The Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC) refutes claims made in a recently published scientific paper by the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, authored by researchers Edgar, Ward and Stuart-Smith, that excessive fishing is the primary cause for an alarming decline in the abundance of large fish in Australian waters.
Australia’s fisheries are internationally regarded as some of the healthiest and best managed in the world, underpinned by robust and independent science. As such, the paper is an attack on the integrity of Australian fisheries science.
The FRDC is concerned that the paper’s authors chose to omit the large body of scientific research that underpins the robust management of Australia’s fisheries. This includes the research of the FRDC and its research partners.
The FRDC takes exception to the paper’s conclusions for several important reasons:
· Data on commercial catch declines has been used selectively, and catch reporting data should not be used alone to determine biomass.
· The abundance figures reported, including through the Reef Life Survey, are based on 190 species measured by swimming transects, but only 11 of those species are commercial. There are around 600 species caught commercially in Australia so extrapolating from 11 species in a reef environment lacks methodological rigour.
· The study assumes commercial catch level and fish biomass are directly linked (source of data ABARES), which is rarely the case. For example, the Australian fishing fleet has experienced a substantial restructuring over the last 10 years. Catch levels are also very responsive to market price signals, costs of fishing and industry profitability.
· The Reef Life Survey data used in the paper is a useful tool for biodiversity/habitat/finfish assessment, but it is not designed as a fishery independent survey.
Australia has a justifiably high standard of fisheries science and a corresponding robust standard of fisheries management.
The FRDC’s Managing Director, Dr Patrick Hone, said the organisation will defend the record of its science and that of its research partners: “FRDC welcomes debate. We stand by our publically available record and process in which we fund and review quality fisheries science.”
While the FRDC rejects several claims made for the reasons above, it acknowledges that there are several issues of real concern raised in the paper.
· There are a number of fish stocks for which further research and management actions need to be taken to ensure the health and recovery of their populations.
· For the 2016 SAFS report 294 stock status assessments were undertaken across the 83 species chapters, with assessments undertaken at the biological stock level wherever possible. Of the 232 stock status classifications that could be assigned, 9 stocks (or 3%) were transitional–recovering; 5 stocks (or 2%) were environmentally limited; and 17 stocks (or 6%) were overfished.
· The FRDC is also working with scientists and managers to progress improved methods of implementing Ecosystem Based Fisheries Management.
FRDC is funded from multiple sources including the commonwealth, states and the Northern Territory governments; and commercial and recreational fishing sectors. To ensure scientific rigour and independence the FRDC has implemented science standards for all of the research it funds.