FIRST EVER COMMERCIAL MARINE FISH PROTECTED UNDER ENVIRONMENT LAWS
Humane Society International (HSI) has succeeded in bringing an end to the chronic over-exploitation of orange roughy after a 3 year campaign. It is now the first commercially fished marine species to be given protection under threatened species laws in the world.
In June 2003, HSI nominated orange roughy for protection under Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. Finally, after several delays and strong industry lobbying, Federal Environment Minister, Senator Ian Campbell, yesterday gave the species protection
“This is the first ever commercially fished marine species to be given threatened species protection under Australia’s national environment legislation. It is a major breakthrough for marine conservation in this country, one that the fishing lobby has forcefully resisted for many years”, said HSI Director, Michael Kennedy.
However, the Minister has only listed orange roughy as ‘conservation dependent’ which is the lowest level of protection available for a threatened species under the EPBC Act. Caving into industry pressure, the Minister did not follow formal advice from his Threatened Species Scientific Committee that orange roughy meets the criteria for much tougher protection as ‘endangered’, since only 7% of its unfished biomass remains. An endangered listing would have ensured an end to all fishing, whether targeted or as bycatch, as long as its conservation status remains unchanged.
“The conservation dependent listing is a political compromise after the Minister was lobbied by the fishing industry and pressured by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority” said Mr Kennedy. “AFMA issued a 400 tonne quota for this year, as well as a 150 tonne bycatch quota. With the population at 7% of its virgin biomass, this is ecologically disastrous. It is also flouting AFMA’s own stated objectives, which stipulate that all targeted fishing is to cease when a population falls below 20% of its unfished biomass”.
“HSI objects to the fox being left in charge of the chicken coop. AFMA caused orange roughy to qualify for an endangered species listing, and now we are being told orange roughy is going to be left dependent on AFMA for its conservation”, said Mr Kennedy. “The Minister should have bitten the bullet and listed orange roughy as endangered, which would have given the Department of Environment full control over its future recovery”.
The recent Environment and Heritage Legislation Amendment Bill has legislated for commercial fish that qualify for stronger protection will not receive it, instead being dependent for recovery on fisheries management plans. Also, with the new ‘thematic’ nomination process, unless the Minister decides to have a “commercial marine fish” theme, it is most likely that future nominations for endangered fish will not even be assessed by the Scientific Committee. “This is the first and probably the last listing of a commercial fish that we will see in Australia under the current regime”