It is a case of enjoy the flathead and dory while you can if Australia’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Robert Hill, is to be believed. The UN is currently debating an Australian proposal designed to “protect high seas biodiversity” and, according to Ambassador Hill, Australia is prepared to ban bottom trawling in its own waters if its measure succeeds.

This news will confirm the worst fears of a local fishing industry already cut in half by a licence buy-back scheme made necessary by reductions in fish quotas.

When the Australian UN proposal was announced last month in a joint statement by Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, Environment Minister Senator Ian Campbell and Fisheries Minister Senator Eric Abetz there was no suggestion of a total ban on trawling.

The three ministers said Australia “is concerned about the potential impacts of a range of fishing practices on fragile areas of the high seas, such as seamounts.” They continued:

Australia’s new position calls on regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs) to implement and enforce measures that will prevent destruction to vulnerable marine ecosystems. This would include a ban on potentially destructive fishing practices unless it can be shown scientifically that the activity will not cause damage to fragile marine ecosystems, such as seamounts, hydrothermal vents and cold water corals.

In an interview with the BBC World Service, Ambassador Hill, himself a former Australian Environment Minister, left no doubt what the end result of this policy would be. With no ifs, buts or maybes, he declared: “there should not be deep sea bottom trawling.” When pressed by the interviewer whether Australia would introduce such a ban in its own waters he said, “we would be prepared to do it.”

Trawling, where nets are dragged along the ocean floor, is the major source of fresh scale fish sold in Australia. Fish supplies are already falling following reductions in the allowable catch in south eastern waters.

Peter Fray

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