Summary

Summary

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The Status of Australian fish stocks reports 2016 assess the biological sustainability of the wild-caught fish stocks against a nationally agreed framework. The reports examine whether the abundance (biomass) of fish and the level of harvest from the stock are sustainable. National reporting on fish stock sustainability is the first step towards national fishery-wide reporting that will consider other aspects of ecologically sustainable development, such as the effects of fishing on the marine environment, economic and social performance and governance. Although these issues are not considered in the current stock status classifications (an issue to be rectified in future editions), the reports comment on the effects of fishing on the marine environment and the effects of the environment on the stocks.

Australia has one of the largest marine domains in the world, covering an area larger than the Australian mainland. Australia also has a long history of Indigenous, commercial and recreational fishing (including charter fishing) in its waters. Australia's wild capture fisheries and aquaculture production has created significant financial benefit for both rural communities and Australia. The Gross Value of Production (GVP) for all of Australia's commercial fishing and aquaculture in 2014-15 financial year was, $2.76 billion a year with wild-capture fisheries contributed 57 per cent ($1.57 billion) of the total value of Australia's fisheries production and produced more than 151 439 tonnes (t) of seafood, for local, domestic and export markets. Aquaculture (to be included in the future) contributed $1.19 billion and produced more than 91 036 tonnes.

Australian seafood is diverse; it includes abalone, clams, scallops, prawns, crabs, squid, coastal fish such as whiting and flathead, reef fish such as Coral Trout, and oceanic tuna and billfish. The fisheries that supply our seafood operate in estuaries and bays, across the continental shelf to oceanic waters and, in some cases, on the high seas. The fisheries and the wild fish stocks on which they are based are managed by eight jurisdictions (Figure 1). In general, the states and the Northern Territory manage fisheries that extend from the coast to a distance of 3 nautical miles, and the Commonwealth manages fisheries that extend from 3 nautical miles to the 200 nautical mile limit of the Australian Fishing Zone.

Figure 1: Contribution to gross value of wild-capture fisheries production by jurisdiction, 2014–15

 Pie Chart of State and Territory Wild Catch Fishing Production Value

 

The productivity and sustainability of wild-capture fisheries depend on healthy wild fish stocks and marine ecosystems that support the fish. Fish species tend to form relatively discrete populations in different geographical areas, which are referred to as biological stocks. Because separate biological stocks have limited interbreeding, fishing one biological stock may not directly affect others, whereas fishing any part of a biological stocks would be expected to affect the entire stock. The size and distribution of individual biological stocks vary greatly between species. For example, Southern Bluefin Tuna comprise a single biological stock that spans much of the world's southern oceans, whereas hundreds of separate biological stocks of Blacklip Abalone are thought to exist in Australia. A key aim of fisheries management is to ensure that biological stocks are maintained at sustainable levels. Although state/territory and Commonwealth jurisdictional boundaries may be appropriate from a governance perspective, many biological stocks straddle these boundaries, spanning the waters of more than one jurisdiction. The same fish species may be caught in several jurisdictions, in several fisheries and, in some cases, also outside Australian waters. The catch in the different jurisdictions may be from separate biological stocks of the species, which have little interaction, or from a single biological stock. Therefore, a national approach to assessing and reporting on the status of fish stocks is critical to understanding the state of wild-caught fish stocks and Australian fisheries management.

The stock status classifications used in the Status of Australian fish stocks reports are presented at the biological stock level wherever possible, including where a biological stock spans the waters of more than one Australian jurisdiction—that is, a shared stock. This recognises the biological boundaries of fish stocks rather than administrative boundaries of management units (for example, for individual fisheries, a group of fisheries or a region defined by management) or jurisdictions (i.e. the borders of the waters of the Commonwealth, the states or the Northern Territory). Where insufficient information is available to determine biological stock structure (that is, where it is not known where one stock finishes and the next begins), or where large numbers of small biological stocks make biological stock–based assessments impractical, stock status assessments are made at the level of management or jurisdiction. In the reports, the term 'stock status' is applied generically to the status of biological stocks, management units and populations assessed at the jurisdictional level.

The Status of Australian fish stocks reports 2016 are national reports that examine the status of 83 wild-caught species and 294 fish stocks. This builds on the work undertaken in the 2014 edition, the number of wild-caught species has increased to 68, and comprised of 238 separate stocks; and almost doubles the number of stocks assessed in the inaugural 2012 edition, which looked at 49 wild-caught species and 150 stocks.  In total the species and their stocks assessed in the 2016 edition contributes almost 90 per cent of the annual catch and 90 per cent of the value of Australian wild-capture fisheries.

Traditionally, fishery status reporting has been undertaken separately within each Australian jurisdiction for commercial wild-capture fisheries. In developing the Status of Australian fish stocks reports, several jurisdictions have reviewed their status determination processes and are modifying their jurisdictional reports to follow the framework applied in the national reports, where possible. As future editions of the Status of Australian fish stocks reports extend the coverage to include a broader range of issues, increased coverage—including more species and reporting on fishery-level issues—this may lead to a reduced requirement for separate jurisdictional reports.