Fisheries Management Amendment Bill
Debate resumed from 6 November.
Mr PICCOLI (Murrumbidgee) [11.04 a.m.]: The Fisheries Management Act is having serious consequences across western New South Wales, in particular, and the Fisheries Management Amendment Bill seeks to address the impact of that Act on recreational fishing in the Murrumbidgee and Murray rivers. The scientific committee established under the Fisheries Management Act has recommended to the Minister that the Murrumbidgee and Murray rivers be listed as endangered ecological communities. The residents of communities along the banks of those rivers are extremely concerned about the repercussions of such a listing. Part 7A of the Fisheries Management Act echoes the Threatened Species Act to a great degree, and many people in my electorate and that of Murray-Darling—particularly landowners in the Conargo area—are suffering significantly from that Act's provisions regarding the plains wanderer.
The Act lists the plains wanderer as a threatened species, and a recovery plan has been put in place, supervised by the National Parks and Wildlife Service and others. The plan has a significant impact on what landowners are able to do with their land. While I appreciate that we must protect threatened species—I am sure that all landowners feel the same way—I am concerned about the recovery plan's impact on farmers and on the townships that depend on them. I have received many representations from people expressing concern about this issue. Therefore, it is no surprise that the proposed listing of the Murrumbidgee and Murray rivers and its tributaries, such as the Wakool and Edward rivers, has created suspicion about its potential impact on the broader community. Recreational fishermen were the first to express their views about the recommendation, which they believe could affect their recreational activity. Sports stores could be similarly affected.
Although the Government has given an undertaking that fishing in the rivers will not be banned, if recreational fishing is restricted further the repercussions will be felt by sports store owners and local businesses, such as hotels, which benefit from the influx of fishermen from other parts of the State and from around Australia who come to the Murrumbidgee and Murray rivers to enjoy their sport. Those businesses have been affected adversely by past decisions of this Government, such as the banning of duck shooting. Each year many people would come to the southern areas of New South Wales—including the electorates of Murrumbidgee, Murray-Darling, Wagga Wagga and Albury—to hunt ducks during duck season.
The banning of such hunting has had a significant effect on many businesses in places such as Deniliquin, Urana, Finley and Hay that relied heavily on visitor through-traffic. That is why people are suspicious of the Threatened Species Act and the Fisheries Management Act. The Minister for Fisheries has given an undertaking that fishing will not be banned as a result of the listing of the Murrumbidgee and Murray rivers as endangered ecological communities, and the people of south-west New South Wales and I appreciate that assurance. However, the true impact of the listing will not be known until the threat abatement plan is put in place, which will not occur for some time. I am also concerned about the extent of community input in that plan.
The community is concerned about the impact of the threat abatement plan on recreational fishing. People are also concerned about its effect on powerboat use on the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers. The communities of Moama and Echuca depend heavily on recreational use of the rivers, for example, for speedboats. The Southern 80 in Echuca attracts a huge crowd and contributes a great deal to the economies of Echuca and Moama. A similar situation applies in Mildura. A lot of recreational boat use takes place in Deniliquin on the Edward River and on parts of the Murrumbidgee River. If the threat abatement plan were to impact upon recreational boat use there would be great concern.
I believe that the threat abatement plan devised as a result of this listing will affect irrigation perhaps more than any other area. For the benefit of those who are not familiar with the economies of southern and south-western New South Wales, irrigation is the lifeblood of that region. Obviously, the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area takes in its water from the Murrumbidgee River, the Murray Irrigation Area takes its water from the Murray River, and the Coleambally Irrigation Area takes its water from the Murrumbidgee River. In addition to private schemes there are also river pumpers along the Murray and the Murrumbidgee rivers.
The listing under the Fisheries Management Act addresses issues such as water quality and thermal pollution. For the benefit of those who are not familiar with thermal pollution, when dams such as Burrinjuck, Blowering and Hume release water from the bottom of the dam, as the dams were designed to do, that water is substantially colder than the water on the surface of those dams and the water in a relatively shallow river. According to the best science, this has an adverse impact on the fishery and fish breeding. Whilst I understand that the issue is being addressed with the assistance of the major irrigation corporations, irrigators and I are concerned that this listing may further impact upon the use of those dams. It is a significant issue.
The Opposition will not oppose the Fisheries Management Amendment Bill. In the context of the threatened species aspect of the Fisheries Management Act, it seeks to address an immediate concern of recreational fishermen that the impact of a listing on the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers would be that no-one would be able to harm any species in those rivers without first obtaining what I call a politically correct James Bond "licence to harm". That may seem a very strange term to use, but I believe it is appropriate. If the Fisheries Management Act were not amended, each recreational fisherman would need to obtain a licence to harm. I understand it is also called a threatened species licence. I like the term "licence to harm"; it has a certain ring about it. Each fisherman would be required to obtain such a licence. I understand that an environmental impact statement would also have to be prepared. Obviously, that is not practicable.
On my understanding, if that were the case, fishermen would not even be able to remove a carp or any other noxious species from the river without technically breaching the Act. I appreciate what the Minister and his department have done in introducing the bill. The bill seeks to allow the Minister to declare that a class of people are able to obtain that licence to harm. The effect of that is that only one environmental impact statement has to be prepared. The Minister is also permitted to make an interim order, lasting up to six months, to reduce social and economic impacts during the course of the assessment of a proposed order. I appreciate what the Minister is doing in the short term to protect recreational fishing.
Concern has been expressed about the possible future impacts once a threat abatement plan is in place. Recreational fishing is already fairly restricted. Responsible fishermen respect the fact that limits have to be placed on recreational fishing. For example, there are bag limits and limits with respect to the species that are able to be caught in the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers. However, fishermen are concerned that when the threat abatement plan is put in place further restrictions may apply. About three weeks ago I attended a meeting in Leeton hosted by the Department of Fisheries. At that meeting fishermen expressed a great deal of concern about the listing of the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers, and about the entire process whereby any person can nominate a community to be listed as an endangered ecological community. The scientific committee is then given the task of assessing that nomination.
The fishermen who attended the meeting were very concerned about the identity of the members of the scientific committee. No-one had seen them, no-one had heard of them, and to the fishermen's knowledge there had been no consultation with any fishing clubs along the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers, which cover a fairly large area of New South Wales. The fishermen were very concerned that consultation had not taken place before the committee made its recommendation. They also questioned where the committee got its information from. Much of that information came from previous studies and the like.
Before the threat abatement plan is put in place, I hope the Minister will ensure that consultation takes place with fishermen, other recreational users of the rivers, and irrigation and river management interest groups. As I have said, the community of western New South Wales has a great deal of suspicion about this type of legislation. I am sure that all members who represent country electorates, particularly those in western New South Wales, appreciate the climate of suspicion and fear in those areas. Over the past five years the Government has put in place policies that have had significant impacts, particularly on farmers, and farmers have perceived those policies to be extremely negative for their businesses. With the addition of the Fisheries Management Act and the Threatened Species Act, people are increasingly concerned about the further impacts that this legislation might have on their community.
Whilst the Department of Fisheries has been good enough to brief me on this subject and has allayed some of my concerns and fears, the reality is that the community has seen this occur time and again. If this were the first and only measure to potentially affect their farming businesses I do not think they would be as concerned. However, other Government policies and legislation have already impacted upon farming businesses, and I will list a few of them. I refer to the national action plan for salinity, the Water Management Act, the Catchment Management Amendment Bill—which is currently before the Parliament—and the Catchment Management Act. I refer to river management committees, catchment management committees, the Department of Land and Water Conservation, the Environment Protection Authority, the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, and the National Parks and Wildlife Act.
The vegetation management committees, native vegetation committees, the Native Vegetation Act, and local government regulations already impact on farmers and what they are able to do on their land. The addition of the Threatened Species Act and the Fisheries Management Act adds another layer, which many people in western New South Wales do not consider to be necessary. Certainly that is the feeling of the community and the reason some people are sceptical and suspicious of the whole threatened species process. Concern has been raised with the Opposition that a court case currently being brought by ProFish against the Minister for Fisheries in the Land and Environment Court may be prejudiced by this legislation. The Minister wrote to the Hon. Jennifer Gardiner, a member of the Legislative Council, on 13 November. He stated:
The Opposition appreciates the Minister's letter to the Opposition spokesperson on fisheries. We appreciate his undertaking that this legislation will not impact on that court case—it is an undertaking to ProFish, which initiated the legal proceedings. The Opposition appreciates the other issues that have been raised in the legislation, such as the upgrading of protection available to aquatic reserves, the ban on prospecting or mining for minerals in aquatic reserves, giving the Minister for Fisheries a role in the development approval process where there is likely to be an impact on aquatic reserves, and allowing temporary management measures to be put in place if required to protect the values of aquatic reserves. People are concerned about our environment and aquatic reserves. The measures taken in this legislation to protect those reserves is certainly supported.
Dear Ms Gardiner
I refer to the proposals contained in the Fisheries Management Amendment Bill 2001 in relation to threatened species.
I understand that concerns have been raised that these provisions may potentially have some impact on the current legal proceedings brought by ProFish against me in the Land and Environment Court.
Firstly, let me assure you that the proposals do not affect my commitment to prepare an environmental impact statement and management strategy for recreational fishing in freshwater and in saltwater. Any such environmental impact statement will include consideration of the impacts of recreational fishing on the full range of targeted species.
Secondly, I can advise that the Government has no plans to make such a proposed threatened species order in relation to recreational or commercial fishing activities in saltwater. The situation that we are currently facing is the imminent listing of an endangered ecological community in the freshwater environment. The Fisheries Scientific Committee has not advised me of any proposed listings in saltwater that would require a threatened species order under the proposed new statutory provisions. Of course, the Committee may make such proposals in the future.
… I trust this addresses any concerns you may have on this matter. Of course, you would be aware of the seriousness of this issue for regional communities based around the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers. In the circumstances, I ask that you support the Bill, and ensure there will be no interruption to fishing activities during the Christmas period.
The further measures to allow aquatic species with certain declared diseases to be exempted from sale or movement, and prohibition in the case of diseases that are not harmful to humans and/or where the disease is already widespread, are commonsense decisions. Of course, diseases, particularly exotic diseases, represent a significant issue for commercial fisheries and agriculture generally. However, when those diseases are widespread the types of restrictions would seek only to impede the industry. The Opposition welcomes those amendments and will not oppose the other issues that deal with penalties. The Opposition is concerned about how the Threatened Species Act and the threatened species sections of the Fisheries Management Act might impact on communities in western New South Wales. Some of these concerns were alluded to in the Minister's letter to the Hon. Jennifer Gardiner.
People in western New South Wales and along the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers are concerned about the potential impacts of the two pieces of legislation and the way nominations and recommendations are made—that is, that the Minister does not have any discretion to reject a nomination on any basis, least of all a public interest or public good basis. I would like the Threatened Species Act and its application to the Fisheries Management Act looked at. I read that the threat abatement plan will not have a significant impact on farming communities or communities that rely on farming, but I will believe it when I see it. As I mentioned earlier, people are suspicious of government legislation relating to threatened species, nature conservation and the like. They are very touchy and sensitive when it comes to these issues. I believe, based on past experience, that they have every reason to be. The Opposition will not oppose this legislation. We support anything that this Government does that supports recreational fishing.
Mr MILLS (Wallsend) [11.26 a.m.]: I support the Fisheries Management Amendment Bill and I am pleased to note that the honourable member for Murrumbidgee has indicated that the Opposition will not oppose it. The bill is part of the Government's ongoing program of fisheries management reform. The need for a number of necessary miscellaneous amendments to the Fisheries Management Act has been identified. One of the amendments relates to object (c) of the bill, which specifies the purpose of fishing fees. Schedule 1 inserts new section 34AA, Purpose of fishing fees. It states:
The purpose of fishing fees is to provide revenue to assist activities supported through the recreational fishing trust funds established under Division 3 of Part 8, including the following:
(a) enhancing recreational fishing,
(b) carrying out research into fish and their ecosystems,
(c) managing recreational fishing,
(d) ensuring compliance with recreational fishing and regulatory controls.
Earlier this year the Government introduced the recreational fishing fee to improve recreational fishing in New South Wales. This will give us the opportunity to work with anglers and the community to make New South Wales one of the best recreational fishing destinations in the world. The Government is committed to maintaining and restoring critical fish habitats and protecting threatened species. The bill makes clear the purpose of the recreational fishing fee. The new recreational fishing licence introduced on 23 March is providing significant funds for improving the saltwater recreational fishing experience. The licence is still less than eight months old. In the first three months, to 30 June, more than 177,000 licences were sold, collecting about $4.1 million—a tremendous response to the introduction of the saltwater licence.
It is estimated that the annual revenue from recreational fishing licences will total $8.5 million—$2.5 million from the freshwater licence and $6 million from the saltwater licence. These funds are placed in trusts and managed by expenditure committees comprising experienced anglers and representatives from other key stakeholder groups. The Advisory Council on Recreational Fishing and the Recreational Fishing Saltwater Expenditure Committee are helping to manage the saltwater recreational fishery by supplying the Government with quality advice on how best to spend the money raised through the recreational fishing fee. The dedicated members of those committees should be applauded for their contribution, as should all recreational fishers who support the licence. Meanwhile, the Government has met its commitment to keep administrative costs below 10 per cent, ensuring efficiency and value in management of the licensing scheme.
Licence funds have helped to pave the way for important initiatives that benefit saltwater recreational fishers. Some of the initiatives to receive funding from the saltwater trust to date include: $500,000 to expand the successful Fishcare Volunteer Program from the inland out to the coast, $75,000 to assess the economic benefits of the striped marlin fishery, and $15,000 to upgrade the game fish tagging program. The Fishcare Volunteer Program trains people to become ambassadors for the fisheries resource. I noticed an advertisement in today's newspaper calling for more volunteers, I think in the Hunter region. The volunteers commit to spend one day a month to advise anglers about the values of sustainable recreational fishing and fishing rules, conduct catch surveys, assist in fishing clinics or fishing community events, or train new Fishcare volunteers.
The expansion of this volunteer program from freshwater to saltwater fishing was only possible with funds from the new fishing fee. Thanks to these funds it is anticipated that by the middle of next year the program will expand from 68 volunteers in inland New South Wales to 200 volunteers across the whole of the State, including coastal areas. The whole of the recreational fishing community will benefit from more educated anglers, as will the fisheries resource and the health of key habitats. Money from the recreational fishing trust is also being used for angler and community education, including fishing clinics. Fishing clinics are held to educate children and others about responsible fishing practices, and they are an important part of the saltwater fishing education program.
Fishing clinics are also an enjoyable experience. They are an excellent means for children to learn hands-on fishing techniques such as casting, basic knot tying and rigging. Fishing clinics teach people about ethical fishing practices and the importance of protecting fishing resources for future generations. Promoting the saltwater fishing rules through various forms of publications and aids, such as fish measuring tools, is also an important way to spread the message about responsible fishing. The options of a three-day, monthly, yearly or three-yearly licence, and the fairness of the fee, together with the exemptions that have been provided for, have ensured that the fishing fee has been accepted in the community. These arrangements resulted from extensive consultation with the community.
The great community support and the co-operative approach of the licence expenditure committees will result in the continued improvement of recreational fishing in saltwater areas. That will benefit both current and future recreational anglers. I approached the Minister on the question of consultation following his second reading speech because I wanted to satisfy myself that communities, in particular the indigenous community, had been adequately consulted. The Minister told me that some five bodies from within the industry and interest groups had been consulted. Those bodies included the Advisory Council on Aquaculture, with Mr Ron Mason, an indigenous industry representative from the Aboriginal Aquaculture Working Group, together with many other people on that committee who are interested in aquaculture; and the Fisheries Scientific Committee, which supported the proposed changes, particularly those concerning threatened species.
The Minister in his second reading speech and the honourable member for Murrumbidgee, who led for the Opposition, referred to those aspects of the bill. The New South Wales Advisory Council on Recreational Fishing was also consulted. That council consists of 13 or 14 people representing spearfishing, game fishing, business, the Nature Conservation Council, charter boat fishers, and marine biology. Mr Graham Moore, an indigenous representative, a member of that council, was also consulted. None of those representatives had any objection to the bill. The Advisory Council on Fisheries Conservation had no objections to the bill. The Advisory Council on Commercial Fishing was also consulted. Mr John Brierley, an indigenous representative, is a member of that council. The council noted the proposed changes and had no objections to them. There was extensive consultation on this bill—including consultation with Aboriginal indigenous representatives.
Item  of schedule 1 to the bill inserts new section 197B, which relates to a ban on mining in aquatic reserves. The Marine Parks Act sets out a clear framework for managing development activities that take place within a marine park or that take place outside a marine park but could nevertheless affect it. That Act specifically prohibits exploration and mining for minerals except as authorised by an Act of Parliament. New section 197B contains provisions equivalent to those relating to marine parks, and provide aquatic reserves with the same protection from mining and exploration. That is an important addition for fisheries in New South Wales. It is particularly important in the Hunter Valley, where it has been proposed that we study ways to protect the fish habitat in Lake Macquarie because of the inevitable clash in our area of mining with aquatic activities. With those remarks, I am pleased to support the bill.
Mr WEBB (Monaro) [11.36 a.m.]: I support and echo the words of the honourable member for Murrumbidgee, who led for the Coalition in debate on this bill. Notwithstanding the aims of the bill and the comments made by the honourable member for Wallsend, members of the Coalition are concerned with particular aspects of the bill. Those concerns relate largely to the general direction that this type of threatened species legislation will lead us down the track, and the implications for a broad range of communities. We are talking not only about threatened species but about social and economic factors in small country towns and regional areas across New South Wales. I represent large areas along the upper Murrumbidgee River, which, for many years, has been known as a great recreational fishing resource.
I also represent the Snowy Mountains lakes area, and I am concerned about trout in particular and the impact that the nomination of threatening processes may have on the whole social fabric of the Snowy Mountains, Lake Jindabyne, Lake Eucumbene and others areas that have become internationally famous for recreational fishing. I also represent members of the far South Coast commercial industries, who are concerned about the way in which the recreational and tourism push can bring undone communities and people involved in low-impact commercial fishing over many decades.
Zone seven estuaries hand-gathering trap and line fisheries have been asked to supply a lot of information for environmental impact studies and statements. But they question whether the tourism industry, which is probably the beneficiary of this type of legislation, made the same contribution to EISs and whether there is an acknowledgment that tourism and recreational fishing may be a major threat to native or threatened species. I have received a number of representations and had a number of meetings with representatives from these fisheries. They say their problem is a lack of consultation. Even though the department and the Minister consulted, with good intent, with a broad range of community groups, fishing groups were snowed under with paperwork immediately prior to, or at, the meeting.
They were not given enough time to understand the implications of the legislation and consult with their broader communities. Consequently, they were unable to put forward informed criticism or suggestions that would result in better and less damaging legislation for all aspects of our society, not just native species. Consultation referred to by the Minister in the other place is the approach we would take. In answer to a question from the Hon. Janelle Saffin he said that only by working with regional communities could the best management decisions be made. However, the consultation process for this bill, as with previous bills introduced by the Government relating to wilderness areas, water management and catchment management, was sadly lacking.
I call on the Government to reopen the consultation process to achieve a broader view of this matter. The make-up of the Fisheries Scientific Committee has been criticised. The honourable member for Murrumbidgee identified one of the important exemption areas as a James Bond-like licence to harm exemptions. The Minister cannot reject a nomination by this faceless, unidentified scientific committee. Such nominations can cost the community, interest groups, and commercial or recreational groups significant time, worry and expense to challenge and wind back nominations that focus solely on their perception of a threat to a native species.
Conservation of the environment and native species in Australia is very important. The Coalition has supported and promoted concepts in many areas that the Government has not supported. We are concerned that the Minister will be unable to reject a simple nomination that may impact on threatened species. I am concerned about the accountability of the scientific committee, which is not comprised of elected people, and how smaller regional communities can use the democratic process to promote their concerns about the social, economic, historical and other environmental concerns with the process.
The honourable member for Murrumbidgee stated that this type of legislation could preclude people who have concerns, particularly about carp, from resolving those concerns. If they have to go to great expense to obtain exemptions or permission, or suffer the penalties for doing the wrong thing, then the rabbit of the sea, or the inland rivers—the European carp—will continue to destroy a range of native species like the Murray cod and the yellow belly. Trout—rainbow, brown and brook—is a naturalised species important to Australia. Trout fishing is significant to recreational activities in New South Wales, particularly the Snowy Mountains areas. We must consider and take into account how such species can be involved in a nomination of a threatening process on native species.
The Seafood Industry Council has concerns about the consultation process and the implications of this type of legislation for its industry up and down the coast, not only for pelagic species but for all kinds of molluscs, prawns, lobsters and so on. If a key threatening process is nominated it must be examined and ways must be found to get around it without taking into account the social, economic, recreational and tourism benefits. We do not oppose the bill, but place on record our concerns that these trends and the scientific committee can influence future outcomes. We must have regard to economic and fairly costly public outcomes, such as those referred to by the honourable member for Murrumbidgee—altering outflows from dams and river constructions like the Jindabyne, the Eucumbene Dam and others—to provide thermal outflows that will be less harmful, of no harm or even beneficial to native species downstream.
These objectives are all very well, but we must remember that with limited funds and resources it is very difficult. Such projects may need to be funded urgently because of this type of legislation. The consultation process on this and other Government legislation has been poor, regardless of the rhetoric. It is all very well to be provided with a raft of paperwork, but it is a problem if there is no time to understand it and consult with people. The implications of the legislation for commercial and recreational fishers elsewhere is another concern. For some time there has been a warning that fishing may become an illegal practice in areas where the bill precludes river or watercourse management. Things such as cleaning our waterways, removing snags, removing flood debris and so on that builds up beside rivers is part of the management of our natural and built environment that must be taken into account, together with all of the social and economic implications in managing and protecting our native environment.
Mr BARTLETT (Port Stephens) [11.50 a.m.]: I strongly support the proposed changes to the Fisheries Management Act 1994. This raft of changes in fisheries management in this State reflects the community's growing concern about conserving the marine environment. If time permits, I will talk about aquatic reserves and the purpose of fishing fees. In particular, I welcome the strengthening of environmental safeguards regarding aquatic reserves, which play an important role in protecting marine biodiversity and safeguarding unique or sensitive areas. They also provide unspoilt natural sites for people to visit, and offer areas for education and research.
Currently, eight aquatic reserves on the New South Wales coastline have been declared to protect habitat, and I understand that additional aquatic reserves are planned for the future. These reserves conserve a variety of important marine and estuarine habitats. In the electorate of Port Stephens, Halifax Park Aquatic Reserve is an area rich in marine life and history. Long before European settlement the local Aboriginal people, the Worimi tribe, inhabited the Port Stephens area, using its natural resources to survive. Shortly after the Second World War Halifax Park was established as Australia's first holiday park.
The honourable member for Murrumbidgee spoke about his electorate, and I would like to talk about Halifax Park , which is a unique park in my region. On Saturday 13 October 1996 I attended a celebration which honoured Geoffrey Wikner, the founder of Halifax Park in 1946. Mr Wikner was a very interesting gentleman. He designed a twin-engined light aircraft known as The Wicko, which Air Commodore Kingsford Smith had the rare distinction of last flying. It was the first aircraft designed and built in Queensland. Geoffrey Wikner moved his family to England before the war. Too old to be a combat pilot, he became a ferry pilot, delivering more than 1,000 aircraft around England during the war years. He flew 67 different types of aircraft and clocked up 525 hours in the air.
After the war Mr Wikner became homesick, and brought his family back to Australia. He bought a four-engined Halifax bomber that had flown on 51 bombing missions for 466 Australian Bomber Squadron during the war, and he renamed it Waltzing Matilda. It was the first civilian aircraft to fly to Australia after World War II, and Halifax Park was named after it. This historic park site adjoins the Halifax Park Aquatic Reserve. Since then the area has become an increasingly popular picnic and recreational spot for holiday-makers and divers. In January 1983 the Wran Government declared the area an aquatic reserve to protect its marine biodiversity. Fly Point Nature Reserve, which is looked after by a local volunteer group, fringes the coastal side of the marine park.
The aquatic reserve is located between Fly Point and Nelson Head, near the southern entrance to the port, and includes two rocky reefs separated by Little Beach. Because of the way that the water runs through that area, the lazy skindiver can jump in at Little Beach on an ingoing tide and get out of the water at Fly Point without having to swim a stroke. Likewise, the lazy person can jump in the water at Fly Point and without swimming a stroke go through the aquatic reserve and get out of the water at Little Beach. The marine environment is diverse and includes an array of steep submarine cliffs, with rocky reefs extending offshore to a sandy channel occupied by stretches of seagrass beds and sponges. Collecting is not permitted in the reserve. This applies to all marine organisms, including empty shells, which are important for growing juvenile crustaceans.
Cook Island Aquatic Reserve, on the far North Coast of New South Wales, has a high ecological significance and complexity of habitats. The area is recognised for its diversity of fish and its invertebrate fauna, including a variety of corals. The aquatic reserve is home to a number of threatened and protected species, including the grey nurse shark, estuary cod, giant Queensland groper and black cod. Importantly, the local community also has benefited from the conservation of this area, as it now supports a thriving tourist industry for people from around the State. As can be seen, aquatic reserves are very special places, providing protection for a wide variety of marine animals and plants.
One of the best ways to protect sensitive fish habitats is to create marine protected areas in areas of special environmental importance. Marine protected areas include aquatic reserves, marine parks and the marine components of national parks or nature reserves. Aquatic reserves are much more than marine parks, but are created to protect specific species or key habitats. The banning of mining and prospecting in aquatic reserves, as proposed in this bill, brings the environmental protection provided for aquatic reserves in line with those for marine parks and national parks. This additional protection reflects the Government's commitment to ensure that aquatic reserves form an integral part of the State's system of marine protected areas. It gives a consistent message of the special conservation values of those areas to the local community as well as to visitors.
I recognise, of course, that mining in the right place is essential for our community and our way of life and that it makes a significant contribution to the State's economy. However, these small areas of marine life are chosen as aquatic reserves because they are special places that need protection. Therefore, mining and associated exploration should not be permitted in those areas. It is for that reason that the banning of mining and prospecting in aquatic reserves has my wholehearted support. Co-operation in the identification of aquatic reserves ensures an appropriate resource allocation and that important habitats are protected. This unique balance achieves the best outcome for the community.
But the proposed changes go further and provide the Minister for Fisheries with a concurrent power over any developments proposed to take place within any aquatic reserve. The changes require a consenting authority to consult New South Wales Fisheries with respect to developments that might occur adjacent to land across the reserve if those developments could impact on the reserve. These are very sensible arrangements for aquatic reserves and provide protection equivalent to that already provided for marine parks. The provisions of the bill give aquatic reserves important environmental safeguards that are essential for meaningful conservation. As the Government has combined recreational fishing fees with inland fishing fees, another important provision is that to be provided by section 34AA, which deals with the purpose of fishing fees. Until now, that has not been provided in writing.
The vast majority of people are in favour of fishing fees, but they were a bit concerned about how the Government would use the money raised from those fees. Section 34AA provides that the purpose of fishing fees is to provide revenue to assist activities supported through the recreational fishing trust funds established under division 3 of part 8, including enhanced recreational fishing, carrying out research into fish and their ecosystems, managing recreational fishing, and ensuring compliance with recreational fishing regulatory controls. The message is that the money from recreational fishing fees is to be used to enhance and protect recreational fishing areas. All in all, the bill contains a raft of measures that I know the Opposition supports. These measures certainly have my support as the member for Port Stephens. I commend the bill to the House.
Mr R. W. TURNER (Orange) [11.59 a.m.]: It is a pleasure to speak to the Fisheries Management Amendment Bill. As indicated by the previous two speakers from this side of the House, the Coalition does not oppose the bill. I note that the Fisheries Scientific Committee proposes to make a recommendation to list the aquatic community of the lower Murray River drainage as an endangered ecological community. Concern has been expressed that there has not been sufficient consultation in regard to such recommendations. As is the case with most bills introduced without adequate consultation, there is considerable disquiet within the community because the relevant stakeholders have not been consulted. Some aspects of the bill are unclear and rumours have circulated.
Because of that disquiet in the community, there is considerable opposition to the bill. However, the Coalition does not oppose the bill because it has received assurances from the Minister relating to certain aspects of it. I am certain we will receive assurances relating to other aspects as the bill progresses through this House and through the Legislative Council. The Coalition is aware that there are some ecological problems in the lower Murray region, but they have been acknowledged. Steps have been taken to protect the lower Murray region without interfering with the tourist potential of the area. Recreational fishermen come from far and wide to fish in inland streams, including the streams and rivers within the Orange electorate.
Many people from Sydney and other areas spend their holidays or perhaps a long weekend in those inland areas and they bring a great deal of money into the district: They stay in local motels, or in caravans or tents by the river; they eat in local restaurants. The Opposition is anxious to ensure that the tourist potential is not only maintained, but enhanced. In his contribution the honourable member for Port Stephens referred to fishing licences. The vast majority of fishermen in inland areas have accepted the need for fishing licences. They did so initially on the proviso that the vast bulk of the licence fees would be channelled into restocking, investigating fish species and enhancing existing fish stocks—and, perhaps, the elimination of carp, which have been introduced into local rivers with catastrophic results in many instances.
As a result of publicity following the introduction of inland fishing licences, most inland fishermen and fishing clubs have found the fees reasonably acceptable. There have been media reports of the release of fingerlings of Murray cod and trout into rivers and dams, which will lead to great fishing somewhere down the track. The licence fees are certainly contributing to the release of fingerlings, but it is not uncommon to find that a fishing club has purchased and released 40,000 or 50,000 fingerlings. That all contributes to the sustainability of fish stocks in inland streams, which will in turn enhance tourism prospects for those areas. People living in inland New South Wales have experienced the impact of the Water Management Bill. They continue to be involved in the salinity debate and are aware of changes to the management of national parks. Some of the changes have been necessary, and others have been made workable as a result of input from the National Party.
The Government has recognised the need to make changes to legislation to make it more acceptable to people living to the west of the ranges. We have seen the impact on the Macquarie River and the Macquarie Marshes of additional water flowing into the marshes. Debate is continuing about the benefits of that additional water. One would hope that the benefits that have been promised will be forthcoming. There has also been ongoing debate in relation to the Lachlan catchment area. The potential to irrigate that catchment, which was provided by the Water Management Act, has had a tremendous impact on both the catchment and the Macquarie River. The Minister for Fisheries, the Hon. Eddie Obeid, has given a written commitment that this bill was not motivated by a desire to subvert the pending Land and Environment Court case against the Minister brought by the ProFish group. Item  of schedule 11 to the bill inserts a new section 34AA dealing with fishing fees. It provides:
As I mentioned earlier, those activities include enhancing recreational fishing by the release of fingerlings into the streams and dams. They also include research into fish ecosystems and the management of recreational fishing, which, as I pointed out, is important so far as tourist potential is concerned. It is also important as a recreational lifestyle for farmers and those living in the towns west of the mountains. I mentioned earlier that, for a change, many people from Sydney and coastal areas go inland to fish the inland rivers. In turn, many people who live in the western areas of New South Wales go to the coast for their holidays. They are all concerned about their continued ability to dangle a line or take the boat out and catch a fish. If the ability to do that is taken away from them, it will impact on the tourist potential of both those towns and the cities on the coast.
The purpose of fishing fees is to provide revenue to assist activities supported through the recreational fishing trust funds established under Division 3 of Part 8 …
Item  of schedule 1 to the bill amends section 218 of the Act, which relates to the provision of fishways during the construction of dams and weirs. I was not aware that some dams and weirs include devices to permit fish to travel upstream and downstream uninhibited, as they did for millions of years before we turned up. I understand that dams and weirs have been constructed with steps and tunnels to enable the fish to migrate for breeding purposes. I recall expressing amazement some years ago at the ability of eels that swim up the Hawkesbury and Nepean rivers to climb up the outside of Warragamba Dam. At certain points they actually cross the road. They climb up that sheer cliff face, into the Warragamba Dam and on to the upper reaches of the river in order to breed. Provided the cost of incorporating such devices in dams and weirs is not prohibitive, I believe it is an excellent idea.
Mistakes were made when we did not understand the habits of fish and other river life. We acknowledge the need to clean up our rivers and to maintain fish stocks. Putting fingerlings in dams and streams assists in that process and allows recreational fishers to enjoy themselves, spend a few dollars in small towns and take home a few fish to eat. Small towns have an enormous potential for tourism. Locals and tourists will be able to fish in the streams and water quality and fish stocks will be improved.
Mr HICKEY (Cessnock) [12.11 p.m.]: I support the Fisheries Management Amendment Bill. It is particularly important that the changes to the threatened species provisions related to endangered ecological communities are passed by Parliament. I am confident that the changes proposed in the bill will not only allow recreational fishing to continue in the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers if the area is listed as an endangered ecological community but will also allow any environmental issues to be effectively assessed and managed. Recreational angling is an extremely important thread in the fabric of society in regional New South Wales—speakers opposite have mentioned that—and it is particularly the case in the Murray and Murrumbidgee valleys.
Icon species such as Murray cod and Murray crayfish are symbolic of the unique environment in these rivers, and people in inland communities feel strongly about fisheries for these and other native fish species. Recreational anglers also care for the health of the rivers because they know that without healthy rivers and good habitats their angling opportunities will be limited. In a sense, it has been no surprise to anglers that the Fisheries Scientific Committee is concerned about the state of the aquatic communities in these river systems.
Anglers acknowledge the need for a return to more natural conditions that will allow the native fish and other organisms to recover. They are concerned, however, about the short-term impacts of any formal listing of the Murrumbidgee and Murrumbidgee rivers as an endangered ecological community. Recreational angling is already a highly regulated pastime. Most anglers already require a licence. Bag and size limits apply to control harvests or the catching of individual species. There is a closed season to protect spawning Murray cod, and gear limitations apply. Threatened fish species such as trout cod and Macquarie perch are totally protected. Fisheries officers regularly patrol rivers to ensure compliance with these requirements.
Regulations are reviewed regularly, and only a few years ago a review led to better controls on the capture of golden perch and silver perch, two other key inland species. I understand that another of these regular reviews is under way at present and that the ecological sustainability of our fishing practices is a major focus once again. There is also an incredible increase in the number of anglers who adopt catch and release and other conservative fishing practices. The use of illegal equipment such as gill nets and cross lines has also decreased. The inland commercial fishery has recently been closed, and that too has decreased the pressure on stocks. So anglers question how their activities could be considered to be a threat to the ecological community of these rivers. In short, the answer is that their activities are almost certainly not a threat to existing aquatic communities.
The main cause of the decline of fish species has been habitat degradation. Past fishing practices, when individuals could take large numbers of fish because bag and size limits did not exist, may have contributed to the decline. But those days are long since past, and modern freshwater recreational fishing practices are widely regarded as sustainable. However, the recreational fishers' favourite pastime is threatened because of the way the current legislation is worded. Presently, any activity that has an impact on any species within the aquatic community, no matter how small, needs to be assessed and, if appropriate, licensed. The bill rectifies each of those problems and allows an important issue to be dealt with effectively and efficiently.
The current legislation does not allow the impact of anglers to be assessed in an efficient way. Any assessment carried out would also not be particularly meaningful in that the assessment would relate to the impact of each individual and not their cumulative impact. That arrangement is just not sensible. I understand the need for the impact of the current recreational fishery to be formally assessed. The legislation requires it, and it is the right and proper thing to do. For those reasons the Government proposes a different approach. The bill puts in place a more sensible arrangement, one that will allow the activities of a class of persons to be assessed together and, if appropriate, approved together. The proposed mechanism is similar to one in place in Victoria.
Under the bill the Minister for Fisheries may put in place an order to allow an activity to continue. However, the order may be made only after a species impact statement has been prepared and assessed. A species impact statement would not be likely to be required under the normal licensing arrangements because the impact of an individual fisher would be relatively small. The ministerial order therefore provides enhanced protection. Under the new arrangements a species impact statement would be compulsory and it would assess the cumulative impact of everyone involved in the activity, not only the activities of individuals. That approach will also remove any existing requirements for all fishers to individually apply for a licence, and substitute a far more efficient mechanism.
However, when the assessment is done I am sure that the impact that anglers have on the aquatic community will be found to be small. This far more sensible approach is likely to be particularly important in regional areas. When the great social and economic benefits that angling brings to inland communities by way of tourism, retailing and so on is considered, the outcome will be that recreational angling will be able to continue much as it does now. For too long successive governments have been complacent about addressing the community's expectations, about making sure that we get the true value out of our scarce fishery resources. The community said it wanted commercial fishing practices changed, more fisheries compliance and more research, and we are delivering on those expectations.
Now we have the funds to make some decent improvements that will make sure that we have the best fishing in Australia on our doorstep. The recreational fishing community has been supportive of the new recreational fishing licence. The community's support is not hard to understand: the community stands to gain from the investment of the funds in recreational fishing. In the two months from when the new licences went on sale in March this year to 30 April, 95,189 had been sold. That is a tremendous response. It represents more than $4.1 million in licence sales. As of 6 June this year sales included 52,537 one-year licences, 11,382 three-year licences, 10,926 one-month licences, and 14,024 three-day licences.
Nearly 5,000 anglers bought their licences using the license hotline. Gold licence agents, who sell the licences without charging any commission, sold more than 56,000 licences. Funds from the licences are placed in recreational fishing trusts and used to improve recreational fishing opportunities. The bill sets out the purpose of collecting recreational fishing fees. Funds raised from anglers are placed in the Recreational Fishing Trust and expenditure from the trust is overseen by angler committees.
Some great initiatives in both freshwater and saltwater areas were funded from licence fees in the 2000-01 financial year. Some highlights were the allocation of $275,000 to increase native fish production at the Government hatcheries; $485,000 for additional fisheries officers for field operations on advisory and compliance work; $152,000 for dollar-for-dollar funding for angling clubs, councils and community groups to increase the numbers of Murray cod, golden perch and Australian bass stocked in New South Wales, $202,000 for research to assess the effectiveness of fish stocking, $196,000 for investigation and implementation of improved fish passage, one of the primary threats to native fish populations, $344,000 for identification of areas to improve recreational fishing opportunities and to better protect our marine habitat and $91,000 for marine recreational research. As I said, the bill sets out the purpose for collecting recreational fishing fees. The expenditure has been well targeted at improving recreational fishing, and the Government wants to keep it that way. I commend the bill to the House.
Mr FRASER (Coffs Harbour) [12.20 p.m.]: Far be it from me to be a cynic about this legislation but I have to be. In relation to fishing and marine parks the Government and the Minister always claim they have consulted. A large number of the amendments in the bill clearly indicate that certain sections of the community have not been consulted. For example, those in areas that have been developed or those who want to develop land anywhere near a marine park have not been consulted about the provisions in the bill. Has the mining industry been consulted?
Ms Meagher: There are sections of the community who have not been consulted, this is true.
Mr FRASER: It is true, they have not been consulted.
Ms Meagher: Nurses, taxi drivers.
Mr FRASER: But what about the mining industry? Has the Minister consulted the mining industry, because it is affected by this legislation. For example, has there been full consultation with those involved in the seafood industry? We are told that the seafood industry knew nothing about this legislation. The industry is concerned that commercial fishermen who are taking the Minister to court at the moment may be affected by this bill. The Minister has given assurances but unless they are in the legislation we cannot accept those sorts of guarantees. The honourable member for Cessnock talked about the amount of money being picked up through licence fees. How much of that money is being poured into control and regulation? I would suggest quite a bit.
Coincidentally the front page headline of this week's Coffs Harbour Advocate is "Illegal Crabbing Alleged". The story refers to a couple of fellows who slipped out into the Wooli River and put out a crab trap to get themselves a couple of mud crabs, something they have been doing for a long time. The Wooli River is now in the Solitary Islands Marine Park. Those two fellows have probably been holidaying there for a number of years. They have now been charged. The maximum penalty for individuals for illegal fishing activities is $22,000 and/or three months gaol. The Government is supposed to be the battlers' friend. I suggest members of the Australian Labor Party [ALP] look at the election results in Yamba and Maclean. Over the weekend they had their backsides kicked. That was purely because of fishing industry matters in the marine park. The bill mirrors the provisions of the Marine Parks Act in relation to development. Proposed section 197D provides:
In areas like the North Coast that are growing reasonably quickly—and in Yamba and Maclean, where people want to undertake residential development—basically every development application will have to be in accordance with the Act and, I suggest, with other Acts such as the Marine Parks Act. That places unconscionable added costs and conditions on developers and on local people who want to buy houses. That is another hoop that these people have to jump through in addition to what people in Sydney and other areas regard as the norm. If people want to build a house or subdivide land on the North Coast, they still have to jump through hoops, in addition to all the other environmental Acts that prevent them from muddying local rivers or waterways. This is another cost, and it is totally unacceptable.
In determining a development application under Part 4 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 for the carrying out of development on land that is in the locality of an aquatic reserve, the consent authority must take into consideration the objects of this Act, the permissible users of the area concerned under this Act and any advice given to it by the Director about the impact on the aquatic reserve of development in the locality.
Fish stocks in New South Wales should be preserved by taking the carrot and stick approach. Other speakers have said that in western New South Wales European carp have ruined the rivers. A number of years ago near Narrabri people were blaming chemicals used by cotton growers for killing the rivers, but it was found that the carp had basically ruined the marine environment. Instead of using the stick, would it not be better for the Government to use the carrot and encourage people to take fish that are in plentiful supply or remove the carp in the western rivers by means of a commercial operation so the habitat could be regenerated and the Murray cod, the yellow belly and those types of fish would be given the opportunity to survive naturally and increase their numbers.
I believe that has never been done. The Government has said that it will put the money generated from licence fees into research, but I do not believe that is so. I believe the money from licensing is generally going into other areas, and Parliament is not being told. It is being used to police legislation and to catch people like those fellows who are putting in a couple of crab traps and who could be fined $22,000. If we knew a little more about fisheries, we would not have lock-outs such as the one at the Solitary Islands Marine Park. That area was progressing well under the previous marine reserve legislation, but now there is only a lack of consultation. User groups have not been consulted and there are lock-outs and increased fines.
The legislation that came before the House earlier this year substantially increased fines. The area I have been speaking about is not well signposted for tourists and they will not know that crab traps are not allowed. They could be fined $22,000 or gaoled for three months. That is lunacy. Let us try to preserve and protect these areas, but let us not get to a stage where we cannot utilise the waterways in the way we have been used to doing. Let us get the research done; let us look at bag limits and fish sizes. To tell people they cannot take a mud crab out of the Wooli River is lunacy. There would be thousands of mud crabs in the Wooli River. Other species in the Wooli River may need to be protected but it is not necessary to make it a sanctuary and lock everyone out. The village is full of people who retired there for the fishing and 29 per cent of tourism on the North Coast is because of the fishing that is available there.
Because of legislation introduced by the Government the North Coast is at risk of losing $80 million a year in tourism revenue. While I support the legislation, I make this plea to the Minister: go back and consult more fully with the people and with the industries that will be affected. I understand the need to bring in this legislation prior to Christmas, because of Victorian legislation and other matters that need to be addressed, but I ask the Minister to give some assurance that he will talk to people and not adopt an arbitrary attitude, or a lock-up mentality, across the board.
Mr THOMPSON (Rockdale) [12.31 p.m.]: Unfortunately, the honourable member for Coffs Harbour has got it wrong again, particularly with regard to his claim that there has been a lack of consultation. The Government has consulted quite extensively with all the various stakeholders. In August last year substantial detail was provided to both the New South Wales Minerals Council and representatives of the commercial fishing industry. Contrary to the misleading comments of the honourable member for Coffs Harbour, the commercial fishing industry lobby group, ProFish, had an opportunity to comment on this bill through its senior representative, Mr Graham Byrnes. The assertion of the honourable member for Coffs Harbour is totally without foundation.
I am pleased to speak in support of the bill, which will impact positively on my electorate, which encompasses nearly all of Botany Bay and the lower reaches of the Georges and Cooks rivers, including Kogarah Bay. The bill will strengthen provisions for aquatic reserves outlined in the Fisheries Management Act which, in turn, will strengthen protection for marine organisms that live near the shore. Large numbers of fish and animals on the seashore around Sydney are being collected for food and bait. Those fish and animals are most susceptible to the impact of our population, because they live so close to human activity. That is one good reason why I support the proposed changes to the Act.
I welcome stronger protection for aquatic reserves. Before I elaborate on that aspect, I will mention a problem that has arisen in my electorate. Earlier this year the Ramsgate-Sans Souci Branch of the Australian Labor Party raised with me its concerns about the apparent organised and systematic pillage of shellfish from Kogarah Bay and Botany Bay, and I wrote to the Minister for Fisheries drawing the matter to his attention. My letter stated:
Unlike the honourable member for Coffs Harbour, I support to the hilt the implementation of the law relating to fisheries and, indeed, the prosecution of people found to be acting illegally. On 14 June the Minister responded. The relevant part of his letter stated:
It appears that a certain group (or groups) of people are organised in such a manner as to work virtually non-stop, in teams, throughout the day and night to harvest the molluscs. It is uncertain whether individuals respect bag limits or discriminate between species, however the overall effect on sea life must be catastrophic …
Given the level of concern about this matter in our local community it would be appreciated if it could be investigated as a matter of urgency so that any breaches of the law can be identified and remedial action taken.
That letter contained great news not only for myself and the Ramsgate-Sans Souci Branch of the Australian Labor Party but also for the local people who shared our concerns. I am pleased that the bill proposes changes that will make the management of aquatic reserves consistent with the management of marine parks. Aquatic reserves help to safeguard unique or sensitive areas. They complement larger marine parks to help protect all habitats and marine species. Towra Point Aquatic Reserve is located in the southern part of my electorate and is one of the most popular fishing spots in Botany Bay. It is a magnificent haven and is very close to the city. The reserve is the largest in New South Wales. At 333 hectares it is four times the size of the next biggest reserve, Julian Rocks Aquatic Reserve at Byron Bay.
My department, NSW Fisheries, has undertaken considerable compliance activity in the area and issued several cautions and infringement notices to people collecting in excess of the bag limit. My department has also commenced prosecution action against an offender. Despite this the heavy level of cockle harvesting is continuing.
I am advised that present harvesting levels are unlikely to be sustainable within Kogarah Bay. Additionally, the methods sometimes employed to harvest cockles can damage seagrass beds. I am also advised that local residents and Kogarah Council are concerned about the vulnerability of shellfish to over exploitation around the Kogarah Bay area.
I consulted with my Advisory Council on Recreational fishing in relation to implementing a closure, and the members generally supported the proposal. As a result, I am implementing a two year closure to restrict the collection of pipis, cockles and whelks in Kogarah Bay. Several signs have already been installed to advise the public of the ban and more signs will be placed around the Kogarah Bay area.
Scientists are particularly interested in the aquatic reserve at Towra Point because over 230 fish species have been recorded there. The area is so biodiverse because of the abundant fish habitats, particularly the nursery habitats that are found there. Its salt marshes, mangroves and seagrasses are the most extensive in the Sydney region. The seagrass habitats provide food and shelter for fish, and the water is also clearer where the seagrasses and marshes grow. The seagrasses provide an important nursery for many juvenile fish and invertebrate species including snapper and prawns. The internationally recognised Towra International Wetlands are formed by the Towra Point Aquatic Reserve together with the Towra Point Nature Reserve.
A wide variety of migratory wading birds have made their homes in these wetlands, some of which travel more than 12,000 kilometres to get to Towra Point. Birds from as far away as Siberia, Japan and China travel to feed on the intertidal flats. Australia has signed international agreements for the protection of those birds, which include the endangered golden plover and the little tern. Some of the species also visit a part of my electorate in the Arncliffe area known as the Eve Street Wetlands. I am indebted to local resident and activist Ron Rayner and also Dr Paul Adam, who have assisted me over the years to gain a better understanding of the critical importance of the wetlands.
Towra Point Aquatic Reserve is divided into two main areas, a sanctuary zone and a refuge zone. Fishing is allowed only in the refuge zone and the anglers fish year round from the shore and from boats. Mainly they catch bream, whiting and flathead, but it is possible to catch a good number of blue swimmer crabs. In February this year, 161 of the world's leading marine scientists released a statement in which they said that sanctuaries result in long-lasting and often rapid increases in the number, diversity and productivity of marine organisms. Currently, we have eight aquatic reserves to protect sensitive fish habitats and more are planned. Those areas provide unspoiled natural places for people to visit and enjoy. They also provide examples of aquatic habitats for education and further research.
Towra Point Aquatic Reserve is next to the Botany Bay National Park, a very popular picnic spot in summer. It makes good sense to operate those reserves under rules similar to those that apply in marine parks and those that have applied consistency between different categories of marine protected areas. The provisions of the bill give aquatic reserves important environmental safeguards that are essential for meaningful conservation. This will ensure that such natural treasures remain for everyone to enjoy. The bill will update other fisheries legislation to allow it deal with the complex management of this dynamic resource. Through the Fisheries Management Act 1997 the Carr Labor Government legislated to give first priority to conservation goals.
The old-style, short-term approach to fisheries management has gone forever, because of this Government's policies and actions. We are about managing our fisheries in a way that provides long-term social, economic and environmental benefits for the wider community of New South Wales. One such decision of this Government, closely allied to this legislation, is the creation of the State's first recreational fishing havens. Up to $10 million will be spent buying out commercial fishers from Botany Bay and Lake Macquarie; about 100 licences will be bought out under that scheme.
Prior to its introduction, the scheme was widely advertised and broad community consultation was held in relation to it. I understand that the first buyouts will start in May 2002. While the scheme will result in a number of commercial licences being bought out, it will bring a new era to recreational fishing, a very popular pastime throughout New South Wales, and especially in my electorate. The fact that Botany Bay is to be exclusively a recreational fishing area will mean even greater opportunity for my constituents in particular and for visitors to our beautiful area in general. I have great pleasure in commending this bill to the House.
Mr CAMPBELL (Keira) [12.39 p.m.]: I support the Fisheries Management Amendment Bill. I note the earlier contribution of my good friend the honourable member for Coffs Harbour in which he seemed to be supporting and encouraging illegal fishing activities. He quoted a newspaper and complained that it was wrong that charges had been laid against people who breached the legislation. I am disappointed to hear that a member of this House might promote illegal activities in that way. I shall confine my comments to aspects of the bill that arise from item  of schedule 1. New section 34AA, which states the purpose of fishing fees, provides:
The purpose of fishing fees is to provide revenue to assist activities supported through the recreational fishing trust funds established under Division 3 of Part 8, including the following:
(a) enhancing recreational fishing,
(b) carrying out research into fish and their ecosystems,
(c) managing recreational fishing,
(d) ensuring compliance with recreational fishing regulatory controls.
In this International Year of Volunteers any opportunity to expand volunteer programs must commend itself to us. The proposed amendments to the Fisheries Management Act make this sort of opportunity possible by defining the reason for collecting funds from the recreational fishing fee. The proposed amendments make it clearer that these funds are to be used to manage and enhance recreational fishing. When the Government expanded the recreational fishing fee into saltwater areas earlier this year it also increased the funds available to run the Fish Care Volunteer program. This program is a classic example of how a community-based program can enhance recreational fishing.
The volunteers commit to spend one day a month advising anglers in a community-based education program. They mingle among fishers, dispensing educational leaflets and stickers, and talk with anglers about fishing laws and fishing rules. They conduct catch surveys, assist in fishing clinics and fishing community events, and also assist in the training of new fish care volunteers. As a result of this work, the whole recreational fishing community will benefit from more educated anglers. But more than that, fish care volunteers work as ambassadors for fish.
The volunteers are trained in issues such as fish biology, species identification and the need to conserve our stocks and protect key habitats. They also learn about the values of sustainable recreational fishing practices. The volunteers receive specialised training in fishing laws and attend communication skills workshops, where they are trained by professionals. The volunteers use this information and these skills to teach people in the community about fish habitats, catch and release methods, and the value of sustainable fishing. Not only do the volunteers carry out this very important role for fish habitats; they are also learning skills that I am sure are of value to them as individual members of our community.
Thanks to funds from the recreational fishing fee, it is anticipated that by mid-2002 the program will expand across the whole of the State, including coastal areas. Currently, about 68 volunteers are working in inland New South Wales. This number is set to expand quickly because more than $500,000 from the recreational fishing fee will be spent to expand the volunteer program into coastal New South Wales. Another $300,000 will go towards expanding the program in inland areas such as Dubbo. By next year the program is expected to have about 200 volunteers. That will be a significant community effort by people who want to be valuable citizens in our community.
The response to the Government's call for fish care volunteers for Botany Bay was overwhelming, and a number of people are on the waiting list for the next stage of the program. Clearly, people are keen to be fish care volunteers. Fish care volunteers come from all walks of life: male and female, young and old, unemployed and retired. They are equipped with clear identification and outfitted with a fish care hat, T-shirt and backpack that contains all the documents they need to do their job. These volunteers do not have any enforcement powers. It is important to note that they are educating and encouraging people, not enforcing any aspects of the legislation. These programs strengthen community networks. They mean that we can rely more on community care to protect fisheries resources and depend less on government regulations to achieve sustainable resource management.
The provisions in this bill safeguard the recreational fishing fee funds, clearly stating that they are being collected to provide revenue for improving recreational fishing opportunities and programs like the fish care volunteer program. These safeguards relating to the introduction of the recreational fishing fee to the saltwater areas of the State were important to fisheries. The Government and the Minister gave commitments about the use of the fee, and those commitments are further safeguarded by this bill. I am happy to support the safeguards and to highlight them in this debate. It is important to emphasise that the Government is responding to community consultation and community concerns, and reinforcing those issues. For those reasons I commend the bill to the House.
Mr ORKOPOULOS (Swansea) [12.45 p.m.]: I support the changes to the Fisheries Management Act. The bill will improve the clarity of the Act and enable it to be implemented more effectively and transparently. For example, the activities on which recreational fishing fees may be expended are prescribed in new section 34AA, which provides:
The purpose of fishing fees is to provide revenue to assist activities supported through the recreational fishing trust funds established under Division 3 of Part 8, including the following:
(a) enhancing recreational fishing,
(b) carrying out research into fish and their ecosystems,
(c) managing recreational fishing,
(d) ensuring compliance with recreational fishing regulatory controls.
The new recreational fishing fee, introduced earlier this year, provides significant social and economic benefits not only for recreational fishers but also for the whole community in New South Wales. Lake Macquarie is evidence of the State Government's commitment to conservation, recreational fishers and regional communities, and is a terrific example of the purpose and benefits of the fishing fee. I earnestly commend Minister Obeid for his courage to put into place far-sighted reforms into fisheries management in the State, which I believe places this State at the forefront of fisheries management in Australia and in our region.
Lake Macquarie is a special and important waterway, with its 110 square kilometres of area which is fringed with vital fish habitats such as mangroves, wetlands and seagrass beds. This important mix of habitat has been identified as supporting more than 280 species of fish, along with many other imperative organisms that come together to form a complete aquatic ecosystem. The recent discovery of the invasive seaweed caulerpa taxifolia in the lake is a threat to our valued seagrasses—a threat that the State Government is taking seriously. The Minister quite properly declared caulerpa taxifolia noxious marine vegetation from 1 October 2000 under the emergency declaration provisions of section 209 (4) of the Fisheries Management Act 1994. This declaration has now been confirmed in regulation. Accordingly, it is now an offence to possess this algae in coastal waters or to sell it within New South Wales.
The control of caulerpa taxifolia is being addressed to ensure that the habitat of Lake Macquarie is not degraded. Outbreaks of the algae have been sighted around parts of Pulbah Island and isolated patches in the southern portion of Lake Macquarie. I am particularly appreciative of the efforts of the Department of Fisheries which, in conjunction with the Lake Macquarie caulerpa working group chaired by Ken Winning, is working to deal comprehensively with this invasive and destructive weed infestation. Currently, trials are under way to test whether smothering the weed is a viable method of eradication. In addition, there has been an extensive community campaign to educate the community about this pest. Warning signs have been erected near waters where the weed has been found, brochures have been issued on how to stop the spread of the weed, and community meetings have been held in relation to it. That is how seriously this Minister and the Government take the threat to our waterways.
For some time now the Government has also been taking action on environmental issues relating to Lake Macquarie. In 1998 a task force was established to identify and address issues needing particular attention to ensure the wellbeing of the lake and the local community. The Lake Macquarie task force looked at resolving the conflict between commercial and recreational fishing in the lake as well as the impacts of increased urban development. The task force identified the removal of commercial fishing as a benefit to the area but, unfortunately, this was not possible at the time as there was no funding to buy out the commercial fishing effort.
The recreational fishing fee has changed all this. It has paved the way for important initiatives that will benefit our aquatic resources, recreational fishers and regional communities. This is good news for the environment and it will mean jobs for the region. One of the purposes of the bill is to enhance recreational fishing. The announcement of a recreational fishing area in Lake Macquarie is captured within this purpose. Lake Macquarie is appreciated by close to 200,000 recreational anglers a year, and this translates to a significant economic benefit for the area. This volume of angling activity identifies the area as an important location for recreation. Reserving Lake Macquarie for recreational fishing will ensure that future generations have an opportunity to appreciate it for this purpose as well.
Expenditure associated with recreational fishing in Lake Macquarie has been put in the range of $12 million to $24 million. This means recreational fishing plays a significant part in the local economy. In contrast, based on the 1997-98 catch statistics, the commercial fishery for the area takes around 300 tonnes of fish with an approximate value of $1 million per annum. This commercial catch is only around 1.5 per cent of the total commercial catch in New South Wales and 1 per cent of the total value of commercial fishing in New South Wales.
In the community consultation process undertaken earlier this year relating to the creation of a recreational fishing area for Lake Macquarie more than 356 submissions were received, and 60 per cent of those submissions were supportive of declaring the lake a recreational fishing haven. Clearly, there is strong community desire and support for improved recreational fishing in Lake Macquarie. The community also realises the economic benefits of declaring Lake Macquarie a recreational fishing haven. Enhancing conservation through the removal of disturbing and efficient commercial fishing such as hauling and meshing, and increasing job opportunities through recreational fishing, are both extremely important considerations for the Lake Macquarie area and its 190,000 residents.
Commercial fishers whose businesses are subject to the buyback scheme as part of the declaration of Lake Macquarie as the recreational fishing haven will be fairly compensated through the recreational fishing fee. Everyone is being looked after in this process. It is fantastic for Lake Macquarie that the Government has shown such vision in this region in recognising the value of recreational fishing to our community. At the same time the Government has taken the necessary steps to improve the worth of Lake Macquarie, while accommodating conservation of our aquatic resources and taking care of commercial fishing families. This bill will ensure a win-win situation for everyone and for the aquatic resources of the area. I again congratulate the Minister and commend the bill to the House.
Mr WHELAN (Strathfield—Minister for Police), on behalf of Mr Woods [12.53 p.m.], in reply: On behalf of the Minister I take this opportunity to thank honourable members for their contributions to the debate. Honourable members would be aware that this bill is the province of the Minister for Fisheries, the Hon. Eddie Obeid, who is a member of the Legislative Council. I have received an assurance from the Minister that he will consider the matters raised by members in this debate and that, where necessary, he will provide responses to their concerns.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.