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3 April 2006 - HSI calls for specialist environment court after Tribunal abandons endangered southern bluefin tuna to extinction      

HSI calls for specialist environment court after Tribunal abandons endangered southern bluefin tuna to extinction

Sydney 3 April 2006                                                  

Humane Society International (HSI) is furious with a judgement from the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in our case over the critically endangered southern bluefin tuna which highlights the Tribunal’s lack of expertise in environmental law.

HSI had asked the Tribunal to overturn federal Environment Minister, Senator Ian Campbell’s, November 2004 decision to allow exports of southern bluefin tuna to continue because the fishery is not ecologically sustainable. The Minister should only approve exports of a fish if satisfied that the fishery is not having a detrimental impact on the species conservation status and survival.

“HSI went to the Tribunal because we believed they would uphold the law and be immune to political pressures from a rich and powerful tuna industry that have plagued the Government’s decision making over this species. Instead the Tribunal has failed to grasp the issues involved with the case and has rubberstamped the Minister’s political decision so that overfishing of this endangered species can continue,” said Nicola Beynon, HSI’s Wildlife and Habitat Program Manager.

“HSI considers the Tribunal’s legal analysis dismal and we are angry that much of our evidence appears to have been ignored or misunderstood. The implication that the fishery is ecological sustainable is frankly ridiculous,”

“This judgement shows that the legal system at the Federal level is inadequate for environmental cases and that a specialist environment court of appeal is required where judges have environmental expertise,” said Ms Beynon.

By the Tribunal’s own admission they were “required to embark on a decision making process in a field of endeavour which is highly specialised and equally highly uncertain”. In HSI’s view they were not up to the job.

The Tribunal ignored or misunderstood evidence that the latest scientific information shows there is a 50/50 chance southern bluefin tuna will be extinct by 2030 if current fishing levels continue. And that even the Minister’s own threatened species committee advised him that the species qualifies for protection as an endangered species.

Last year the international Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT) gave unprecedented advice that as an immediate measure the overall catch for the endangered species should be reduced by 30% in 2006 or by 50% in 2007. Despite the recommendation to cut quotas, the Australian Government allowed the Australian Fishery to catch 5,265t of SBT again this summer, a quota that has remained unchanged since 1989 and represents approximately 70% of all the SBT caught worldwide.

HSI is extremely concerned that Australian retaliations over a recent illegal catch by Japan will derail any agreement over a reduced global quota. The Australian Government will be under pressure from the industry not to accept quota reductions.

“Irrespective of the Tribunal’s decision today, and irrespective of any decisions by the CCSBT, HSI calls on the Australian Government to cut the quota for the Australian industry by at least 50% next year in line with the Scientific Committee’s urgent advice”,

Meanwhile HSI will seek legal advice as to whether we have grounds to appeal the Tribunal’s erroneous decision”, said Ms Beynon

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