The Australian Fisheries Management Authority has confirmed the whale shark captured by the controversial factory trawler Geelong Star was brought onto the deck of the vessel.
While AFMA in the statement released on its website on Wednesday repeated that the shark was unharmed, how the shark was captured and its health has also been questioned by environmentalists and rec fishers who first broke news of the whale shark incident. Click here for breaking news article
The statement from the authority says on February 11, the fishing vessel Geelong Star had an interaction with whale shark while fishing in the Small Pelagic Fishery (SPF).
“AFMA has now reviewed the video footage from the vessel’s electronic monitoring system of the interaction,” it reads.
“This video footage is consistent with the report received by AFMA on 12 February 2016 from AFMA’s on-board scientific observer.
“The 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.
“Monitoring of bycatch is a central component of overall fisheries management. It should be noted AFMA’s monitoring of the Geelong Star far exceeds that of any other Australian fishery, commercial or recreational.
“As part of our approach, electronic monitoring (cameras) is used to verify logbook and other reporting regarding the catch of target species and protected species interactions. AFMA does not release electronic monitoring footage from commercial fishing vessels because it contains commercial-in-confidence and private information about companies and crews.
“All interactions with protected species from the Commonwealth’s 300 plus fishing fleet are reported quarterly on AFMA’s website. Records of Commonwealth fishing vessel interactions with whale sharks are extremely rare,” it concludes.
The Small Pelagic Fishery Industry Association meanwhile is adamant the shark was not harmed and has even posted a very short video of the release on its Facebook page.
The association at the time said: “We immediately posted on the thread to confirm a whale shark had come alongside the net, the vessel maneuvered away and the whale shark had swum off unharmed.”
AFMA meanwhile says its won’t be releasing its own observer footage.
Factory trawler opponent, Kiama recreational fisherman and fisheries advisory member Graham Pike meanwhile based on his sources this week made new allegations that the Geelong Star had sailed too close to the Bass Strait oil rigs’ exclusion zone.
“The Geelong Star, at that time unidentified, was visually observed passing west of Fortescue platform heading northeast about 7pm on Saturday (20/02/16). It then headed west, passing three nautical miles south of Flounder platform at about 6pm. The vessel, contacted by security watch on radio from one of the platforms, identified itself as the Geelong Star and ‘advised that it was not aware of the exclusion zone’. The Geelong Star departed the exclusion zone at about 8.30pm, heading east,” Mr Pike said.
Upon making inquiries into these navigation issues, AFMA referred the matter to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which in turn said the agency responsible was the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority.
Mr Pike also said the Geelong Star was back fishing off Eden.