The Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) hit the Ombudsman over the findings that the agency broke the law by failing to exclude a controversial super trawler operator from an advisers'meeting that made fish quota decision which benefitted the trawler.
The committee recommended increasing the allowable catch to 10,600 tonnes from 5,000 tonnes.
In a weekend statement, AFMA said the meeting which led to the doubling of the total allowable catch for jack mackerel was legally made by a committee, partly based on the advice of Gerry Geen, director of Seafish Tasmania which operates the fishing vessel Abel Tasman.
Mr Geen defended his presence in the meeting since it is a practice for industry representatives to be present in the committee meetings. He is a member of the committee representing the South East Management Advisory Committee.
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie accused the AFMA advisory committee of violating the Fisheries Administration Act by allowing Mr Geen to take part in the February meeting despite his declaration of conflict of interest. He asked the Ombudsman to investigate the meeting.
The Ombudsman said the committee broke the law by allowing Mr Geen to participate in the meeting via phone patch despite his declaration of direct conflict of interest.
AFMA insisted the committee only made a recommendation but the final decision was made by the agency.
"It is the responsibility of the AFMA Commission, a completely non-partisan, independent statutory authority, to set the total allowable catches for Commonwealth fisheries," AFMA Commission Chairman Michael Egan said in a statement.
Mr Geen stressed that the committee followed the proper procedures.
"If that whole process were repeated again, with me being completely absent from the process, the same outcome would result," Brisbane Times quoted Mr Geen.
All eyes are on Seafish Tasmania as the federal government is apparently fast tracking legislation to ban Abel Tasman from fishing in Australian waters for two years. The vessel has a licence to fish 18,000 tonnes of jack mackerel and redbait.
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