Coasts and Oceans Theme Report

Australia State of the Environment Report 2001 (Theme Report)
Australian State of the Environment Committee, Authors
Published by CSIRO on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 643 06751 5

Fisheries (continued)

Responses to fisheries issues

  • Legislative responses
  • Management responses
  • Bycatch issue responses
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    Legislative responses

    The management of fisheries is a mix of Commonwealth and State or Territory responsibilities. Formal measures to place some fisheries under a single jurisdiction are in place under the Offshore Constitutional Settlement agreement, while other fisheries require collaborative management arrangements.

    Mangrove roots at Arnhem Land, Northern Territory

    Mangrove roots at Arnhem Land, Northern Territory.

    Source: G Pure

    There are both Commonwealth and State fisheries laws under which fisheries are managed through general regulations or other statutory methods. There are various methods to manage each fishery, such as size and catch limits, and gear restrictions.

    Legislative changes in 1999 and 2000 will make a dramatic difference to the sustainable management of commercial wild fish stocks in the future. The most significant is the removal of the general exemption of most marine fish from export control regulation under the Wildlife Protection (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1982. The removal of the exemption makes the taking of marine native species consistent with the taking of terrestrial native species. This change comes into effect in December 2003. Before a fishery can be exempted from the Act, it must be shown that the fishery is ecologically sustainable in terms of its impact on:

    • target species,
    • non-target species and bycatch, and
    • the ecosystem generally (including habitat).

    The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act) came into force in July 2000. It requires an assessment and approval process for activities that are likely to have a significant impact on the Commonwealth marine environment, on nationally threatened species and ecological communities, and on internationally protected migratory species. The Act also requires that all Commonwealth-managed fisheries have their environmental impact strategically assessed.

    The Commonwealth Government has issued guidelines for the ecologically sustainable management of fisheries as the benchmark against which environmental performance of fisheries should be assessed.

    With these changes to legislation and the management of fisheries and ecosystems, there has been a shift in the onus of responsibility, as reflected in Australia's Oceans Policy. Users of ocean resources such as fishers are increasingly expected or required to ensure the ecological sustainability of their activities and to meet their obligations to identify and implement precautionary measures.

    Management responses

    One of the measures to assess the unintended consequences of fishing activities is the production and use of management regimes that include non-target species monitoring strategies and adaptive management. Some fisheries (such as rock lobster and abalone) are highly selective, and non-target catch is not a major issue with them.

    A recent review (Commonwealth of Australia 2001b) reported the number of fishery management plans, as at June 1999, with these objectives and with criteria and performance measures for the effectiveness of those strategies. Of the 60 management plans in existence, only six dealt to some extent with impacts on non-target species. The three Commonwealth plans do not give specific details of the monitoring of non-target species and how the information is fed back into the management system. (Note that Western Australian plans were not made available for the study.)

    Another management option that is being used by both State and Commonwealth fisheries is structural adjustment schemes. The purpose of these schemes is to reduce fishing effort in a fishery or, in some cases, to remove the overexploitation of a fishery. An example is the Southern Shark Fishery, where school shark stocks need to be rebuilt. School shark stocks are assessed as being unsustainable at present catch levels. In 1999-2000, government funding of $2.6 million was secured for a fishery structural adjustment and initiation of a buy-back scheme. (AFMA 2001). In 2000-2001, $20 million of Commonwealth and State funding was committed to reduce fishing effort by 10% in the Queensland Eastern Trawl Fishery, while industry contributed a nominal 5% reduction in effort to the scheme.

    Western Australia has used a Government-industry buy-back system for some years to reduce the number of Fishing Boat Licences (Fisheries Western Australia 2000c). As a result, a total of 69 licences were sold to the general buy-back scheme between 1987 and July 1999 and were cancelled.

    The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has been undertaking the negotiation of the East Coast Trawl Plan with the Queensland Government and industry. The introduction of the still disputed Plan follows years of challenging negotiations between the Authority, the Queensland Government and the fishing industry. Significant outcomes of the negotiations on the Plan to date include:

    • a capped trawl effort at 1996 levels, with an immediate 15% reduction,
    • mandatory turtle exclusion devices and bycatch reduction devices,
    • the closure of lightly trawled and untrawled areas (approximately an additional 20% of the Marine Park), and
    • strict monitoring and recording of bycatch species, which may result in further protective measures.

    Increasingly, in the last four years, environmental management systems have been voluntarily adopted by the industry. The most effective of these so far has been the global market-driven ecolabelling program of the Marine Stewardship Council.

    Bycatch issue responses

    The response to the significant issue of bycatch has improved over recent years. The Commonwealth developed a National Bycatch Policy in 1999 and a Commonwealth Bycatch Policy in 2000. The National Policy restricts its attention to non-target discard species and non-target organisms affected by fishing gear, and does not include byproduct.

    A feature of the Commonwealth Policy is the commitment to prepare Bycatch Action Plans for all major Commonwealth fisheries. Plans for the Northern Prawn Fishery and the Torres Strait Prawn Fishery were implemented in 1999.

    Turtle exclusion devices (TEDs) and bycatch reduction devices (BRDs) have been trialled in the Northern Prawn Fishery since 1993 and became compulsory in this fishery in 2000. Trials to improve their performance through modifications are continuing. Projects are currently under way to evaluate the effectiveness of these devices, in collaboration with the fishing industry. Seal excluder devices (SEDs) are currently being trialed in the South East Trawl Fishery.

    Turtles being monitored before release

    Turtles being monitored before release.

    Source: C Robins, Bureau of Rural Sciences

    A project by the Bureau of Rural Sciences, CSIRO and AFMA is monitoring the catch of sea turtles in the Northern Prawn Fishery. Results from these projects show that the use of TEDs and BRDs has resulted in a substantial decline in the catches of large animals such as turtles, stingrays and sharks. However, the use of BRDs in this fishery seem to have had little impact on the catch of the smaller, more abundant bycatch.

    Bycatch Action Plans for other major Commonwealth fisheries were released in May 2001 by AFMA for the:

    • South East Trawl Fishery,
    • South East Non-Trawl and Southern Shark Fisheries,
    • Sub-Antarctic Fisheries (the Macquarie Island Fishery and Heard Island and McDonald Islands Fishery),
    • Great Australian Bight Trawl Fishery,
    • Bass Strait Central Zone Scallop Fishery, and
    • Southern Squid Jig Fishery.

    By the end of 2001, Bycatch Action Plans will have been developed for 14 of the 21 Commonwealth fisheries.

    The effects of Commonwealth fisheries on some non-target threatened species, such as albatrosses and turtles had been assessed under previous legislation, and these assessments and their listings have been carried over to the EPBC Act. Some fishing methods are recognised as ' key threatening processes' under the EPBC Act. Regulations were issued in February 2001 placing very specific obligations on longlining operations under the Threat Abatement Plan for the incidental catch of seabirds during oceanic longlining fishing operations. This Plan was developed in cooperation with the fishing industry. A nomination for otter trawling for marine turtles is currently (February 2001) being considered for listing.

    The Commonwealth Government has provided $1 075 000 from the Natural Heritage Trust to establish the SeaNet extension service. The project is focused on increasing the rate of adoption by the commercial fishing sector of new fishing gear and practices to aid bycatch reduction and to implement environmental best practice.

    The States and the Northern Territory have also been addressing bycatch in different ways. Western Australia and the Northern Territory have adopted the National Policy. Action plans or management plans for fisheries are being prepared in three States and the Northern Territory on a priority basis. The use of bycatch reduction devices (BRDs) in two estuarine prawn trawl fisheries in New South Wales has been made mandatory, to save large quantities of juvenile fish. In Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia, the recording of bycatch is currently being considered for compulsory inclusion in management plans.

    However, there has been little or no response to the assessment or management of the non-target retained species (byproduct) in relation to either the effects on the species or the effects on the ecosystems. An exception to this is the Western Rock Lobster Fishery that is developing a number of responses to deal with environmental issues in the fishery.