What does Sustainable fishing mean?

Last weekend I attended a couple of events on the ‘Blue on Tour’ Film Festival run by Environment Tasmania.

The renowned marine biologist and International Fisheries expert, Dr Daniel Pauly, delivered a talk on the persistent re-baselining of fish ( See his TedTalk here.  “We transform the world, but we don’t remember it. We adjust our baseline to the new level, and we don’t recall what was there.”

“The ocean has degraded within our lifetimes, as shown in the decreasing   average size of fish.” Daniel Pauly is the principal investigator at the Sea around Us Project, which studies the impact of the world’s fisheries on   marine ecosystems. He shows that each time the baseline drops, we call it the new “normal.” At what point do we stop readjusting downward?”

I agree with him whole-heartedly. I’ve been espousing the same view for years. Trying to get the Fisheries management people to adopt a more sustainable view.

Also during the weekend held by Environment Tasmania was a discussion on the “Future of Tasmanian Fisheries” including an expert panel which comprised of:

  • Martin Exel (of Austral fisheries and ALSO Chairman of the Commonwealth Fisheries Association (the Australian Commonwealth fishing industry peak body, www.comfish.com.au), President of the international Coalition for Legal Toothfish Operators (www.colto.org) and a board member of the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS).
  • Dr Nic Bax (CSIRO) and Director NERP Marine Biodiversity Hub (IMAS) and;
  • Jon Bryan (Spokesperson for the Tasmanian Conservation Trust)

The discussion on the “Future of Tasmanian Fisheries” was essentially hijacked to become, well, let’s say the “Future of Supertrawlers” and how “efficiency” is the primary goal in fisheries management.

Dr Colin Buxton, who was one of the authors of the paper which SeafishTasmania (operators of the Supertrawler)  used to support their Supertrawler fishing objectives, himself an audience member , stood up, did not identify himself as an author of this paper, nor his involvement with IMAS. A lively discussion on the Supertrawler ensued.  His two colleagues from IMAS contributed enthusiastically.

So much for discussing the “Future of Tasmanian Fisheries”.

Recently there was an article in The Australian by Necia Wilden where she described definitions of “Sustainability”.

Necia has likely been misdirected by well-read spin doctors, referring to analytical number-based definitions of sustainability rather than considering the necessary ETHICAL component required for GENUINE sustainability.

On genuine sustainable / ethical fishing …. I could write 10 pages … but I believe there are 4 major criteria which must be met, before claiming THIS status.

1.     The methodology must optimise the true maximum value for that species – thereby optimising the value of the resource that Mother Nature is providing us. Respect the resource and turn every morsel into the “diamond” that it is … not wantonly mass-catch huge volumes “efficiently” and degrade these gems into a “cheap commodity”.

2.     There must be ZERO resultant footprint from your fishing effort. The environs must be as pristine and untouched as when you commenced your effort.

3.     There is NO such thing as “acceptable collateral damage” – as to unwanted bycatch and environs damage.

4.     Catch to orders [or your own personal needs] only … never “over-catch, just because they are there”.

5.     Respect the Science, as a guide only. Genuine relativity of stock assessment is reliant on a “control” to compare to. We have been trawling our Oceans since the 14th century … so quite simply, there is no “control” with which to compare to. [Refer to the Dr Pauly comments above re: “the new normal !!”].

I am yet to see any “Sustainable and Ethical” fishing certification  that encapsulates all of these criteria – particularly #1, which by design I always place first in my list. It is conveniently ignored by all ….. as it is an “inconvenient truth” …… mass catching, on massive vessels, for trips that take weeks and months at a time – simply ARE NOT optimising the resource’s value. Yet, it should be the first criteria – each and every time a fishing right is to be afforded to a prospective operator.

The recent Supertrawler “Magiris” [now “Abel Tasman”] debacle is a classic example. Last weekend, I was met with a response from Martin Exel [one of her learned support team ] that the Supertrawler “is the most efficient way to catch the resource” . This “bait fish” [their terminology] which is caught by the Supertrawler, when in premium condition, can command a price more than 20 times that of their mass trawled catch YIELD. Why intentionally DEVALUE a product?

Of further concern is:

(a) why does the Supertrawler not catch their fish in their Northern Hemisphere home ?? – answer, there aren’t any left … so the EU subsidise them to come down south and plunder our hemisphere instead ??

(b) this scale of operation has never been tried in our waters … who knows what such massive catches will do when caught in a very small and localised manner ?? and;

(c) I undertand that the people on the ground in Port Lincoln have a whole different slant on where the fish caught by the Supertrawler is going …. far different to the mantra of the vessel operators, who state publicly “this fish is going to feed the starving of West Africa !” …. which by the way, are ALSO waters that the Supertrawlers have already plundered into oblivion.

Globally, we must stop all mass catch techniques. No trawling [which Dr Pauly quite rightly referred to as the “chainsaws of the sea”]. There should be no dredging, no auto-lining, no longlining or droplining [with more than 50 hooks at a time with the lines being attended to CONTINUOUSLY].

We should go back to basics with genuine “individually line caught” techniques … then, and only then, will we be able to achieve a pristine control, rather than constantly adjusting the “normal baseline downward ….. we might even find that Mother Nature will bless us all with local sustainable bounties that will feed us all into the future.

When people who are involved in fisheries management are proposing that high-volume efficiency is king, how do we even begin to make the significant changes required to ensure sustainability?


Mark Eather

FB Connect

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