The Stop the Trawler Alliance have received troubling images from an informant who claims to be a crew member of the Geelong Star, who for the first time, is leaking to the public images of a whale shark which has been at the centre of a Freedom of Information battle with government since March.
The images show a shark hanging from its tail and slumped on the back deck of the vessel. Stop the Trawler Coordinator, Rebecca Hubbard, says the leaked images dramatically increase the pressure on Government to release footage of the Geelong Star’s treatment of the protected animal, which has created uproar ever since government, industry and crew made conflicting claims about the whale sharks survival in February.
“It’s time for the government to come clean and release the footage of the whale shark incident” Ms Hubbard said. “The public wants the truth; releasing the actual evidence is the only way the Government can put this controversy to bed and restore public confidence in management of our fisheries.”
“This type of leak - showing a possibly dead whale shark strung up by its tail – reignite concerns that the Australian Fisheries Management Authority haven’t revealed the whole truth about the monster trawlers treatment of protected species. There is no way the government can in all honesty now repeat that it isn’t in the public interest to release video footage of what actually happened,” Ms Hubbard said.
“Recreational fishers are sick to death of government refusing to release the evidence of the super trawler’s fishing practices,” said Nobby Clark, Game Fish Tasmania Sports Fishing Club “If they have nothing to hide, if they haven’t breached their shark handling protocol, then why the hell are they so scared to release the footage and why are we reliant on leaked, blurry images to get to the truth” Clark said.
The Stop the Trawler Alliance, together with Environment Tasmania, is in the midst of a Freedom of Information request and currently challenging the Australian Fisheries Management Authority’s assessment that the release of the footage of the whale shark incident is not in the public interest.
“These images reveal just how much damage the Geelong Star might be doing to our large protected sharks and mammals, and redouble our concern with the Liberal Government’s support for the monster trawler Geelong Star’s operations.
“The story of the trawling of a highly protected whale shark has been the focus of public debate and dispute ever since it occurred off the NSW south coast over four months ago. The industry, crew member and AFMA reports all contrast, and clearly the simplest and quickest way to clear up what happened is to release the footage of the incident. But the Government continues to suggest that releasing the truth is somehow not in the public interest.”
“The only evidence that the Australian public will trust is if AFMA release the full, unedited footage of the Geelong Star’s whale shark incident. And the Liberal National Coalition must answer to why it continues to support the operations of this super trawler when it is so clearly mired in controversy and threatens recreational fishing, our marine life and local industries,” concluded Ms Hubbard.
Series of events in the whale shark scandal
Crew members of the Geelong Star initially leaked the news that a whale shark had been caught by the super trawler, even though there had been no immediate public reporting of the incident. The PR group for the Geelong Star’s owners tried to cover up the incident by making a false statement on social media that “the whale shark come alongside the net and the vessel maneuvered away and the whale shark swam off unharmed”.
AFMA initially assured the public on 19th February that the Geelong Star’s interaction only involved “a whale shark ran into the outside of the net and became caught by two of its fins… The whale shark was subsequently freed from the net and swam away without difficulty. No injuries to the animal were observed.”
On 24th February AFMA released a statement on their website reporting that “video footage shows that the whale shark spent no more than four minutes out of the water. That is, the time from the animal being brought onto the boat, freed and being released back into the water was estimated to be 3min 35sec.”
Environment Tasmania submitted a Freedom of Information request for all documents and footage relating to protected species interactions with the Geelong Star on 10th March, to which AFMA responded it would cost $33,867.50 to provide. Environment Tasmania subsequently reduced our Freedom of Information request to footage, data and correspondence specifically relating to the whale shark incident on 25th May, and were informed on 17th June by AFMA that they did not believe this was in the public interest and would not waive the re-assessed fee of $1080.50.
The Government has also informed Environment Tasmania that the owners of the Geelong Star will have an opportunity to block the release of the footage as it is deemed “commercial in confidence”.