Over-Governance in the Fishing Industry – Is it a problem?

Over-Governance in the Fishing Industry – Is it a problem?

by | 1 Aug 2020

by Anthony James Sangster Robles
Solicitor, Aquarius Lawyers
August 2020

Sustainability of the oceans have been an integral concept to international world governance in the last 10 years, it has been introduced by more local governances.

The world started to see the ocean as a finite and valuable resource, a resource that needed responsible and organised methods of exploitation. Therefore, a vast range of action has been put in place to secure the sustainable use of the oceans some of which are local planning.
To be effective, all plans must be adopted by most if not all countries. In addition to that, it became apparent that the aid of local authorities was going to be required for the proper enforcement of the new systems.

In Australia, there is a complex geopolitical agreement between the States & Territories and the Federal government. This complex agreement includes water borders. This is where the States have played a primary role in governing fishing laws and restrictions. For NSW, the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) is the direct authority in fishing matters.

The DPI has maintained a strict and very well organised fishing protection and enforcement plan. Their records since 2010 – 2019 show an impressive record keeping system. It also shows an impressive overall number of actions taken against people who fail to follow their rules and regulations.

However, that is not all that the records show. On a closer look at their records, their records remain consistent every year. What we mean is that there are no significant changes and therefore no improving since 2010. For example, on 2010-11, the DPI served 2,400 penalty notices. Compared to the period of 2018-29, the DPI served 2,476 penalty notices.

The alarming part is that when look at the progression, it is noted that the DPI has constantly served penalty notices from 2010 – 2019 in the range of 2,100 – 2,500. The same pattern is repeated with almost every category in their records.

If you inspect the DPI records further, you will note that in general all its data has not changed significantly in a 10 year period. The top fish and invertebrates seized by the NSWDPI is repeated every year between: Cockles, Abalone, and Oysters.

The number one items of fishing gear taken by the DPI has been Crab Traps. More alarming, is the three most common offences of every year according to the DPI records. For a decade, the three most common offences have been in relation to a) unpaid fishing fees; b) possession of prohibited sized catch (first offenders); and c) failure to have official receipts.

This raises a question about whether the current systems in place are appropriate for the local governance of the fishing industry. The numbers certainly show a system more focused on displaying the penalties and over-control on the fishers, rather than coming to a more socially and legally reasonable solution.

The perception by the local fishers inclines towards a view that the local authorities are intransigent in listening to their issues. Furthermore, recent cases of fishers’ prosecution have raised an uncomfortable feeling on many fishing communities that they are not relevant to the process. We refer to a case in Western Australia where a crayfish diver was prosecuted all the way to the Supreme Court over a penalty of $1,000.00. Even more alarming was the fact that the legal cost of the prosecutor reached an amount of close to $60k.

There are many more cases like this in the Sutherland Court of NSW where penalties notices are taken out of proportion. It may appear to be a case of the end justify the means. However, in these cases there is no ‘end’ to reach as everything appears to remain the same.
Then again, the ones with the primary role to do something about the current situation are the local authorities, such as the NSWDPi. It might be time for them to revise their records and ask what their final goal is relative to all these plans and projects of enforcement. It may also be time that they stop operating at arms-length from the local communities and embrace their local knowledge.

The guiding principle for a comprehensive governance plan is that the subject’s perspective is taken into consideration. It is time for the local authorities, such as the NSW DPI, to put a halt to its hammer on nail approach.

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