Environmental assessment under the EPBC Act
Department of the Environment and Heritage, December 2001
ISBN 0 6425 4858 7
There are two commercially important species currently harvested in the Tasmanian fishery, blacklip abalone (Haliotis rubra) and greenlip abalone (H. laevigata), under the management arrangements for the commercial abalone fishery. The fishery is a dive fishery, with individual abalone selected and removed from the substrate by hand. There is no significant bycatch. Abalone are characterised by a high degree of spatial structure, with significant differences in growth and productivity over relatively small scales, and predominantly localised recruitment from a short-lived larval phase. A major challenge for management is the development of a scale for effective management that meets the biological constraints of fine-scale spatial structure in abalone stocks. It must also meet the operational requirements for efficient and cost-effective fishing operations and provide effective monitoring and compliance.
The management arrangements for the Tasmanian abalone fishery are made up of a set of statutory rules - the Fisheries (Abalone) Rules 2000 under the Tasmanian Living Marine Resources Management Act 1995 and supporting regulatory and policy documents and a strategic research plan. The Rules will run until December 2004, when they will be subject to a major review.
Full-scale commercial exploitation of abalone began in Tasmania in the late 1960s, with increasingly rapid development from 1963 to 1971, with a decline and subsequent recovery between 1972 and 1977. That was followed by a second period of rapid expansion and market development to a peak of 4,500 tonnes recorded catch in 1984. There was a subsequent rapid decline in catch rates, with catches subject to a quota system implemented in 1985 of 3,500 tonnes state-wide for both species, following industry concerns over overfishing. There was a combined quota for blacklip and greenlip of 2100 tonnes from 1989 to 1996. The TAC was then increased to 2520 tonnes, where it remained to 1999, with a limit of 2730 tonnes in 2000 and 2,800 tonnes wet weight for 2001, reduced later as a result of increasing concerns about the sustainability of the harvest level, particularly in the south east. The TAC for 2002 is again reduced- to 2537.5 tonne- with 125 licenced divers operating.
Zonal controls and separate catch limits for greenlip and blacklip introduced in 2000 have been progressively refined, as have other size limit controls intended to deal with regional differences in growth rates and productivity. Localised depletion and risks of recruitment failure in some areas continue to be of concern, with greenlip abalone considered to be more vulnerable than blacklip.
The Tasmanian harvest is estimated to be more than 25% of world wild abalone production, and is increasingly important as wild abalone fisheries in other parts of the world continue to decline.
The draft submission prepared against the Commonwealth Guidelines for the ecologically sustainable management of fisheries was received in May 2001 after a series of discussions between the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industry, Water and Environment and Department of the Environment and Heritage. The submission was released for a thirty-day public comment period that closed on 9 July 2001. Notification that the submission was available and that comments were requested was published in The Australian and Tasmanian newspapers. Copies of the submission were made available on request and through the Department of the Environment and Heritage web pages.
Notification that the submission was available was also sent to all persons on the Fisheries Public Comment Register, a register of interested persons maintained by Department of the Environment and Heritage. Three public submissions were received and were provided to DPIWE, who provided comment on the issues raised in each.
Comments on the submission were also sought from the Scientific Committee on Wildlife Use, (SCWU), an independent advisory group with a wide range of scientific expertise in terrestrial and marine ecology and living resource use established by the Minister for the Environment to provide independent scientific advice.
Following the public comment period, this assessment report was drafted by Department of the Environment and Heritage. In addition to the submission and associated management documents, the assessment drew on public comments and the agency's response, the SCWU deliberations, consultation with the management agency and other experts and some of the available scientific literature.
A draft of the overall assessment and proposed recommendations was provided to DPIWE for consideration in December 2001 and this report completed when their views had been considered.
Further documentation was received, with the Abalone assessment report for the year 2000 received in September 2001 providing an important overview of stock status and approaches to standardisation of catch per unit effort to take into account possible changes in fishing efficiency.
In relation to Principle 1 of the Commonwealth's Guidelines on the ecologically sustainable management of fisheries (the Guidelines), current and proposed management arrangements provide a very sound basis for management of the fishery, with strong industry involvement. There is a strategic research framework and a well-developed monitoring and compliance capacity. The current management focus is on sustainable catch levels and refinement is required to implement a more system-based approach.
In relation to Principle 2 of the Guidelines, on current information, there is no significant bycatch or removals of other organisms and the fishery is such that it is unlikely to develop. In this fishery, the major direct impact is the removal of significant proportion of the biomass of one of the major grazers and subsequent effects on processes in the systems in which they are an important component. Management responses have provided progressively finer-scale controls over catch and effort and the management framework provides the basis to address the risk of serial localised depletion and its implications for conservation of genetic diversity. The current management framework requires refinement to provide a system-based approach and more direct assessment of ecological sustainability.
Overall, the management arrangements for the Tasmanian Fishery for blacklip and greenlip Abalone provide a sound basis for management of the fishery, and there is a low risk of widespread progressive decline in the harvested species. With the proposed development of a more system-based approach, the management framework provides a sound basis for ecological sustainability and increased long-term productivity in the fishery.
A number of recommendations are made that should strengthen the environmental performance of the fishery in the longer term.
While failure to address some of these issues would increase the risk to ecological sustainability in the longer term, the management arrangements could address any major risks identified in the short-term. It is unlikely that exports from the fishery from harvests under the management framework will result to a threat to the species in the wild.
- Develop and provide, as part of the public review process for the management arrangements of the Tasmanian abalone fishery in 2004, proposed system-based management objectives for the fishery and an assessment of the options for associated biological reference, target and limit levels, and performance measures.
- Continue to develop methods to determine the patterns and scale of local population structure and productivity within the fishery, and develop management techniques to take that spatial structure into account in implementing harvest strategies at the appropriate scales.
- Undertake periodic reviews of the extent of the take and level of recreational abalone fishing, and refine management measures if considered necessary.
- The compliance and enforcement strategy should be periodically reviewed to ensure emerging compliance risks are identified and addressed.
- Continue development, implementation and maintenance of long-term industry-independent monitoring and field sampling of abalone populations, including the development of baseline monitoring of the population dynamics of abalone in areas closed to commercial operations.
- Representation in the fishery assessment process should be increased to strengthen representation from conservation and other community interests. Consideration should also be given to broader public notification of the opportunities to provide input into the assessment process. The existing stock assessment process would be further strengthened by periodic peer review.
- Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
- The Australian Government
- Australian Seafood Industry Council
- Australian Antarctic Division
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