Northern Territory Aquarium Fishery - Ministerial decision 2005

Ministerial Decision
Jane Campbell, Delegate of the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, 29 June 2005

Kon Vatskalis MLA
Minister for Primary Industries and Fisheries
GPO Box 3146
DARWIN NT 0801

Dear Minister

I am writing to you as Delegate of the Minister for the Environment and Heritage in relation to the assessment of the Northern Territory Aquarium Fishery under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act). In April 2005 the Northern Territory Department of Business, Industry and Resource Development (DBIRD) submitted the document entitled Assessing the Ecological Sustainability of the Northern Territory Aquarium Fishery for assessment under the EPBC Act.

The submission has been assessed for the purposes of the protected species provisions of Part 13 and the wildlife trade provisions of Part 13A of the EPBC Act.

I am pleased to advise that assessment of the fishery is now complete. The assessment report will be available on the Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH) website at: www.deh.gov.au/coasts/fisheries/assessment/index.html.

I am satisfied that the operation of the fishery is consistent with the objects of the wildlife trade provisions in Part 13A of the EPBC Act. I am also satisfied that it is unlikely to be detrimental to the survival or conservation status of any taxon to which the fishery operation relates, or threaten any relevant ecosystem. The fishery is relatively well managed and operates under an adaptable and precautionary regime capable of controlling, monitoring and enforcing the level of take from the fishery. Performance against the Australian Government Guidelines for the Ecologically Sustainable Management of Fisheries is adequate, however there are a number of issues that need to be addressed to contain environmental risks in the longer term. Hence, I propose to declare the fishery an approved Wildlife Trade Operation (WTO), under Part 13A of the EPBC Act. This declaration would allow the export of product from the fishery for the next three years. I will make the declaration subject to the conditions at Attachment A.

I also propose to include product from this WTO fishery on the List of Exempt Native Specimens so that exporters would not require EPBC Act export permits. The fishery would continue to operate as a WTO for the period of the declaration (3 years) and all WTO conditions would continue to apply.

The management regime aims to ensure that fishing is conducted in a manner that does not lead to over-fishing and for fishing operations to be managed to minimise their impact on the structure, productivity, function and biological diversity of the ecosystem. On balance, the fishery is being managed in an ecologically sustainable manner and is working to address existing problems and to minimise environmental risks.

While there are some environmental risks associated with this fishery, I believe that DBIRD is committed to addressing these issues and is already taking proactive steps in some areas. Officers from our two departments have discussed key areas requiring ongoing and increased attention. I understand that they have agreed to a number of recommended actions, focusing on addressing key issues, to be implemented before the next Australian Government review of the fishery. The recommendations (Attachment B) have been an important factor in my decision to declare the fishery a WTO and I look forward to receiving your confirmation that they will be implemented.

At this time, I am not satisfied that the management arrangements for the fishery require that all reasonable steps are taken to ensure that protected species are not injured or killed. I note that the fishery is in a developing stage and there is currently no defined list of species that are permitted to be taken in the fishery. Consequently, there are also no mechanisms in place in the management regime for the fishery to explicitly prohibit the take of any EPBC Act listed threatened species, listed migratory species and cetaceans, or to prohibit the take of listed marine species in Commonwealth waters. I understand that DBIRD is aware that accreditation of the fishery under Part 13 of the EPBC Act is not possible at this time, and has agreed that if operators wish to harvest listed marine species in Commonwealth waters in the future, a wildlife conservation plan will be negotiated between DBIRD and DEH and implemented. This arrangement has been included as a condition on the WTO declaration for this fishery.

I would like to thank you for the constructive way in which your officials have approached this assessment.

Yours sincerely

[signed]

Jane Campbell
Delegate of the Minister for the Environment and Heritage

29 June 2005


Conditions on the approved wildlife trade declaration for the Northern Territory Aquarium Fishery

  1. Operation of the fishery will be carried out in accordance with the Northern Territory Aquarium Fishery management regime in force under the Northern Territory Fisheries Act 1988 and the Northern Territory Fisheries Regulations 1993.
  2. The Northern Territory Department of Business, Industry and Resource Development (DBIRD) will advise DEH of any material change to the Northern Territory Aquarium Fishery's legislated management arrangements that could affect the criteria on which EPBC decisions are based, within three months of that change being made.
  3. The declaration covers the Northern Territory Aquarium Fishery only to the extent that the Northern Territory Aquarium Fishery relates to specimens that:
    1. are not listed under Part 13 of the EPBC Act, or
    2. are listed marine species that are not taken in the Commonwealth marine area, or
    3. are listed marine species that are taken in the Commonwealth marine area according to the specifications of a wildlife conservation plan negotiated between DBIRD and DEH.
  4. Reports to be produced and presented to DEH annually, and to include:
    • information sufficient to allow assessment of the progress of DBIRD in implementing the recommendations made in the Assessment of the Nortehrn Territory Aquarium Fishery 2005;
    • a description of the status of the fishery and catch and effort information;
    • a statement of the performance of the fishery against objectives, performance indicators and measures once developed; and
    • research undertaken or completed relevant to the fishery.

Recommendations to DBIRD on the ecologically sustainable management of the Northern Territory Aquarium Fishery

The Northern Territory Aquarium Fishery is a relatively well-managed fishery with a range of management measures to promote the ecologically sustainable harvesting of species from the fishery including limited entry, gear restrictions and area restrictions that should enable the fishery to be ecologically sustainable in the short to medium term. Stocks are not currently overfished and the management arrangements provide the basis to ensure that fishing is conducted in a manner that will not lead to over-fishing.

While management is appropriately precautionary, issues that must be managed to ensure that their impacts are minimised include no research base to determine ecologically sustainable harvest levels, inadequate recording of catch and effort to a fine enough spatial scale or to species level, potential risk of localised and serial depletion of a number of species and lack of information on the ecosystem effects of harvesting large amounts of corals, corallimorphs and hermit crabs that may provide habitat for other species. The fishery also targets species listed under the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) and has harvested a small number of species listed under Part 13 of the EPBC Act. Therefore special consideration is needed to ensure the ecological sustainability of these species and to ensure that international conventions are being adequately addressed.

The following recommendations aim to address these risks and uncertainties. DBIRD should action these recommendations before the next review in 2008 within the timeframe specified in individual recommendations.

Recommendations

  1. DBIRD to advise DEH of any material change to the Northern Territory Aquarium Fishery's management arrangements that could affect the criteria on which EPBC decisions are based, within 3 months of that change being made.
  2. Within 1 year, DBIRD to develop fishery specific performance indicators and performance measures, linked to the existing objectives, for CITES listed species, EPBC Act listed species, Group A Finfish species and hermit crabs.
  3. DBIRD to incorporate the performance measures into existing management arrangements once developed. Within 3 months of becoming aware of a performance measure not being met, DBIRD to finalise a clear timetable for a review of management arrangements and the implementation of appropriate management responses.
  4. DBIRD to implement finer spatial recording of catch and effort information, and recording of catch to a species level for key target species, CITES listed species and EPBC Act listed species in compulsory commercial logbooks.
  5. Within 1 year DBIRD to develop precautionary sustainable limits for hermit crabs, Group A finfish species, EPBC Act listed species and CITES listed species based on existing knowledge. DBIRD to pursue research into the stock status, biology and ecology of these species on an ongoing basis within resource constraints.
  6. Within 2 years DBIRD to investigate the potential for localised and serial depletion of target species within the fishery and to implement management measures to mitigate any risks identified where necessary.
  7. DBIRD to conduct an ecological risk assessment on the fishery within 12 months and to develop appropriate responses to any high risks identified.