6 June 2018

Research paper by Graham Edgar, Trevor Ward and Rick Stuart-Smith: Rapid declines across Australian fishery stocks indicate global sustainability targets will not be achieved without an expanded network of ‘no‐fishing’ reserves.

The Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) rejects the claim that there have been rapid declines across Australian fish stocks with Commonwealth-managed fisheries that have been rigorously assessed as not being overfished.

The claims of overfishing by the researchers is not supported by the weight of evidence publically available on websites managed by AFMA, the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC), the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES), scientific publications and information available on data.gov.au.

A lot has happened in fisheries management since 2005, which is frequently used in the research paper as the baseline year.

Since 2006-07 the Commonwealth government and AFMA have implemented robust and extensive fisheries management measures, including a buyback of commercial fishing licences, reductions to the total allowable catches and the introduction of harvest strategies.

This work has been supported by years of research and science-based decision making by the independent AFMA Commission to ensure Australia’s fisheries remain sustainable.

We set conservative target biomass levels at 48 percent of unfished biomass, which is among the highest in the world. As a result of deliberate fisheries management action, not as a result of over fishing, Australian Commonwealth fishers were restricted to smaller, sustainable catches.

AFMA with the support of CSIRO introduced an ecological risk assessment framework to regularly assess over 1,000 species, so we could manage across the marine ecosystem, rather than focussing on commercial target species. This was done to further ensure ecological sustainability of the Australian Fishing Zone.

There are many reasons why the number of fish landed in Australia rises and falls over time, including the natural fluctuations in stocks, market demand for a particular species, adjustments to the sustainable catch levels as directed by AFMA, and management action to address historic overfishing.

The Edgar et al. research paper generally confines its data collection to finfish surveys in shallow waters in temperate reef areas, when almost all Commonwealth fisheries work in waters deeper than 100 metres or outside temperate waters.

For example a large portion of the Commonwealth fisheries catch is harvested from the tropical prawn fisheries, and sub-Antarctic fisheries, and our pelagic fisheries operate well offshore. We also manage migratory species which can be impacted by ocean conditions outside of our waters.

The researchers’ methodology failed to include the majority of the environments that are home to Commonwealth commercial fisheries.

It’s questionable whether the analysis and conclusions drawn by these researchers could be applied to Commonwealth fisheries at all, despite the suggestions by the researchers that they do.

The management of our Commonwealth fisheries is underpinned by world-leading scientific research and a strong legislative and policy framework.  For the fourth consecutive year the catch from all solely Commonwealth-managed fisheries has been determined by ABARES to be sustainable.

AFMA isn’t ignoring the challenges that lie ahead. We are investing in research into the impacts of climate change, we are investigating why some species are not being caught by fishers and increasing the kinds of monitoring tools available, to ensure we are making decisions based on informed, accurate and timely fisheries data.

Australians can be rightly proud of our world class, sustainably managed Commonwealth fisheries, and we are proud of our global reputation as world leaders in fisheries management.

We work hard to ensure that Australians can feel confident when they’re at their local fish and chip shop or buying wild-caught fish at their supermarket, that buying Australian wild-caught seafood is sustainable both now and into the future.

Dr Nick Rayns
Acting CEO, AFMA