MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Global fisheries experts are warning the world’s fish stocks are in crisis.
Australia has traditionally managed its fisheries conservatively but researchers at the University of British Colombia believe our nation is at a crossroads, with a review of Commonwealth marine reserves underway and fears of overfishing from factory trawlers.
Their latest analysis estimates the long-term actual commercial fish catch is millions of tonnes higher than what’s been officially provided to the UN and warns that is giving a distorted picture of the state of our fisheries.
Here’s national environment reporter Jake Sturmer.
(Sounds from within the fish markets)
JAKE STURMER: Business is good at the Sydney fish markets – the largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere.
They’re buying and selling some of the best Australian seafood in an industry worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
It’s quality produce from sustainable fisheries – a far cry from what’s happening around the rest of the world, according to the University of British Columbia fisheries expert, Professor Daniel Pauly.
DANIEL PAULY: There is a crisis in fisheries globally. We fish too much, the stocks are going down and this is gloom and doom, but Australia is different in that it has not let big boats, big foreign boats exploit the so-called surplus.
JAKE STURMER: For now.
While the Government has banned super trawlers, those bigger than 130 metres, a 95-metre factory freezer ship recently killed eight dolphins and four seals in just its first two voyages in Australian waters.
It forced the Australian Fisheries Management Authority to ban mid-water trawlers from fishing at night and Professor Pauly fears what could happen if more arrive in our waters.
DANIEL PAULY: Once they are there, they want to access more of the resources and the resources are in better shape in Australia than elsewhere and therefore there are more resources to be had.
On short notice they could make huge catches and 10 years later you wouldn’t have any and you would be in the same mess that all of the other countries are in.
JAKE STURMER: The CEO of the South East Trawl Fishing Industry Association Simon Boag doesn’t expect to see other larger trawlers here.
SIMON BOAG: I think it’s unlikely, given the relatively low productivity of Australian fisheries but in any event what’s really important is how much fish you catch, not how you catch it.
JAKE STURMER: Australia, like other nations, reports its catch to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Between 1950 and 2010 it officially reported more than eight million tonnes of fish from the commercial sector but a reconstruction of the total catch from the University of British Columbia’s fisheries centre, to be released today, estimates there was an extra four million tonnes of fish caught commercially in that period that were considered discards.
That’s the practice of returning unwanted catches to the sea, dead or alive, either because they’re too small, above the quota or the wrong type – and without counting them, Professor Pauly says we’re not getting a true picture of the state of our fisheries.
DANIEL PAULY: Some of the other reporting is innocent for example discard, fish that are discarded and not reported by any country. But it ought to be counted because on a long term, or maybe in the medium term, this discarding is going to be abolished.
We cannot afford to throw away so much food.
JAKE STURMER: Some regions like the European Union have gone even further and banned the practice.
Simon Boag says new technology has significantly reduced the number of discards from Australia’s fisheries and a ban is unnecessary.
SIMON BOAG: What we’ve done in Australia is we’ve been able to get our non-commercial catch of fish down and down, so our discard total has come down a lot. And that should be the focus – on where we’re currently at and how to continue to make it better.
JAKE STURMER: And while conservationists and industry debate the discards, the Government is in the middle of a review of Commonwealth Marine Reserves, which is likely to report in the coming months.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: And that’s national environment reporter Jake Sturmer and the Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Richard Colbeck, declined to comment.