FOI Documents Reveal Independent Chair Resigns Because Of Concerns About Undue Influence by Super Trawler Director
The operator of the freezer factory trawler Geelong Star continues to damage the reputation of Australian fisheries, with documents received under Freedom of Information revealing that the Independent Chair of one of AFMA’s governing bodies believes the super trawler operator has an unacceptable pecuniary interest and influence on fishery management advice.
The independent Chair of a committee that provides advice on the catch for the controversial super trawler Geelong Star apparently resigned over her concerns about the way the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) was dealing with conflicts of interest issues in its own committee.
New South Wales academic Dr Kirsten Davies stated in a just released document that she believed that one member was "... in a perpetual state of pecuniary conflict and it is not in AFMAs nor the fishery’s best interests for him to continue to be involved in the RAGs advisory role and processes. While the RAG provides advice to SEMAC and AFMA and does not make decisions, his involvement could be ‘perceived’ to be influencing decision making. This situation, in my view, leaves AFMA potentially exposed in terms of transparent management processes and broader public perceptions."
“Documents obtained using FOI by the Stop the Trawler Alliance explain why an independent Chair of the Small Pelagic Fishery Resource Assessment Group (SPFRAG) felt she had to resign. These documents seem to show that Dr Davies felt she had to resign because AFMA was not prepared to work with her to deal with the conflicts of interests in committee members,” said Rebecca Hubbard from Environment Tasmania.
"It's not every day that a chair of a government committee feels the need to resign over a difference of opinion on conflict of interest with the agency that she's working for. This is really extraordinary,” said Jon Bryan from the Tasmanian Conservation Trust. “We are unware of another independent chair of a Government fishery management committee resigning because of concerns about conflicts of interest.”
Concerns about conflicts of interest have been associated with the SPF for years. In 2012 the Commonwealth Ombudsman found AFMA breached the Fisheries Act in setting the quota for the super trawler Margiris.
"As a member of SPFRAG I have raised concerns about conflicts of interest with AFMA numerous times, with no useful response from AFMA", said Jon Bryan. "I don't think enough has been done by AFMA to deal with this problem".
"There is a real and ongoing problem with the administration of the fishery that supports the Geelong Star, the credibility of AFMA, and the Abbott Government’s oversight of this Government Authority", said Ms Hubbard.
"The only way the Geelong Star can afford to operate is because of big increases in catch that were approved by AFMA and now appear to be tainted by conflicts of interest. It is time for all of these decisions to be reassessed.”