Fisheries stock reports: Initial impressions

THE FRDC’s Status Of Key Australian Fish Stocks Reports 2012 has been a massive effort by over 80 independent scientists, funded by the FRDC and coordinated by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES).

While coming to grips with the full document (400 plus pages) will take some time, looking at the summaries and key findings indicates that there’s lots here which should be positive news for the rec sector.

Firstly, this is a collection of independent reviews, something we’ve always advocated for.

Despite the commercial sector being happy with the findings, they didn’t fund it. Nor did the green groups or the various state and territory fisheries management authorities, although they cooperated as required. This was independent research which, importantly, was peer reviewed by other national and international scientists before being signed off.

So findings shouldn’t be biased towards any particular sector … commercial, recreational or green. The report is about the stock status of 49 of our most prominent and important species, based on 150 stocks of those species around the country. It’s not about the sustainability of fishing methods, it’s about how fish stocks are coping with the current level of pressure put on them by both commercial and recreational fishers. It’s not about recommending which fish to buy or not buy, or by-catch, or super trawlers.

The good news is that of 49 species studied, only two were classified as overfished … southern bluefin tuna and school sharks, right across their respective ranges, which translates to 7 of the 150 stocks examined. Overfished means that the biomass is too low and fishing pressure is too high or recovery is not yet detected. That doesn’t mean that all forms of fishing for SBTs and school sharks has to stop, it gives a “red light” status to these species meaning that protective measures will need to be monitored and assessed with whatever fine tuning is necessary to move them into one of the “yellow light” categories, transitional-recovering stock, where the biomass may be still too low but fishing is restricted and the stock is recovering.

Now sorry about all the numbers and definitions, but they are important. None of the other finfish species or stocks particularly valued by anglers got red light status. Australian salmon, barramundi, coral trout, Spanish mackerel, dusky and tiger flathead, tropical snappers, yellowfin tuna, swordfish, king george whiting and sand whiting all scored green lights, that is the biomass is healthy and the stock is fished at sustainable levels. So did “bait fish” such as the sardine and the sea mullet. Having said that, there were some locational stocks within this species list where there just wasn’t enough data … a future challenge for fisheries management authorities.

The one species of some concern is our much loved pink snapper, which scored some yellow lights. Of the 13 snapper stocks examined, four got green lights, but five got yellow. Three of the yellows are in WA (transitional-recovering), where they’ve already taken tough measures to support recovery, and two in South Australia (transitional-depleting), where action has also recently started. Worryingly, the east coast stock status is undefined, presumably because NSW, Victoria and Queensland can’t agree on a coordinated approach to stock management and data keeping.

This is just a taste of the reports, which can be accessed or downloaded, chapter by chapter, at More studies are being proposed to plug knowledge gaps, which will hopefully stimulate the various fisheries management authorities (and their political masters who are ultimately their funders) to lift their games where necessary.

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