Director-General’s actions deepen doubts over Department of Fisheries role

Greens MLC Lynn MacLaren has expressed concern about actions of the WA Department of Fisheries Director-General on board a Fisheries drum lining vessel in March, when he was supposed to be on the boat as an official observer.

“Video footage of the Director General’s actions reveals he played an active role, even handling a shark caught on a drum line.

“According to the Department of Premier and Cabinet’s referral document currently undergoing environment assessment, a ‘Fisheries officer’ conducted an ‘observer trip’ on a drumlining vessel on Thursday 20 March 2014 off Perth – one of several observer trips done to ensure that drumlining operations were conducted legally,” Ms MacLaren said.

“Film and photographs taken of the vessel’s activities that day indicates that one of the crew on board the Fisheries vessel was none other than the WA Department of Fisheries Director-General, Mr Stuart Smith.

“However, the footage shows that Mr Smith’s activities went well beyond simply observing, with him photographed holding fishing gear which has captured a tiger shark. In answer to a parliamentary question today, the Fisheries Minister understated the Director-General’s activities, omitting the fact that Mr Smith handled a rope which was wrapped around the shark’s tail.

“Mr Smith is wearing a Fisheries and Marine Officer cap and uniform not dissimilar to the other qualified Fisheries and Marine Officers on the boat, as if he is attempting to pass himself off as one of them.

“Mr Smith’s actions cause me to question the Fisheries Minister’s claim last month that all officers involved in drum lining ‘are experienced mariners, having worked with various forms of fishing gear across a wide range of fisheries and are familiar and experienced in using the fishing gear being used as part of the program and in the handling of sharks and other marine fauna’.

“The public deserves to know what role Mr Smith was playing on the boat and why he got involved in fishing operations if he was supposed to be there as an observer.

“We also need to know why he was dressed as a Fisheries and Marine Officer, which is a role requiring specific marine and compliance training and qualifications, and comes with serious law enforcement powers.

“And we need to know to what extent Mr Smith personally directed the actions of the crew on the PV Hamelin that day, including whether it was he ordered the Hamelin to return and drive dangerously close to divers in the water while a dive flag was deployed, after the divers jumped in to examine the dead tiger shark dumped by the Hamelin.

“The Department of Fisheries’ public credibility as a source of independent, scientific advice on the sharks issue was already in question; Mr Smith’s actions have not helped the Government’s cause,” Ms MacLaren concluded.
 
Notes to media:
•    The incident took place off the Perth on Thursday 20 March 2014, involving Mr Smith on board the Fisheries vessel PV Hamelin, with three other crew members.
•    A documentary available online by Madison Stewart, ‘Obstruction is Justice’, filmed on the same day, shows the PV Hamelin, with Mr Smith on board, driving dangerously close to the observers’ rigid inflatable vessel (RIB), while their divers and a dive flag are in the water.
•    Photographs of Mr Smith handling fishing gear aboard the PV Hamelin are available on request.
•    A reference to a Fisheries Officer making an ‘Observer trip’ on a drum lining boat on 20 March 2014 is contained in Attachment 18 of the referral documents currently being assessed by the EPA.
•    The Fisheries Minister’s claims about the qualifications and experience of all officers involved in drum lining were made in Parliament on 8 April 2014. Question 377.