Extinction nears as government inactivity threatens commercial fish
The Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) released new quotas for several commercial fish species yesterday. While avoiding following their own policies, they have made token reductions in fishing allocations to species that have been overfished for decades to the verge of extinction.
Orange roughy has been reduced by the commercial fishing industry to 7% of its unfished biomass, and it still is given a quota of 400 tonnes by AFMA, along with a 150 tonne bycatch quota. The species has been nominated for listing as an endangered species by Humane Society International (HSI), and the government’s Threatened Species Scientific Committee has provided the Minister for Environment, Ian Campbell, with unequivocal advice that the species clearly meets the criteria for endangered species protection. Further advice directly from the Department of Environment and Heritage (DEH) supports these findings.
The advice was provided to the Minister in May this year, and according to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, he was obliged to make a decision based on this advice within 90 days. This decision has still not been made, and no extension has been announced.
“It is shocking and shameful that when provided with a mountain of scientific evidence showing the drastic decline of orange roughy, the Minister still procrastinates, fearful of offending the fishing industry” said HSI Director, Michael Kennedy. “He himself declared, on public radio in May this year, that he intended to list orange roughy. If it was listed then all quotas, including bycatch, would be set to zero and the species would finally have a chance to recover”.
Other commercially fished species whose survival is uncertain due to sustained overfishing are school shark and eastern gemfish. Both of these have also been nominated for threatened species protection by HSI, and both have also been subjected to endless delays from DEH. The process’ statutory time limit is 15 months and yet it ends up taking years, especially when the nominated species are potentially controversial.
Populations of school shark have been reduced by between 82% and 88%, and they are consistently described as “overfished” by the Bureau of Rural Sciences. Yet AFMA has only reduced its quota by a token amount, from 257 to 240 tonnes. Similarly, eastern gemfish is estimated to have declined by 96-99%, and yet AFMA still allows 100 tonnes to be caught as bycatch – which is unchanged since 2003.
“AFMA set its own parameters – it said that when a species is reduced to less than 20% of its unfished biomass all quotas should be set to zero. We are simply asking that AFMA follow its own advice, stop publicising misleading information about zero quotas that aren’t actually zero and take responsibility for overfishing these species” said Michael Kennedy.
The full quota list from AFMA, copies of the TSSC and DEH advice for orange roughy and the transcript of Minister Campbell’s radio interview are all available on request.