The Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) has renewed its call for the Queensland saucer scallop fishery to be closed after a new more encompassing assessment has shown the number of scallops is still seriously depleted and continuing to tumble.
The new evidence shows that the Queensland stock of the popular seafood species is now at 15% of historical levels. The Queensland government’s policy states that a fishery should be closed when a stock is below 20%. Scallops have been below 20% in Queensland for almost a decade.
AMCS criticised the Queensland government last year for only closing two out of three areas within the scallop fishery, leaving the second largest region, an area off Fraser Island and the Southern Great Barrier Reef, open to scallop fishing with few restrictions.
AMCS Great Barrier Reef fisheries expert Simon Miller said: “They may not be the cutest or most colourful species but scallops are an important part of the ecosystem and a target for commercial fishers. Sadly, despite many warnings, they have been allowed to be fished to dangerously low levels and following this shocking stock assessment, the entire fishery should be closed until it recovers to healthy levels.
“Despite the low stocks from multiple assessments, Fisheries Queensland has failed to take strong enough action. This mismanagement means all scallop fishing zones should now be closed until numbers recover, with scientists estimating this will take a decade to get back to sustainable levels.
“Continuing to fish for scallops at current levels may not allow the species to recover to a sustainable level before 2040, an unacceptable period of time for such a short lived species.
“We have UNESCO’s Reactive Monitoring Mission coming to review the management of the Reef very soon, and these are the kinds of issues that need to be addressed. Continued fishing of a depleted species is not acceptable and not the gold standard the public expects of fishing on our Reef.
“Well managed fisheries and healthy fish stocks are crucial to build the resilience of the Reef in the climate crisis, and scallops have been shown to be particularly susceptible to warming waters. For this species to have a chance in a warming climate, we need to build stocks rapidly up to sustainable levels.”
In Queensland, scallops are targeted in the Queensland Trawl Fishery, the State’s most valuable fishery. In December, this fishery was accredited under national environment laws allowing it to continue exporting its catch including prawns, bugs and scallops outside the country. However, this accreditation is subject to strict conditions, including that scallops are not subject to overfishing.
Following the stock assessment, the fishery now appears to be breaching that condition, Mr Miller said.
“If the accreditation is revoked, this will impact fishers throughout Queensland, even those who don’t target scallops. For example, a prawn fisher in Cairns wouldn’t be able to export their catch.
“Losing accreditation would be disastrous for the fishing industry in the state, and by pushing along with scallops as they are, the Queensland government is putting so much at risk.
“The scallop season only opened on January 20 with the first few weeks of the season typically when the most scallops are caught. So we are very concerned further depletion will have already occurred.”