Media Release Fisheries

Marine conservationists highlight concerns in fish stocks report

October 14, 2020

The latest fishery status report from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) includes some worrying signs for Australian fish stocks, the Australian Marine Conservation Society has said.

The evaluation of 22 Commonwealth-managed fisheries found that around a third (33 of the 96) of fish stocks assessed were classified as uncertain, overfished and subject to overfishing.

Most of these are likely to be found in the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery (SESSF), that covers almost half of the Australian Fishing Zone. Twenty-nine out of 43 fish stocks caught in the SESSF are continuing to decline or failing to recover (1).

AMCS Sustainable Seafood Manager Adrian Meder said the declining fish stocks in SESSF were particularly concerning because they showed reforms introduced 15 years ago designed to end overfishing had not worked.

“If they had fully recovered, we estimate there could be over a thousand tons of additional locally caught seafood available to Australians. We don’t have that in 2020, so we need to take the opportunity before us to regroup, rebuild and repair this fishery and the diverse marine environments it depends on.”

Mr Meder said the declining fish stocks were likely caused by a changing climate and a lack of sufficiently careful fisheries management.

“Australia’s southeastern waters are a global ocean warming hotspot, warming at a rate four times higher than the global average,” he said.

“We know these fish populations are moving and changing as a result of it. But there is also inadequate scrutiny of fisheries that throw back and ‘discard’ up to half of what they catch. More stringent rules are required to maintain healthy fish stocks under a warming climate.”

The report also highlights the ongoing issue with the legal status of some species fished in the SESSF, like the blue warehou and the school shark, that have been pushed by overfishing to the equivalent of critically endangered status. Under Australian environmental laws, these species are listed as ‘Conservation Dependent’ which means they can still be fished and sold for a profit.

“This issue can be fixed with more effective environmental laws where species are listed in the category for which they qualify, irrespective of whether they are a fish or a marsupial. Fish which are endangered and critically endangered shouldn’t be treated differently because they have a price tag on their flesh. If they are listed under the category for which they qualify, then they become a protected and no-take species,” said Mr Meder.

“Australia has the expertise and resources to manage these fisheries to international best practise, but we need the leadership to do the hard work and put the environment and the fish stocks first. In the long term, that means more fish for us to share.”

  1.  Knuckey, I.,Boag, S., Day, G., Hobday, A., Jennings, S., Little, R., Mobsby, D., Ogier, E., Nicol, S. and R. Stephenson(2018). Understanding factors influencing under-caught TACs, declining catch rates and failure to recover for many quota species in the SESSF. FRDC Project No 2016/146. Fishwell Consulting, 2018. [CC BY 3.0]164pp.