Change in fishing conditions in the Small Pelagic Fishery

The ban on mid-water trawling in the Small Pelagic Fishery (SPF) during the hours of darkness has been removed given that a trigger limit on dolphin mortalities is in place.  That is, the management measure that if a single dolphin mortality occurs in any one of the seven SPF management zones, that respective zone will be closed for six months.  This is in addition to other measures to reduce the risk of marine mammal interactions. This change will come into place on 17 September 2015.

A ban on night time fishing for all mid-water trawl vessels in the SPF was implemented on 8 May 2015 through the Small Pelagic Fishery (Closures) Direction No.1 2015. The Direction was made in an emergency situation to stop the unacceptable rate of dolphin deaths after eight dolphins were killed during the first two trips of Geelong Star earlier this year.

Since 8 May further scientific advice has become available and additional measures have been put in place to reduce marine mammal interactions.

The SPF Technical Marine Mammal Workshop hosted by Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC) on 25-26 June recommended that Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA):

  • review as soon as possible the need for a ban on night time fishing when a trigger limit on dolphin mortalities is in place

The workshop report, which was published in July 2015, can be found on FRDC’s website.  Participants at the FRDC workshop included experts in the operations of the Small Pelagic Fishery, gear technologists, acousticians, scientists with expertise in marine mammals and in fisheries, and representatives from the Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Environment, the FRDC and AFMA.

AFMA regularly reviews management arrangements in all of our Commonwealth fisheries in light of the latest scientific advice and other information which is what we did, and are doing, by considering the recommendations of this report.

In addition to a low trigger level, safeguards implemented to minimise the risk of dolphin interactions by the Geelong Star include the barrier net, closures of high risk areas, and not discharging biological material when gear is in the water.

AFMA will continue to monitor the vessel 24/7 using a GPS tracking system known as a Vessel Monitoring System. The requirement for all mid-water trawl vessels in the SPF to use electronic monitoring will also remain in place, along with an AFMA Observer onboard for the first 12 months and then onboard for at least 20 per cent of trips.

The operator of the Geelong Star, Seafish Tasmania, is also taking additional measures to reduce the risk of marine mammal interactions such as implementing a range of safe setting and hauling procedures to minimise marine mammal interactions and underwater equipment that can detect dolphins near the vessel.