groups: Humane Society International, Australian Marine Conservation Society, World Wildlife Fund for Nature, Birdlife Australia, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Greenpeace, Conservation South Australia, Environment Tasmania, Victorian National Parks Association, Nature Conservation Council of NSW, the Wilderness Society, National Parks Association of NSW.   

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