Reporter: Matthew Carney

Lateline can exclusively reveal the full extent of a conflict of interest involving the super trawler Margiris and the government committee that decided the amount it could haul from Australian waters.


TONY JONES, PRESENTER: The controversial super trawler Margiris has finally arrived in Australian waters and is expected to dock tomorrow morning in Port Lincoln, South Australia.

Lateline can reveal the full extent of an apparent conflict of interest involving the supertrawler’s fish quotas. One of the owners is also a member of a government advisory panel that recommended the quotas.

And an independent analyst who reviewed the science that was the basis for the quotas claims the study is fundamentally flawed.

Matthew Carney with this report.

MATTHEW CARNEY, REPORTER: The Margiris is twice the size of any vessel ever to fish in Australian waters. The super trawler has come to Australia to catch more than 18,000 tonnes of small pelagic fish like blue mackerel, jack mackerel and red bait. But this super trawler could be stopped before it even starts its massive operation.

ANDREW WILKIE, INDEPENDENT MP: What we have now effectively is a quota that has been unlawfully determined ultimately at this point in the process. Frankly, it’s not worth the paper it’s written on.

MATTHEW CARNEY: Gerry Geen is part owner of the Margiris in Australian waters and is also a member of a government advisory panel that recommended the quota for the super trawler.

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie says that Mr Geen was improperly allowed to remain at a meeting on March 26th where the quotas were finalised.

ANDREW WILKIE: The Fisheries Administration Act requires that he should’ve then left that teleconference or the committee should’ve very deliberately given him approval to remain a participant or at least an observer in that teleconference and there is no evidence that the committee gave him that sort of approval. And when I’ve challenged the Fisheries Management Authority on this, they say, well, they don’t actually take the Act literally, that they’ve developed some sort of in-house workaround arrangement and that’s fine by them, but, I mean, this calls into question really not just the quota relevant to the super trawler, but the whole way the Fisheries Management Authority goes about its business.

MATTHEW CARNEY: In a written reply to Mr Wilkie, AFMA, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, did confirm that Mr Geen was present in the meeting.

AFMA LETTER (male voiceover): “Given the expertise-based nature of the membership it is axiomatic that such a literal reading of these sections could preclude almost all members from most decisions. For the meeting of 26 March 2012, the SEMAC Chair asked Mr Geen to respond to questions from the other members during the discussion regarding total allowable catches. …”

MATTHEW CARNEY: Mr Wilkie says members from another key AFMA committee that fed information into the quota decision have claimed their concerns were not represented or recorded.

ANDREW WILKIE: So, you’ve got to join all the dots and put it all in context. Not only do you have the proponent for the super trawler as a member of both committees, you’ve got other members of these committees who are saying their interests are not being represented. So clearly, there’s a very, very strong case here that AFMA is skewing this in favour of the proponent for the super trawler.

MATTHEW CARNEY: AFMA declined to be interviewed, but in a written response said:

AFMA LETTER (male voiceover): “AFMA is confident that the total allowable catch limits have been lawfully made by the AFMA Commission. The AFMA Commission is an independent and expert group.”

MATTHEW CARNEY: The Commonwealth Ombudsman though is investigating the process that AFMA used to decide quotas for the Margiris.

ANDREW WILKIE: So either that’s the end of the matter and the boat turns around and goes back to Europe, or AFMA goes through its processes again and this time gets it right, this time acts lawfully and complies with the Act.

MATTHEW CARNEY: But there’s more questions about the integrity of the quota process at AFMA and it involves Mr Gerry Geen again, part owner of the Margiris. This letter obtained by Lateline shows that Mr Geen’s company, Seafish Tasmania, tried to get the quota for jack mackerel doubled to 10,000 tonnes. It’s believed to break even, the Margiris needs to process a total of 15,000 tonnes of pelagic fish.

SEAFISH TASMANIA LETTER (male voiceover): “… the resulting increase in the jack mackerel east total allowable catch would be sufficient to support the proposed operation of a freezer trawler by Seafish Tasmania. …”

ANDREW WADSLEY, AUSTRALIAN RISK AUDIT: That quota has been increased apparently for research purposes. Seafish Tasmania have put in a research program. But I have to admit, it looks very much like a Japanese whaling expedition.

MATTHEW CARNEY: In a written response, Gerry Geen says he has acted lawfully and declared all his interests to AFMA and:

GERRY GEEN LETTER (male voiceover): “Seafish is not concerned about the Ombudsman’s scrutiny of the matter. We believe it is an administrative matter between the Ombudsman and AFMA.”

MATTHEW CARNEY: Now independent analyst Professor Andrew Wadsley says the original research that underpinned the jack mackerel quota is flawed and out of date.

ANDREW WADSLEY: Their research is based on data 10 years old, based on 2002 data. It was – the original research was not for jack mackerel, it was for blue mackerel. So, looking at jack mackerel, there’s a very small number of data points, it’s extremely hard to come up with a reliable estimate. In fact the IMF’s report says that their 140,000 tonnes should be treated with due precaution; it was only a preliminary estimate.

MATTHEW CARNEY: Professor Wadsley has come up with very different numbers.

ANDREW WADSLEY: My estimate: 47,000 tonnes is actually consistent with all other estimates of spawning mass for jack mackerel around the world, all the figures I could come up with. Their estimate of 140,000 tonnes actually is about three times all the world’s estimates.

MATTHEW CARNEY: AFMA says the science is solid and points to a supporting background paper completed by six senior fishery experts that concludes the quotas are more conservative than best global practice for the species.

Matthew Carney, Lateline.

Lateline here, with video

Yesterday on Tasmanian Times: Margiris: UTAS VC must investigate. Updated analysis. Kim Booth: Fresh questions. SA bound?

Senator for Tasmania
Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries and Forestry
Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Innovation, Industry and Science

31 August 2012

Letter to the Editor

The entry of Dr Andrew Wadsley into the debate about the FV Margiris has been spectacular,
in the same way a sideshow magician is spectacular. It has been an exercise of distraction
over reality.

He has categorically stated that the good work contained in a report by seven eminent marine
scientists is baffling. That he can’t replicate the results.

In reality he can’t replicate the results because he is using a different method to that used by
the authors of this work. Why didn’t he give the professional courtesy of a simple phone call
before dashing off to the media and trashing reputations?

These numbers so confidently questioned by Dr Wadsley have been verified by the Institute
for Marine and Antarctic Studies, and peer reviewed by the South Australian Research and
Development Institute.

Dr Wadsley is without doubt an excellent scientist in the areas of coal and gas field planning,
mathematics and software development. One wonders if he has become disoriented here
because he’s out of his field.

Australia’s chief scientist Ian Chubb summed it up this way: “Do you consult your dentist about
your heart condition? I think that is a fair comment. Scientists can comment on science. That is
true. But experts comment at some depth and with some extra knowledge. That is truer.”

I was misrepresented by Dr Wadsley in another of his opinion pieces this week. This piece
indicates that I believe this paper that I’ve defended is whipping the public into a frenzy. Wrong
again. It is the actions of Tasmanian Greens Kim Booth and Paul O’Halloran that have
whipped the community into a frenzy on the Margiris issue.

You’ll find more background here from Professor Colin Buxton, the lead author on the report I
referenced earlier:

Yours Sincerely,
Richard Colbeck


Kim Booth MP
Greens Primary Industries spokesperson
Friday, 31 August 2012

The Tasmanian Greens are calling for a State Parliamentary inquiry into the science and approval processes surrounding the FV Margiris, including the decision by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority to double the Total Allowable Catch for the Small Pelagic Fishery.

Greens Primary Industries spokesperson Kim Booth MP said there were mounting concerns about the age of the fisheries data and methodology used to justify the Margiris’ operations.

Mr Booth tabled a motion in State Parliament this week, to establish a Select Committee to inquire into the proposed super trawler operation.

“An inquiry would provide for a process to enable the Parliament to get to the bottom of the issue, and to test any allegations regarding conflicts of interest, localised depletion impacts and the science,” Mr Booth said.

“It’s imperative that Parliament is able to obtain all relevant documents and scrutinise all the players involved.”

“There remain widespread concerns that the super trawler would lead to localised depletion, by-catch and long-term ecosystem impacts caused by removing large quantities of bait fish from the food chain.”

“Recent analysis undertaken by mathematician Dr Andrew Wadsley has disputed key scientific findings used to justify the recent increase in the quota for fish species targeted by the FV Margiris and claims that the biomass stock of jack mackerel is 47,000 tonnes and not the 140,000 tonnes.”

“Ocean fish stocks are too precious to lose and, as Members of Parliament, it is our duty as elected members to get to the bottom of this.”

Mr Booth said the inquiry, if successful, would investigate aspects of the proposed FV Margiris operation including:

• Scientific evidence and findings available, methodology undertaken and
• Concerns over local depletion of fish stocks
• Effectiveness of the regulatory regime
• Impacts on local recreational and commercial fisheries
• Impacts upon marine ecosystems
• Any other matter incidental

Text of Motion tabled by Kim Booth

That this House notes:

1. That on the 22nd August 2012 tripartite support was given in Tasmania’s House of Assembly for a letter to be written to Federal Minister for Fisheries Senator Ludwig to advice him that the House will not support the operation of the FV Margiris in Australian waters until the Parliament can be satisfied that the vessel and proposed harvest strategy will not adversely impact on the recreational fishery;

2. And further, the House of Assembly recognised the need for a balanced approach between the needs of a sustainable commercial fishing industry, access for recreational fishers and appropriate marine conservation outcomes when considering approval for the FV Margiris;

3. There remains widespread and growing public concern that the super trawler would lead to:

a. Localised depletion;

b. By-catch;

c. Long-term ecosystem impacts from removing large quantities of key species from the food chain; and

d. the questions whether due process has been followed by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority.

4. That since the passing of the amended motion with tripartite support further information has come to the public light that raises still more concern including:

a) analysis undertaken by mathematician Dr Andrew Wadsley which disputes key scientific findings used to justify the recent increase in the quota for fish species targeted by the FV Margiris and claims that the biomass stock of jack mackerel is 47,000 tonnes and not the 140,000 tonnes;

b) a CSIRO report released by TARFish that notes the existence of a resident winter population of jack mackerel on the east coast of Tasmania.

5. And further that this House agrees to establishes a Select Committee to investigate aspects of the proposed FV Margiris operation including;

a) Scientific evidence and findings available, methodology undertaken and

b) Concerns over local depletion of fish stocks

c) Effectiveness of the regulatory regime;

d) Impacts on local recreational and commercial fisheries

e) Impacts upon marine ecosystems

f) Any other matter incidental

6. The Committee shall consist of five Members, being: two from Labor nominated by the Leader of the House; two from the Opposition nominated by the Leader of Opposition; and one from the Tasmanian Greens nominated by the Leader of the Greens.

7. The Committee is to report by the 22 November 2012.

Seafish Tasmania: Dear Sid Sidebottom