Panic that foreign boats are set to fish in Australian waters
They always have done -- on case by case arrangements. Some good fishing grounds are remote from Australian fishing ports so are "under-fished". In those cases selected foreign boats that comply with Australian crewing and other standards are allowed catches by the Australian government.
The panic is to distract from the Turnbull government's move towards unlocking big fisheries that were locked up for no good reason by the last Greenie-influenced Labor government. There are at the moment very few areas of Queensland waters where fishing is allowed, leaving a valuable food source unused
Australia has vast areas suitable for sustainable fishing but Greenie inspired fishing bans mean that Australia imports a lot of its table fish-- particularly from New Zealand
The federal government is stripping marine protections from remote waters off the Australian coast because it plans to change the law to allow foreign fishing boats with low-paid crews to fish there, a leading fisheries expert claims.
The suggestion, backed by conservationists, has been rejected by the government as "unsubstantiated scaremongering".
However the Australian Fisheries Management Authority says some waters are being under-fished and they are in talks with several operators about allowing foreign boats to operate in Australia's fishing zone under existing laws.
The Turnbull government has proposed changes to the 3.3 million square kilometres of Australia's protected offshore regions, allowing commercial fishing in a host of sensitive marine areas.
Dr Quentin Hanich, head of fisheries governance research at the University of Wollongong's Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security, said many of the proposed changes were in distant waters far from port and "it had never been profitable for the fishers to go there".
"But if you allow cheap distant-water vessels to come in ... those vessels won't come into port. That combined with subsidised fuel, a $1000 annual wage and a whole bunch of problems with the way they treat their crews means they have incredibly low costs and can fish those remote areas," he said.
"Not only does that undermine the protection of those conservation values, it will return incredibly little benefit to Australia."
Dr Hanich, who advises international organisations and governments on fisheries governance and marine conservation, said such a scenario would require law changes allowing cheap foreign boats.
He believed the government's proposed weakening of protected marine areas was based on "hypothetical future changes in Australian regulations on foreign vessels [that] may enable industry to reduce business costs and fish in these previously economically marginal zones".
Dr Hanich questioned the economic need to relax marine protections, saying official estimates showed that under current laws, it would result in a mere $4 million gain to the Australian fishing industry.
There are no foreign boats operating in the Australian fishing zone. Foreign boats can be deemed Australian, and allowed to fish in Australian waters, when there are no domestic boats of that type available – such as large distant-water boats that can deep-freeze fish and stay at sea for long periods. Such boats must operate under Australian standards.
AFMA confirmed it has been in "discussions with a number of operators this year about deeming boats to be Australian across several fisheries".
At a Senate estimates hearing in October, AFMA chief executive James Findlay said there was "significant underfishing ... going on in a number of quota-managed fisheries."
"We're only taking about half of the quota that we've scientifically demonstrated is sustainable. Understandably, quota holders are looking to explore opportunities to harvest that quota ... they're looking at opportunities on the global market to bring in cheap capacity," he said.
Mr Findlay said the moves were not linked to the wind-back of marine protections.
However Pew Charitable Trusts oceans director Michelle Grady insisted the "ambition of the tuna industry to see very deep water remote areas fished" was driving the marine park changes.
This could lead to increased bycatch of threatened species, depleted fish stocks and the loss of large conservation areas, she said.
Water Resources Minister Anne Ruston said such claims had "no substance".
"Of course it is not the intention, nor has it ever been the intention, of the government to allow foreign fishing vessels to fish in Australian waters as a result of changes to marine park zoning," she said.
Tuna Australia chief executive David Ellis described as "absurd" the claim that the Australian fishing industry required foreign vessels to access fishing areas, and said Australia was "recognised worldwide as a leader in sustainable fishery management".
Maritime Union of Australia national secretary Paddy Crumlin said cheap foreign labour "results in a race to the bottom rather than decent wages for all", and unions would fight any such move in the fishing industry.