New Bill would give Minister too much power over fishing

THE TRICKY stuff that previous Fisheries Minister Hodgkinson tried to squeeze through Parliament unannounced last year is back on the agenda, potentially giving the Minister open slather on allocating fishery resources.

That means new Minister Niall Blair could well have the ultimate say in slicing up the resource pie and dishing out chunks to the commercial and recreational sectors, without any recourse to Parliament and its checks and balances.

I also heard the other day that Mr Blair is a keen bass angler on the South Coast streams, so he at least walks the talk.

However, Mr Blair and his chief bureaucrat, the departmental Secretary, could have free range on ad-hoc adjustments of regulations and cart blanche on resource allocation between pro and rec sectors.

Although there are obviously cases where it is prudent for the department to act quickly in opening, closing or adjusting rec and commercial fisheries, with that much power even Mother Theresa couldn't be trusted in the face of sustained vigorous lobbying and an avalanche of free lobster dinners.

The Fisheries Amendment Management Bill is set to go to Parliament mid-year and public comment on the proposals is available until June 26.


One proposal is to introduce recreational boat limits, the news release says, "to help manage catches, particularly where boats are deliberately loaded with extra people including children to maximise take. Being able to apply a boat limit in such circumstances may lessen the need to lower individual bag limits."

Then there are 'possession limit orders', under which the possession limit on a fish can be changed by the Minister without amending the root regulation, "offering a streamlined process for the urgent implementation, amendment or revocation of a possession limit".

Similarly, fishing closures could be enabled by the Minister or his Secretary without having to amend the Act.

Total allowable catch (TAC) and total allowable effort (TAE) are to be determined by the Minister/Secretary for any fishing sector or part thereof, including the recreational sector.

The Secretary would be able to make TAC and TAE determinations "... if a relevant, robust and recent scientific assessment exists, and requiring the committee to make the determination would result in unnecessary duplication of that assessment."

He/she could also provide for TAC or TAE to be allocated to participants in one or more fisheries sectors, including recreational.

The proposal also takes away the necessity of the recreational council to be consulted when bag limits on commercial fisheries are changed.

Among the commercial fishery implications of the changes includes the potential for some commercial fishing boats to no longer require a commercial licence ('LFB'), which could prove interesting.

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