Australian fisheries: Simply the best?

THE last few months has seen a concerted media push by the commercial fishing sector and its academic and bureaucratic allies to reinforce the belief that Australia’s fisheries management practices are “world class” in sustainability terms. And really, there’s no need to worry about fish guides or charts when shopping for Australian seafood as it’s “all sustainably produced.”

Super trawlers? Overfished species still having catch quotas allocated? Undersized fish dumped in sand dunes? Beach hauling of spawn-run fish? Blue and black marlin by-catch? Hey, don’t worry, don’t you know we’re “world class” managers? By whose standards?

Trying to answer this via Google led to a 2008 Canadian study by Mondroux, Pitcher and Pauly titled “Ranking Maritime Countries by the Sustainability of Their Fisheries.” The study was undertaken in response to the lack of comparative information across the 53 maritime countries accounting for over 95 per cent of the global catch. It developed performance indicators and then scored and ranked the countries.

Here are the components it identified for sustainable fisheries management systems:

• conserve and maintain the integrity of aquatic resources

• maintain sufficient biomass of targeted species for present and future generations, as well as the biomass of non-targeted species associated with the target species

• base decisions on best scientific evidence available and apply a precautionary approach

• develop environmentally safe fishing gear and practices

• minimise negative impacts from harvesting and reduce waste

• protect and rehabilitate marine fisheries habitat where possible

• integrate fisheries interests into coastal management

• ensure fleet compliance with conservation and management measures and with relevant local, national and international laws and trade laws.

So how did we rank? Well, not in the top 12, which were in order Peru, Namibia, USA, Germany, Poland, Norway, Senegal, Chile, South Africa, Ghana, Netherlands and New Zealand. The researchers were surprised that the Kiwis only came in at 12 given their reputation for sustainable fisheries practices. So where exactly where was Australia positioned on the ladder? Well, actually, equal 31st….with Japan. Just ahead of us were Pakistan and Indonesia at 29th and 30th respectively. China and Egypt ranked higher.

Maybe it’s partially due to the poor quality of our catch statistics reporting and available data. But what the hell, a “world class” performance by any measure, just like us winning the Ashes series and the Bledisloe Cup, and turning back the refugee boats… hey, wait a minute, we did, didn’t we?

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