Misplaced pride in ropey Australian fish stocks report

An Australian fur seal in Port Phillip Bay (Image Credit: Andrew Newton).

On World Oceans Day, a Federal Government agency has presented a fish stocks assessment which is far rosier than the reality for many of our fisheries.   

The Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) said the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC) have framed their Status of Australian Fish Stocks 2020 report as a rosy picture of sustainability in our oceans, but the report actually shows that a quarter of our fish stocks are not being managed in a way that could be described as sustainable.

The report evaluated 477 stocks of 148 species, including 71 stocks of 25 new species.

Adrian Meder, AMCS Sustainable Seafood Program Manager, said while the increase in the number of stocks covered by the report was welcome, the report also showed that just over 25% of stocks were classified as either depleted, depleting or undefined. 

“This is most unwelcome news and we should be doing better than this for Australian seafood lovers in 2021. To release this information on World Oceans Day and present it as good news also seems disingenuous.

“More disappointing is that this report provides further evidence Australia’s progress in rebuilding our fisheries from the overfishing of the last century has slowed or stopped. There has been no real improvement in the proportion of sustainable stocks identified in this report since the previous version was released in 2018.

“We need governments and industry to get on with the hard work of recovering our depleted fish stocks. On World Oceans Day, Australians are ready to acknowledge the challenges for our oceans and the impacts we are having on them, and to support our governments and industries to rebuild our fisheries. They do not expect these challenges to be glossed over, but to see real commitment from our leaders to face up to them and take them on.”

Mr Meder said the government report only assesses one aspect of the sustainability of a fishery – the amount of fish in it – not the impact of that fishery on the overall marine environment.

“To understand how sustainable our seafood is, we also need to understand issues like the amount of bycatch of endangered marine wildlife in that fishery, and the damage certain fishing methods have on marine environments,” said Mr Meder.

“This is why we developed our GoodFish Sustainable Seafood Guide. The Guide provides the Australian public with a more holistic understanding of the sustainability of a fishery, employing a traffic lights rating system to guide selections.”

Because Australia’s Sustainable Seafood Guide is fully independent of government and industry, Mr Meder said it remains the most used and trusted source of information for the seafood-loving Australian public.

The guide is available as a website and a smart phone app. 

BACKGROUND

The health of Australia’s fish stocks are the collective responsibility of state, territory and federal governments.

Stocks transitioning from sustainable or recovering in 2018 to depleting or depleted in 2020 include:

  • Blue swimmer crab in Cockburn Sound, WA (from recovering in 2018 to depleted in 2020).
  • Greenlip abalone in South Australia Central Zone Fishery (from sustainable in 2018 to depleting in 2020).
  • Snapper in Gulf St Vincent, SA (from sustainable in 2018 to depleted in 2020)
  • Spanish mackerel in Gulf of Carpentaria (from sustainable in 2018 to depleting in 2020).
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