‘Getting in Deeper?’ was the title of a letter to the Courier Mail on Friday which read:
Now that we are going to have to import more fish because of cutbacks to commercial fishing we can expect an increase in Indonesian illegal fishing in our waters to meet the extra demand for imports.
When I read in the The Australian and The Courier Mail last Thursday that a $220 million Federal Government package will be offered to more than 1,000 commercial fisherman as an inducement to exit the fishing industry, I emailed Dr Walter Stark and asked what he thought about it all. I commented that I thought some fisheries were under real stress including the orange roughy, not to mention southern bluefin tuna.
Walter emailed back:
Orange Roughy are very slow growing, have a restricted habitat range on the continental slope and gather in schoals above the bottom where they are easy to detect and catch. Needless to say they are very vulnerable to overfishing. As to the broader issue of halving the Commonwealth licensed fleet because of overfishing, it’s nonsense.
Here are some fishery production figures (in metric tonnes) for 2003, the first is aquaculture the second for wild caught.
Australia 38,559 / 219,473
Vietnam 937,502 / 1,666,886
Malaysia 167,160 / 1,287,084
Thailand 772,970 / 2,817,482
Mexico 73,675 / 1,450,000
Bangaladesh 856,956 / 1,141,241
Philippines 459,615 / 2,169,164
Burma 257,083 / 1,349,169
U.S.A. 544,329 / 4,938,956
The figures speak for themselves, especially in view of our much larger and less impacted coastline and marine environment.
Australia has the world’s third largest Exclusive Economic Zone, behind the United States and France, but ahead of Russia, with the total area actually exceeding that of its land territory. France is so large because of its overseas departments.
In terms of EEZ area Australian fisheries harvest rate is about 1/20 that of the U.S. Australia ‘s continental EEZ area comes to 6,048,681 Km2 and the island territories bring the total to 8,148,250 Km2. Disregarding the latter the wild caught harvest comes to just under 40 Kg/ Km2 per year or 0.4 Kg/Ha.
I don’t think overfishing is much of a threat. The strong impression I received from some pretty impassioned fishermen at the Seafood Directions conference at Sydney in September was that poor catches are not the difficulty. The real problem causing the widespread malise in fisheries is government imposed restrictions, demands and charges.
Tom Marland has commented:
As a result [of the restrictions] retailers will be forced to import more seafood under the Howard Government plan to replenish Australia’s vulnerable fish stocks.
Fisheries Minister Ian Macdonald commented yesterday that “It is a fact well accepted by the industry that there are too many boats chasing too few fish in many of our fisheries.”
Under the proposed plan The Australian Fisheries Management Authority will reduce the allowed catch in 17 key fisheries in southern, eastern and northern waters from next year, and enforce more sustainable fishing practices.
Australian Conservation Foundation marine campaign co-ordinator Chris Smyth said the package was long overdue, given that the number of over fished species had risen from three to 17 since the Howard Government came to power in 1996.
While the fish caught in Australian waters will be reduced, especially in the ‘exploited and depleted’ Great Barrier Reef region it does not make any mention about a decrease in consumer demand for seafood in Australia.
In a recent article written by Walter Stark titled Threats to the Great Barrier Reef it was stated that in regards to the over fishing of the GBR the evidence does not quite stack up.
For instance the GBR currently has a harvest rate of 17kg/km2 compared to other pacific reefs which average 7,700 kg/km2. This may be put down to the fact that the GBR covers a large area. However, currently only 30% of the reef is available to commercial fishing operators which corresponds to 60kg/km2.
So while the bans on commercial fishing will be implemented to ‘rejuvenate’ a comparably under utilised resource in Australian water other reef environments in the Pacific, South East Asia and the Caribbean will be placed under increased pressure from the increased demand from Australian imports.
This position smacks of out of sight out of mind and is a direct ‘exportation’ of Australian environmental responsibility. While Australians will sit down to a smorgasbord over over-priced, over seas imported seafood this Christmas they can sleep well in the knowledge that the GBR and other Australian marine resources are safe to the detriment of over-exploited and environmentally unsustainable international fishing zones.
Thanks to Tom Marland and Walter Stark for most of the information for this post.