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SoE 2009 > Biodiversity > 7.6 Fisheries

 
Chapter 7: Biodiversity

7.6 Fisheries

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Biodiversity

7.6 Fisheries

Commercial wild fish landings and the overall numbers of anglers are relatively stable in New South Wales. Some species are overfished, prompting further refinement of harvesting controls.

Over 100 key species of finfish and shellfish are harvested in NSW. Where it has been possible to determine the status of these stocks, most have been classified as fully fished, indicating that harvesting is probably sustainable, but that there should be no significant expansion of commercial or recreational catches. Three species are considered overfished, prompting a review of management arrangements for those species. Fifty key species have an uncertain or undefined exploitation status, although this number has steadily declined since 2001–02.

Fisheries management addresses impacts of fishing on the target stocks as well as broader environmental impacts, such as effects on bycatch species. All major commercial fisheries in NSW have now been subject to a full environmental impact assessment. Recreational fisheries are more complex to assess, so approaches other than environmental assessment are required. The recent review and subsequent strengthening of bag and size limits for harvested species is one such approach.

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NSW indicators

Indicator and status

Trend

Information availability

Status of key fish stocks

Stabilising

TickTick

Impacts of aquatic harvesting (commercial and recreational)

Stabilising

Tick


Notes: Terms and symbols used above are defined in About SoE 2009 at the front of the report.


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Introduction

Wild harvest fisheries include species taken by both the commercial and recreational sectors from NSW estuaries, bays, beaches and ocean waters. Commercial fishing also occurs outside the three nautical mile territorial waters under the Offshore Constitutional Settlement between NSW and the federal government where some species and fishing methods are managed by the state.

Fish populations can exhibit substantial natural variability in population size, structure, condition and spatial extent. The difficulty in directly observing fish populations makes it a significant challenge to assess and manage stocks. Continuing improvements in the management and regulation of commercial and recreational fisheries, as well as ongoing marine habitat protection, will help to ensure the sustainability of fisheries resources.

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Status and trends
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Fish stocks

Fish stocks that are shared between the commercial and recreational sectors (such as mulloway) can be most efficiently assessed using information that is primarily from the commercial sector, as representative data from the recreational sector is more expensive to obtain. Assessment of fisheries resources has been identified as a priority in the development of management strategies for commercial fisheries and environmental assessments.

Key harvested species in NSW are monitored on an ongoing basis using a range of methods, including an analysis of catch and 'effort' data, and approaches which analyse the length and age-composition of catches. Historical records show that the stocks of some species remain stable, despite significant harvesting, usually because of individuals' rapid growth, high fecundity and early maturity. Other species, such as sharks and rays, are prone to overfishing because of low growth rates, low fecundity and late maturity. There are also considerable challenges identifying certain species of fish, particularly when they are similar in appearance to related species (as is the case with many species of shark). Table 7.18 shows the status of various fish stocks in NSW that were determined using a standardised approach (DPI 2006). Detailed reporting on stock status for all key species is available from the Status of Fisheries Resources in NSW 2006/07 (Scandol et al. 2008).

Table 7.18: Status of various NSW fish stocks

Species

Exploitation status 2006–07*

Commercial catch trend 2004–05 to 2007–08**

Abundance trend 2004–05 to 2007–08**

Marine and estuarine finfish species

Yellowfin bream

Fully fished

Stable

Stable

Dusky flathead

Fully fished

Increasing

Stable

Sand whiting

Fully fished

Stable

Stable

Luderick

Moderately fished

Stable

Stable

River eels

Some catchments fully fished

Stable

Increasing

Sea mullet

Fully fished

Stable

Stable

Yellowtail scad

Fully fished

Stable

Increasing

Blue mackerel

Moderately fished

Decreasing

No data

Snapper

Growth overfished

Stable

Increasing

Yellowtail kingfish

Growth overfished

Stable

Stable

Blue-eye trevalla

Moderately fished

Stable

Stable

Gemfish

Overfished

Stable

Stable

Silver trevally

Growth overfished

Decreasing

Stable

Eastern sea garfish

Overfished

Decreasing

Stable

Leatherjackets

Fully fished

Stable

Stable

Mulloway

Overfished

Stable

Stable

Marine and estuarine shellfish species

Abalone

Fully fished or affected by parasite perkensis

Quota dependent

Decreasing

Eastern rock lobster

Fully fished

Quota dependent

Increasing

Eastern king prawn

Growth overfished

Stable

Increasing

School prawns

Growth overfished

Increasing

Increasing

Spanner crabs

Fully fished

Stable

Stable

Bugs

Fully fished

Decreasing

Decreasing

Blue swimmer crabs

Fully fished

Stable

Decreasing

Source: DPI data 2008

Notes: Exploitation status is reviewed each year by DII fishery scientists and managers who consider a very broad range of information, including estimates of fish mortality, patterns in length composition, commercial catch and effort data, and any information available from the recreational fishery (DPI 2006). The quota-managed lobster and abalone fisheries are assessed using an alternative process.
* Exploitation status:
Moderately fished: the stock is likely being fished at a level that may allow for a limited increase in the commercial or recreational catch.
Fully fished: catches are likely to be sustainable, but there is little scope for increases in either the recreational or commercial catch.
Growth overfished: fish are being harvested at a size smaller than the biological and economic optimum. Although growth overfishing can be sustainable, additional monitoring and assessment is required.
Overfished: current fishing levels are unlikely to be sustainable and yield would be higher in the long term if the fishing pressure was reduced until the population recovered.
Undefined: there is currently little information about the status of this stock which would enable a credible determination of stock status to be made.
** Catch or abundance trend: a qualitative indication about the relative trend in commercial catch or abundance. Abundance is inferred from catch corrected for effort (or catch per unit effort) from passive fishing gear, such as fish traps.


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Freshwater fish and fisheries

The status of freshwater fish is traditionally assessed on an 'assemblage' basis rather than a 'species' basis. Thus, 'fish assemblages' is an indicator used to assess the overall condition of riverine ecosystems under the Monitoring Evaluation and Reporting Strategy (see Water 6.2). Data is collected from all NSW river systems using standardised electro-fishing techniques supplemented by small bait traps on a three-year rolling program. This data is used to calculate metrics on 'expectedness' (that is, relative to expected pre-settlement assemblages) and 'nativeness' (that is, the relative abundance of native to alien species). The data could also be used, however, to examine trends in the abundances of particular species through time or in particular parts of the state. Such analyses are not currently carried out on a routine basis. No freshwater commercial fisheries have operated since 2001, with the exception of those which harvest European carp and yabbies.

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Pressures

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Commercial fisheries catch

NSW has several thousand fish species and several hundred are harvested regularly by commercial fishers. Most of the commercial catch is derived from the state's marine waters (75% in 2007–08), with smaller proportions harvested from estuarine waters (25%) and very minor quantities from inland waters (<1%). Figure 7.9 illustrates the trend in the total commercial catch of finfish, crustaceans and molluscs since 1997–98, after catch reporting became more systematic. Overall landings for all species have been relatively stable since 1998–99, varying between 15,000 and 18,000 tonnes per annum.

Figure 7.9: NSW commercial fisheries landings, 1997–98 to 2007–08

Figure 7.9

Download Data

Source: DPI data 2008

Notes: Figures for 2007–08 are preliminary.


For marine ecosystems, reef fish have been proposed as potential indicators of overall condition (see Water 6.5). Reef fish data comes from commercial catch statistics (catch per unit effort) from the ocean trap fishery as this fishery effectively targets offshore rocky reef habitats. Catches from this fishery of 24 species over the last 10 years were considered. Averaged across all species, catch rates have remained stable over this time.

Measuring overall commercial fishing effort in NSW is not straightforward because around 30 different catch methods are regularly used and they are not readily comparable. As a surrogate for total fishing effort, the number of commercial catch returns can be used as an effort indicator. Figure 7.10 shows a steady decrease in reported returns from commercial fishing since 1997–98. This decrease is a result of the implementation of marine parks and recreational fishing havens and subsequent buyouts of commercial effort. Recently, there has also been a reduction in fishing effort due to high fuel and low product prices. There has, therefore, been an increase in the average catch per return, but this is most likely the result of fewer active fishers rather than an increased abundance of fish.

Figure 7.10: NSW commercial fishery monthly catch returns, 1997–98 to 2007–08

Figure 7.10

Download Data

Source: DPI data 2008

Notes: Figures for 2007–08 are preliminary.


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Recreational fisheries catch

Estimates from a national survey of recreational fishing in 2000–01 indicate that NSW recreational fishers catch around 13 million fish each year, as well as 17 million prawns, crabs and lobsters, and 2 million bait fish (Henry & Lyle 2003). The total recreational harvest is estimated to be about 40% of the estuarine commercial harvest, and around 20% of the oceanic commercial harvest, but the share of the resource varied greatly among species. Several common estuarine fish species (bream, dusky flathead and whiting) were harvested in greater numbers by recreational than commercial fishers. Undersize fish discarded by recreational fishers experience variable mortality rates depending on the species caught and how they are handled during capture.

Estimating the recreational catch in NSW is difficult and expensive due to the large number of anglers involved, the complexity of the activity and the lack of adequate information on anglers to conduct cost-effective surveys. Extensive onsite surveys were completed in the Greater Sydney region from 2007 to 2009, with anglers being interviewed about their fishing activity rather than self-reporting.

There are no effective indicators for recreational catch in NSW because of likely changes in the avidity of anglers and their efficiency. There are numerous drivers for change in recreational fishing, including recreational fishing havens, shifting demography (including 'sea-changers') and the introduction of better fishing gear (particularly soft plastic lures). All of these changes will put upward pressure on recreational catches. An informative time-series for angling is the number of receipts issued for one- and three-year recreational fishing licence fees (Figure 7.11). One- and three-year licence fees are paid by the more avid recreational fishers who are likely to harvest most of the catch. Anglers who only fish occasionally pay a lower fee for a licence for a short period. Although the trend in Figure 7.11 is relatively stable for three-year licence fees, the figure provides limited insight into possible changes of the overall recreational harvest.

Figure 7.11: Receipts issued for one- and three-year recreational fishing fees in NSW, 2001–02 to 2007–08

Figure 7.11

Download Data

Source: DPI data 2008


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Shark Meshing (Bather Protection) Program

The NSW Shark Meshing (Bather Protection) Program has operated in the Sydney region (Newcastle, Central Coast, Sydney North, Sydney South and Illawarra) since 1937. The program has been effective in reducing fatal shark attacks at major metropolitan beaches, with only one fatality at a netted beach since the SMP began.

While reducing the risk of shark attack, shark meshing is also listed as a key threatening process in recognition of its impact on threatened species. Nets 150 metres long and 6 m high with 50–60 cm mesh size are set from September to April each year. Data on the incidental catch as a result of the program since 1950 shows there has been a large reduction in the number of sharks caught each year. Between 1990–91 and 2007–08, catches as a result of the program have averaged approximately six sharks per month in the Sydney region (DPI 2009c). Non-shark species caught in the nets and released when still alive include rays, which make up the majority of the bycatch, and the occasional dolphin, turtle and seal. More than half the rays entangled in the nets are released alive, with seals and turtles also more resilient to entanglement and being released alive.

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Responses

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Fish stock status

Improving the understanding of the status of fish stocks requires an ongoing commitment to the collection of better information, collaboration with other research and management agencies, and development of more effective assessment methods. Strategies in place include:

  • introduction of new logbooks for commercial fisheries from July 2009 to record better information on catch, effort and fishing methods used
  • surveys of the recreational fishery to gain an understanding of the size and number of fish caught by anglers, such as the exercise completed in the Greater Sydney region from 2007 to 2009
  • introduction of guides for hard-to-identify species, such as the shark identification guide for commercial fishers (DPI 2008c)
  • continued investment in the development and application of risk-based assessment methods that are highly applicable to species caught in smaller quantities (Astles et al. 2006)
  • implementation of scientific decision-making processes to determine stock status using a complex mixture of information from NSW and elsewhere (DPI 2006).

When it has been determined that a species is overfished, there is a requirement for a recovery program. A recovery program for eastern sea garfish was implemented in 2005. The recovery of gemfish is primarily a federal responsibility as the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery is the dominant source of fishing mortality of this species. A recovery program is not required for species that are determined as 'growth overfished' if the combination of the existing harvest strategy and life history characteristics of the species provides sufficient protection for the stock from the effects of fishing.

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Harvesting

A range of responses is used to manage commercial and recreational fisheries in NSW. Measures that directly limit the impact of fishing activities include:

  • regulation of commercial fishing operations through licence, gear and species restrictions
  • application of catch quotas to control harvest rates (sharks, rock lobster, abalone and red sea urchins only)
  • bag and boat limits for recreational fishers
  • byproduct catch limits
  • temporal and spatial closures
  • application of minimum legal lengths to protect immature fish and, less commonly, maximum legal sizes to protect spawning stocks
  • improvement of the selectivity of both commercial and recreational fishing gear to minimise bycatch
  • improvement in the handling practices for commercially discarded or recreationally released fish to improve survival.

Management through broad frameworks to protect fish populations and habitats is available using approaches that include:

  • fishery management strategies, environmental assessments, reviews of environmental factors and ecological risk assessments
  • implementation of share management plans and other strategies to improve the viability of commercial fisheries.

The NSW Government is involved in projects to reduce bycatch in commercial and recreational fisheries. These projects have been successful in minimising the waste of resources in a number of fisheries and can reduce the bycatch of some species by 90%, while having limited impact on the catch of target species. Research into minimising the mortality of line-caught fish discarded by recreational fishers is being undertaken (see Butcher et al. 2008 for guidelines).

A general recreational fishing licence fee, introduced in 2001, has generated funds to buy out commercial fishing businesses and establish 30 recreational fishing havens. Overall, about $18 million has been spent buying back around 250 commercial fishing operations. Marine park buyouts have also contributed considerably to the reduction in the number of fishing businesses in NSW.

Removal of commercial fishing from Lake Macquarie and Tuross Lake has seen an improvement for recreational fishing in those areas (Steffe et al. 2005). Recreational fishing havens are expected to mitigate conflict over access for recreational and commercial fishing.

Bag and size limits for recreational fishing have been reviewed and strengthened following public consultation in 2005. Daily bag and possession limits are currently applied to more than 80 finfish and shellfish species.

Aquaculture has the potential to reduce pressure on the demand for wild fish stocks, but inappropriate and unregulated development also poses environmental risks. The Department of Industry and Investment (DII) is encouraging the responsible development of aquaculture through use of sustainable aquaculture strategies which are enacted under State Environmental Planning Policy 62 – Sustainable Aquaculture. The NSW oyster industry and the draft NSW Land Based Sustainable Aquaculture Strategy (DPI 2009d) outline best-practice management in relation to species, site, design and operational activities. The strategy also provides a simplified whole-of-government approval process for the development of an aquaculture farm.

DII has also developed the Hatchery Quality Assurance Scheme to comply with the Freshwater Fish Stocking Fishery Management Strategy. Twelve industry and government hatcheries in NSW are accredited under the scheme, which provides freshwater fish for restocking into NSW waterways. The scheme promotes best practice and focuses on ensuring fingerlings are healthy and meet genetic standards for restocking programs.

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Shark meshing

The Shark Meshing (Bather Protection) Program has recently been reviewed and a Report into the NSW Shark Meshing (Bather Protection) Program was produced (DPI 2009c). This report has informed the development of the Joint Management Agreement and Management Plan under the state's fisheries management legislation.

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Future directions

There has been significant reform to ensure the long-term sustainability and viability of the NSW commercial fishing industry and stabilise the harvest of living aquatic resources. Importantly, issues such as bycatch reduction are now fundamental components of fisheries management strategies. However, it will take some time to measure the statewide benefits to fish stocks.

Recreational fishing is regulated differently from commercial fishing because, in most cases, the activities vary substantially. Additional restrictions on bag and size limits have been imposed on anglers and these will be tightened if stocks are determined to be overfished or subject to other significant risks. DII also has an extensive recreational fishing advisory campaign, including the Fishcare Volunteer Program and a statewide primary schools education program, to promote responsible and sustainable fishing.

The stresses on fisheries resources are likely to increase in the long term because of improvements in the technologies used to locate and harvest fish as well as population growth and other demographic changes. Coastal and estuarine developments also have the potential to degrade fish habitat, including the habitat required by juvenile fish. Fishing is considered to be a potential pressure on the overall condition of riverine, estuarine and marine aquatic systems (see Water 6.2; Water 6.5; Water 6.6).

There is a high demand for locally produced seafood and some restaurants and retailers are now identifying the location and method used to harvest the fish they sell. This trend is likely to continue as the seafood industry looks for ways to add value to their product. Efforts to assist commercial operators to adjust their fishing practices should continue in order to meet national and international standards to minimise impacts on fish stocks, bycatch species and aquatic habitats.

The Fisheries Management Act 1994 gives authority for the conservation of fish stocks and habitats regardless as to whether the impacts are being caused by commercial fisheries, recreational fisheries or other activities. Programs operate to monitor and assess the state of key fish stocks, and recovery programs are required once species have been determined to be overfished. These recovery programs require more stringent regulations on harvesting and more robust monitoring and assessment.

Growth in aquaculture can reduce the pressures on some fish stocks but must be managed carefully to prevent or minimise their own impacts on the environment.

     
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