Australian fisheries recovery stalling as overfishing rises

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  • Take of endangered species such as school shark and orange roughy increased beyond sustainable levels
  • Australia has recorded the highest numbers of stocks subject to overfishing in more than a decade.

The recovery of Australia’s Commonwealth-managed fisheries since the $200 million taxpayer bailout in 2006 has stalled with overfishing again on the rise, said the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) after the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) released its annual assessment of Commonwealth fish stocks yesterday.

The Australian Government paid $200 million in 2006 to bail out fisheries with the intention of ending overfishing of the stocks under its jurisdiction.[1] This unprecedented bailout was intended to be permanent and the last intervention of its kind, but this year the government has had to pour another $20 million of taxpayer funds to prop up Commonwealth-managed fisheries because of overfishing and failure to manage the impacts of climate change.[2] Despite this, the latest report shows industry has actually been sanctioned to catch endangered species above the scientifically recommended sustainable catch levels. There has also been a failure to collect reliable fisheries data, so the Australian Fisheries Management Authority does not know what is going on.

Australia has recorded the highest numbers of stocks subject to overfishing or uncertainty in more than a decade. There are now six fish stocks that are being overfished – the highest number since 2011. There are now 21 species with an uncertain status – the highest number since 2008.

What is even more disturbing is the increasing take of endangered species, such as school shark and orange roughy. Both fish are on Australia’s threatened species lists, but under  special conditions they can be caught and sold if their populations are rebuilding in line with time-bound targets in the recovery plan.

Fishers caught 1168 tonnes of orange roughy in 2021-22, 431 tonnes (58%) more than the scientifically recommended 737-tonne sustainable level, yet ABARES insisted the stock is “not subject to overfishing”.

 AMCS Sustainable Seafood Program Manager Adrian Meder said: “This report insists that we are not overfishing orange roughy in the eastern zone – a fishery synonymous with the worst excesses of overfishing in Australia – even though fishers caught 50% more than the level recommended as sustainable in the most recent scientific assessment; and on the justification that this excessive catch has not immediately pushed orange roughy back to an overfished status. The eastern zone orange roughy fish population is predicted to decline over the next 20-25 years as a result of overfishing back in the 1980s. Did these guys forget what happens when you let industry catch 50% too much orange roughy?”

School shark is another species so overfished that it is an endangered species. School shark take was permitted to increase 30% from 194 tonnes to 250 tonnes last year and the report said its numbers are not increasing as expected, noting: “Total fishing mortality in 2022–23, if continued in the long term, is unlikely to allow recovery to the LRP [limit reference point] in a time frame consistent with the requirements of the HSP [Harvest Strategy Policy]. Biomass is below the LRP.”

AMCS shark scientist Dr Leonardo Guida said: “Australia’s largest fishery is still fishing school shark, an endangered animal, to serve up in our fish and chip shops. If that sounds ridiculous in 2023, it’s actually getting worse. The Australian Government is allowing overfishing of an animal that has already lost almost 90% of its original numbers, and in the last year decided to increase the number allowed to be killed by around 30%. Worse still, there’s genuine concern that this endangered shark is being illegally targeted, and the report cites that ‘establishing that this is the case, should be a priority for this stock’.”

Accessed 23/10/23

Accessed 23/10/23



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