Garrett squibs on fish protection
Humane Society International (HSI) has succeeded in getting long-awaited protection for 2 seriously depleted marine fish species. School shark and eastern gemfish have today been listed under Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, bringing an end to 6 years of delays.
Disappointingly, although both species are caught in commercial fisheries which has led to severe population declines, the Minster has listed them as “conservation dependent”, the lowest level of protection available for a threatened species under the EPBC Act, which allows commercial exploitation to continue.
The conservation advice from the Threatened Species Scientific Committee notes that the declines in both species from commercial over-fishing are so serious, that they qualify for listing in the “endangered” category. Yet a loophole made possible by amendments to the EPBC Act in 2006 has legislated for down-grading the protection of commercial fish species. Instead of being listed in the threat category for which they qualify, these species can now be listed as “conservation dependent”, meaning that they can still be fished, and their recovery is dependent on fisheries management plans.
“The conservation dependent listing of these species is a political compromise,” said Ms Beynon, HSI Senior Program Manager. “If it is determined that they qualify for classification as endangered then they should be listed as such and commercial exploitation cease, as would be the case for all other threatened species. An endangered listing would have ensured an end to commercial exploitation, and this is exactly what these species need.”
Populations of eastern gemfish declined by 95% between the 1960s and 2002 following historic overfishing, and they remain at only 14% of pre-exploitation levels. Similarly, school shark is likely to be at a mere 9-14% of pre-exploitation levels. This is despite the federal government’s Harvest Strategy Policy, which states that declines of up to 60% are acceptable for commercially fished species. While the government says that these species are only caught as by-catch, it continues to allow their sale, thereby creating an incentive for their continued capture.
“If the government is serious about protecting these species, it must resist industry pressure and act decisively to bring a clear end to their commercial exploitation,” said Ms Beynon. “Their recovery depends on it.”