Tackling change head on
Australia’s fishing sector has faced a number of challenges in the past few years and as a new government starts to develop its policies, Adrian Tatum charts the progress of one of the world’s largest fisheries.
Australia’s fishing industry is about to change. How much, is up to the new government as it starts to set out its policies for the next few years.
But whatever Barnaby Joyce, Minister for Agriculture, and his team decide to implement, they have a solid platform to build on - yet will have to face up to a number of challenges. Like any fishing industry around the world, one of Australia’s main priorities will be to assess the state of its waters and to act accordingly.
The government has already said it will reduce the current network of marine reserves. The previous government was recognised around the world in 2012 after it established a world leading network of marine protected areas (MPAs) to address conservation issues and protect development of certain fishing grounds. But plans are now to be reviewed by new Environment Minister, Greg Hunt who said, “The Coalition Government will as soon as is practicable suspend and review the flawed management plans for marine protected areas that were imposed without fair or adequate consultation,” he said.
The previous government also banned supertrawlers from its southern waters for two years. One example, as reported in World Fishing & Aquaculture, was the Abel Tasman which was banned from operating for 60 days in September 2012 but the ban was extended to the maximum 24 months allowed.
As a vessel of this nature has never been used in Australian waters, the government and scientists are unsure of what impact it will have on threatened species. However, despite the size of the vessel (142m), it would still have been required to fish within its existing quota, which had already been agreed.
Australia’s fishing sector has voiced its concern that ‘no-take’ areas in some regions where fishing is banned will devastate their trade: “A sustainable fishing industry is an integral part of a strong primary producing sector, and a ‘lock up’ mentality is not necessarily the best way to protect our marine life,” added Mr Hunt.
Like every country around the world, Australia has been examining how climate change could have an affect on marine biodiversity and indeed Australia’s fisheries sector. The 2012 report, 2012 Marine Climate Change in Australia, revealed that climate change is having a significant impact on Australia’s marine ecosystems.
The report card provides information about the current and predicted future state of Australia’s marine climate and its impact on marine biodiversity. It showed that warming sea temperatures are influencing the distribution of marine plants and animals, with species currently found in tropical and temperate waters likely to move south and that new research showed that winds over the Southern Ocean and current dynamics are strongly influencing foraging of seabirds that breed in south-east Australia and feed close to the Antarctic each summer. It said some tropical fish species have a greater ability to acclimatise to rising water temperatures than previously thought. It also recognised that adaptation planning is happening now, from seasonal forecasts for fisheries and aquaculture, to climate-proofing of breeding sites for turtles and seabirds
Led by CSIRO, more than 80 Australian marine scientists from 34 universities and research organisations contributed to the 2012 report card. The report card draws on peer-reviewed research results from hundreds of scientists, demonstrating a high level of scientific consensus.
Aspects of marine climate which have been analysed include changes in sea temperature, sea level, the East Australian Current, the Leeuwin Current, and El Niño-Southern Oscillation.
Marine biodiversity assessed for the report card include impacts on coral reefs; tropical, temperate and pelagic fish; marine mammals; marine reptiles; seabirds; mangroves; tidal wetlands; seagrass; macroalgae; marine microbes; phytoplankton and zooplankton.
But despite questions marks over the state of its waters and the continuing balancing act between creating a sector which can grow and conserving stocks, some sectors of the fishing industry are thriving. South Australia’s abalone industry is currently benefiting from a five-year extension to the fishery’s export approval. The abalone fishery had received renewed approval from the Australian Government to export from the three management zones of the South Australian Abalone Fishery – Western Zone, Central Zone and Southern Zone – until August 2018. After that date the approval will again be reviewed.
“Regular assessment of the environmental performance of export fisheries by the Australian Government supports the sustainable management of our fisheries, and safeguards the supply of our premium seafood to international markets,” said a government spokesperson.
The extension reflects the strength of the South Australian Government’s fisheries management arrangements, in partnership with industry.
President of the Abalone Industry Association of SA, Jonas Woolford, said the industry was pleased that the export approval had been granted for the SA abalone fishery.
“It shows the fishery is recognised for being sustainable, well managed and benign,” Mr Woolford said. “This will provide significant leverage opportunity for us in both domestic and export markets.”
The new fishing arrangements have been developed in partnership with the licence holders in the Southern Zone fishery following research conducted by SARDI Aquatic Sciences under a project funded by the Federal Government Fisheries Research and Development Corporation.
This research project developed a method to rapidly and cost-effectively identify the biological characteristics of individual stocks. Using this method, 13 areas were identified where the biological characteristics of abalone stocks are similar.
Fishing companies and organisations themselves are also becoming more aware of protecting stocks in and around Australia waters and in other waters where Australian vessels may fish. Recently, the world’s biggest tuna company has called for government action to manage tuna stocks and promote sustainable fishing in the Pacific.
Tri Marine International managing director Phil Roberts told Radio Australia’s Pacific Beatthere was a consensus among industry groups for a limit on fishing effort in the Pacific to protect fish stocks. Tri Marine International is the world’s biggest tuna company, and trades around $1 billion worth of tuna a year. Mr Roberts criticised the management of the PNA’s (Parties to the Nauru Agreement) Vessel Day Monitoring scheme in promoting sustainability, saying the amount of registered fishing vessels had increased from 200 to 290 in the last five years.
The Vessel Day Scheme (VDS) is a system where vessel owners can purchase and trade fishing days at sea in places subject to the PNA.
“As a means of limiting (fishing) effort, the vessel day scheme has not been efficient,” Mr Roberts said. He said the market for sustainable tuna was growing.
“Consumers everywhere are more and more attuned to the issues around sustainability and the practices used in catching."
The Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) says Australian fish stocks are generally in good shape and improving. "Catch levels are set under harvest strategies that provide for more abundant target species than previous settings. Rebuilding and other management strategies are in place or soon to be in place for Australian fish stocks that need to be rebuilt. Fish stocks managed under international agreements make up a significant portion of Australian fisheries and AFMA provides technical advice to the responsible bodies," it said.
It also said that recent global economic pressures affect the Australian fishing industry both positively and negatively. "While fuel costs are reduced, international markets have also contracted and the industry will continue to adapt to changing economic conditions," said AFMA. Managing fisheries with tradeable access rights and ensuring robust fish stocks is how AFMA assists industry to adapt to these changing economic conditions.
Another of the fishing sector’s main challenges is balancing cost reduction and investment. The cost‑effectiveness of fisheries management is an ongoing challenge in Australia’s large, diverse and relatively sparsely populated marine environment. Climate change is a factor AFMA is also analysing. "We do not anticipate a need for specific fisheries management actions in the near term, but we continue to monitor research into the effects of climate change on the marine environment and fisheries. Research predicts climate change will affect the distribution of fish stocks over time," said AFMA.
In recent years the South East Asian region and oceans surrounding Australia have been heavily fished both legally and illegally. Australia works with its neighbours to combat illegal fishing. "Constant vigilance and capability are essential, and AFMA is a key participant in the Australian Government’s efforts to deter illegal fishing and protect our borders," says AFMA.
The 2012, the Status of Key Australian Fish Stocks report, which was the most comprehensive of its kind, has revealed, on the whole, the country’s fishing areas are well managed.
In total, 150 stock status assessments were undertaken across the 49 species chapters, with assessments undertaken at the biological stock level, wherever possible.
Of the 111 stock status classifications that could be assigned, 98 stocks were assessed as being sustainable, eight were transitional-recovering, three were transitional-depleting, and two were overfished. The two stocks classified as overfished are the Southern bluefin tuna stock and the school shark stock.
There were 81 stock status assessments carried out at the biological stock level. Of these, 53 biological stocks were considered sustainable stocks, five transitional-recovering, three transitional-depleting, two overfished stocks, and 18 were undefined.
Of the 45 stock status assessments carried out at the management unit level, 35 management units were considered to be sustainable stocks and two were transitional-recovering; none were classified as transitional-depleting or overfished, and eight were undefined stocks.
Of the 24 jurisdiction-based stock status assessments, 10 assessments were considered sustainable stocks and one transitional-recovering stock; none were classified as transitional-depleting or overfished stocks, and 13 were undefined
The total volume of catch reported in the Status of Key Australian Fish Stocks from Australian managed fisheries is 121,230t. This volume represents over 70% of the total Australian wild catch reported in 2009–10 (173,340t). The 121,230t total does not include international catches (i.e. catch taken outside Australian waters by countries other than Australia) of the tuna and billfish species that are reported in the Status of Key Australian Fish Stocks. The Australian catch of these species is small in comparison to the international catch.
Of the Australian catch reported in the Status of Key Australian Fish Stocks, 91% is from sustainable stocks, less than 1% is from transitional-recovering stocks, less than 1% from transitional-depleting stocks, 3.5% is from overfished stocks, and 4.5% is from undefined stocks.
A big fishery
Australia has the world’s third largest fishing zone, extending up to 200 nautical miles out to sea. Despite this size, Australian waters tend not to be as productive as those in many regions, and Australia ranks only 52nd in the world in terms of volume of fish landed. Although the overall amount of fish products caught may be relatively low, Australia’s fisheries production focuses on high value export species such as lobster, prawn, tuna, salmon and abalone. Australia’s commercial fishing and aquaculture industry is worth over $2 billion annually and employs around 11,600 people (7,300 directly and 4,300 indirectly). Australia’s Commonwealth, state and territory governments manage fisheries on behalf of the Australian people in consultation with the fishing industry, scientists, economists and other user groups, such as those that represent traditional fishing, recreational fishing and the environmental non-government organisations. These management processes are used to implement controls, such as limits on catch or effort levels, and regulations of fishing methods in order to manage Australia’s fisheries in a sustainable way.
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