With over a billion people dependent on our global oceans for the delivery of animal protein, the seas are often thought of as our never-ending food basket. Here in Australia, our relationship with ocean produce is engrained in our national consciousness and most of our holidays – we love seafood to the point where we each consume around 25kgs of seafood a year.
But we’ve known for some years now that the oceans aren’t an endless resource. The most recent figures indicate that over 85% of the world’s fish stocks are now fished up to full capacity, or are over-fished (UN FAO 2012). In a world with an ever-expanding population, the question is how we can balance what we take from the seas and how we keep the ocean healthy, so we can ensure we have fish in the future.
We often hear the message that Australian fisheries are the best managed in the world, or packaged another way, that all Australian fisheries are sustainable. While it’s certainly true that we have better management in place than some other countries, international fisheries management is hardly stellar. And even though Australia has the third largest marine Exclusive Economic Zone (the area of ocean that we manage), our waters are quite low in nutrients and don’t hold a huge abundance of fish. This means we need to get the sustainability of our fisheries right the first time, and don’t have the luxury of trial and error.
Australian fisheries are managed by eight different jurisdictions, all of which are not equal in terms of the sustainability of their fisheries.
Fisheries from around 3 nautical miles out to the edge of Australia’s ocean realm are managed by the Commonwealth Government. Fisheries from the shoreline out to 3nm are managed by the State or the Territory Governments, although there is little consistency between how they all separately manage their resources. By value, the state fisheries are by far the most valuable, with Commonwealth managed fisheries only accounting for 15% of the total value of Australia’s $2 billion fishing industry.