Assessment of the Heard Island and McDonald Islands Fishery

for the purposes of Part 10, Part 13 and Part13A of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999

Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2002
ISBN 0 642 54861 7

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Executive summary

The Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) has submitted a document addressing the Terms of Reference for the Environmental Assessment of the Heard Island and McDonald Islands (HIMI) Fishery for assessment under Parts 10, 13 and 13A of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

On 31 May 2001, the Minister for the Environment and Heritage (the Minister) signed an Agreement with AFMA for the strategic assessment of the HIMI Fishery. Following public consultation, draft Terms of Reference for the fishery were adopted for the strategic assessment. The draft Strategic assessment report – Heard Island and McDonald Islands Fishery and the draft Heard Island and McDonald Islands Fishery Management Plan 2001(the draft Plan) were released for public comment on 1 September 2001. The public comment period ended on 1 October 2001 with a number of substantial submissions received, which prompted amendment of the Strategic assessment report. A final assessment report - Heard Island and McDonald Islands Fishery (the submission) and the draft Plan were submitted for assessment on 19 December 2001. This document reports on the assessment of the HIMI Fishery against the Terms of Reference, including the Commonwealth's Guidelines for the ecologically sustainable management of fisheries.

The fishery operates in sub-Antarctic waters adjacent to Heard Island and the McDonald Islands. The Islands are listed on the Register of the National Estate as the only unmodified example of a sub-Antarctic island ecosystem. In addition, the Islands and the 12 nautical mile territorial sea around them, are on the World Heritage List and form part of the Heard Island Wilderness Reserve. In recognition of the Islands' importance, fishing is prohibited within 13 nautical miles of the Islands, providing a buffer zone of one nautical mile. The fishery extends from 13 nautical miles offshore to the edge of the 200 nautical mile Australian Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ) around the Islands. The fishery lies in Statistical Division 58.5.2 of the area of application of the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which has a strong influence over the management of the fishery.

The HIMI fishery targets Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides) and mackerel icefish (Champsocephalus gunnari) in water depths of up to 1000 metres. Patagonian toothfish are targeted using demersal trawl methods, whilst demersal and midwater trawl methods are used to target mackerel icefish. Patagonian toothfish is also fished using longline methods in other jurisdictions and on the High Seas, and is heavily targeted by illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishers.

The number of operators in the fishery at any one time is restricted to three. Statutory Fishing Rights (SFRs) govern access to the fishery with each operator requiring a minimum quota holding of 25.5 % of the total number of SFRs. The fishing season extends from 1 December to 30 November each year and has been in operation since 1997 when exploratory fishing in the region began.

The HIMI Fishery is currently managed under the Fisheries Management Act 1991 and the Heard Island and McDonald Island Fishery Management Policy 1998-2000 (extended to November 2001) pending the adoption of the draft Heard Island and McDonald Islands Management Plan 2001. On 1 December 2001, AFMA implemented management arrangements, which mirror those proposed under the draft Plan through a system of fishing Permits. The draft Plan defines clear objectives, has established performance criteria and provides for a regular review of the Plan and its elements. The draft Plan is supported by a range of instruments including regulations, conditions on SFRs and management Directions. The management regime is based around an annually set total allowable catch, bycatch limits and move-on provisions, a range of input controls and a vessel monitoring system and catch documentation scheme. CCAMLR Conservation Measures are a minimum requirement under the draft Plan and the HIMI management regime incorporates additional measures.

The strong influence of CCAMLR provides a sound management platform and access to high level, internationally scrutinised assessments of the fishery and its target species. This element, combined with the fishery dependent and independent data collected by industry and AFMA, provides sound capacity for monitoring and assessment of the target species and ecosystem sustainability.

Bycatch in the HIMI Fishery is relatively low, especially for a trawl fishery, and a range of measures to minimise bycatch has been implemented. The principal bycatch species are grey rock cod (Lepidonotothen squamifrons), unicorn icefish (Channichthys rhinoceratus) and Macrourus species. Other bycatch species include skates and rays, sleeper sharks, cephalopods, jellyfish and other marine invertebrates.