The Stop the Trawler Alliance today expressed disgust at learning the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) have withheld important information from the Australian public about the controversial Geelong Star incident where a whale shark was caught.
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.”
Late yesterday, AFMA released a statement on their website (24th February) 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.” No mention was made of how long the whale shark was entangled in the Geelong Star’s net or how long it took to get the giant fish on board.
“AFMA has clearly been withholding important information from the Australian public about the super trawler Geelong Star’s catching of a highly protected whale shark. They have specifically downplayed the level and intensity of the interaction and initially didn’t even admit that the protected species was lifted onto the trawler’s deck,” said Rebecca Hubbard, Environment Tasmania.
“Initial reports from crew members alerted us to the fact that the whale shark was dragged on board with a crane, however AFMA specifically avoided these reports and did not admit to this intense part of the interaction until yesterday. Why do they feel so compelled to protect the Geelong Star operators from proper public scrutiny?” asked Ms Hubbard.
“The AFMA account of events appears to conflict with a statement made on social media by the PR group for the Geelong Star’s owners that the whale shark come alongside the net and the vessel maneuvered away and the whale shark swam off unharmed,” said Josh Coates of Australian Marine Conservation Society.
AFMA is refusing to release the full video footage of the interaction that could allay community concerns, citing that it is ‘commercial in confidence’.
“What is commercial in confidence about footage showing the capture of a highly protected whale shark? The public’s confidence in AFMA is now at stake. They must make publicly available the full, unedited footage of this and all protected species interactions with the Geelong Star,” concluded Mr Coates.
“AFMA claimed that the large size of the Australian Small Pelagic Fishery meant that the industrial trawlers would not limit their impacts to local areas. However, just before Christmas, AFMA showed recreational fishers a map that actually focused the industrial trawling to our shelf waters. Since then, the super trawler Geelong Star has been hammering the south coast of NSW during the peak game fishing period, and recreational fishers have lost faith in AFMA being able to address localized depletion in our fishery,” said Nobby Clark, Game Fishing Tasmania Sports Fishing Club.
“Our fishing industry and fisheries management does not deserve to have its reputation continue to be tarnished with this kind of scandal. It’s clear that AFMA is withholding information from the Australian public about this destructive super trawler operation, and it’s past time that the Turnbull Government step in and permanently ban these monster trawlers from the Small Pelagic Fishery,” concluded Ms Hubbard.