Category Archives: IN THE NEWS

8 Reasons why the VFA Should Conduct a Survey of Recreational Fish Catches in Victoria

8th November 2018

By Ross Winstanley*

Victoria’s only estimate of statewide recreational fish catches dates back to the 2000/01 National Recreational and Indigenous Fishing Survey.  Every state and territory – except Victoria – has since applied the survey methods developed for that study to estimates their recreational catches.

During the past 18 years, all other jurisdictions have tailored their surveys to meet their particular needs.  In contrast, Victoria has continued to rely on the 2000/01 results.  However, apart from being outdated, those results were designed to provided a broad overview and, therefore, have been of limited value for fisheries management and planning purposes.

Despite this, in recent years Victoria has invested more than other jurisdictions in developing and promoting recreational fishing.  How effective has this been in terms of increased catches and participation – who knows?  Surely it’s time to address the shortcoming that Victoria faces due to the lack of current and reliable catch information, both statewide and for each of our significant recreational fisheries.

Here are some of the reasons why we need this information.


In 2015, the Victorian Government declared: “We will undertake a statewide recreational catch survey” as part of its Target One Million policy commitment.  That promise recognised that detailed recreational catch information for all species taken, statewide and in major waters, is a basic requirement for sound fisheries management and planning.  With this, along with information on where anglers are fishing, how many there are and their preferences, fisheries managers can match their fish stocking and facilities development programs.  As successive governments have closed or scaled back commercial fisheries, stock assessments and fisheries management decisions have become increasingly dependent on recreational fishing information.

During 2017, the Victorian Fisheries Authority released a Target One Million progress score card.  All 16 policy promises were marked with ticks, indicating the Government’s achievements.  This included “Undertake a recreational fishing survey”.  Now it is fair to say that the VFA has ‘undertaken recreational fishing surveys’ targeting Recreational Fishing Licence-holders’ opinions and boat ramp creel interviews since 2015 but that comes nowhere close to the promised statewide catch survey.  What has been delivered cannot achieve what the Government saw as being necessary for fisheries management and planning purposes only three years ago.


All around Australia, recreational fisher numbers and the numbers of fish they catch are declining.  For example, a NSW statewide survey shows that, along with declining fisher numbers, between 2000/01 and 2012/13, the numbers of every targeted scalefish decreased.  These included snapper (down by 27%), flathead (-43%), bream (-59%) and whiting (-73%).  Even catches of stocked species decreased substantially: Murray cod (-49%), golden perch (-78%) and trout (-39.

In Tasmania, across three surveys between 2000/01 and 2012/13, participation fell by 22% and the total number of fish caught fell by 35%.  Both NSW and Tasmania are currently completing fresh statewide surveys.

In creating wonderful fishing opportunities, Victoria is closing commercial fisheries and pouring millions of stocked fish into our inland waters but, since 2000/01, we have no idea of what’s happening in terms of fish catches and fishing participation.


Since the 2000-01 national survey, every state and territory – except Victoria – has conducted two or more surveys of catch, effort, participation, etc.  Queensland, for example, has been conducting comprehensive statewide surveys every five years since the 1990s and South Australia now also conducts five-yearly surveys.  After previously conducting statewide surveys at irregular intervals, Western Australia has completed surveys every two years since 2011.

Why do they do this?  These comprehensive surveys are very expensive because of the high costs of including phone-diary and creel survey estimates of total catches.  Typically, for the larger states the cost can be between $1.0 million and $1.4 million, so these commitments are not entered into lightly.  Every other state and territory has judged the need for and value of recreational catch and participation data to be justified in terms of their contribution to effective fisheries management and planning.  Premier Andrews thought so too in 2015.


The 2000-01 National Recreational Fishing Survey provided a detailed picture of recreational fishing effort, catches, participation, expenditure and attitudes across all Australian states and territories.  It was the result of collaboration and co-investment by all states, territories and the Australia government.  Over the following years, Victoria made full use of this information but the current Government’s unwillingness to participate has been a barrier to recent attempts to conduct a follow-up national survey.

Every other jurisdiction is currently conducting or planning their own comprehensive surveys which will be aggregated into a national survey.  As Victoria has ‘declined’ to join this effort, a Commonwealth-funded contract is being considered to fill in the Victorian blank in order to complete the national picture.  But, because recreational catches can’t be estimated without Victoria’s participation, the national survey will be confined to social and economic aspects of recreational fishing.


VFA researchers played an important role in developing the phone-diary survey method which has become the standard nationwide.  During 2014, the South Australian Government contracted VFA researchers to conduct a comprehensive survey of recreational fishing in SA using the same methods as the 2000-01 national survey.  The report was published only months after the Andrews Government had promised to conduct a similar survey of recreational fishing in Victoria.  To this day, the VFA retains the skills necessary for such surveys.

Funding a comprehensive survey is not an issue for Victoria: the annual income from our Recreational Fishing Licence now exceeds $8 million.  A detailed and comprehensive survey of recreational fishing in the state would cost up to $1.4 million and could be spread across two financial years.


The Government has spent $46 Million on the Target One Million Program and yet it has no apparent system in place to measure how effective this has been in terms of increases in:

– recreational catches from Port Phillip Bay
– catches resulting from the marine stocking program
– fisher numbers and catches resulting from a huge boost to inland stocking
– adult fisher numbers towards the one million target.

The only credible measure of adult fisher numbers is the annual number of RFLs sold, which peaked at 294,000 in 2015/16.


Since 2000, Victoria’s export fisheries have depended on Commonwealth Government export permits.  In turn, these depend on the responsible Minister’s approval, based on assessments of the whether the fisheries management arrangements comply with the Commonwealth’s Guidelines for the Ecologically Sustainable Management of Fisheries.  An important element of the assessments is whether or not the management regime in place is “capable of controlling the level of harvest in the fishery using input and/or output controls.”  Controlling harvest levels clearly depend on the ability to measure the harvest, including the recreational catch.

Principle 1 of the Guidelines states that “A fishery must be conducted in a manner that does not lead to over-fishing.”  For Victorian fisheries to comply the VFA must have “reliable estimates of all removals” of target species by commercial, recreational and other forms of fishing.  These should be current and factored into stock assessments.

In fact, there are no recent recreational catch estimates for any of Victoria’s fisheries that have export components, including the rock lobster, abalone, eel and scallop dive fisheries.  After 18 years of successive governments’ commitments to produce recreational catch estimates for rock lobster, Victoria is only now close to doing so, thanks to an innovative compulsory catch-tag trial.  Otherwise, there has been no apparent progress towards measuring recreational catches in these fisheries.

Victoria’s current (2015) abalone fisheries management plan refers to the 2000/01 national survey as the only credible estimate of recreational catches, but makes the commitment to “subject to available funding … undertake a rigorous estimate of recreational abalone harvest.”  As outlined in Point 5 above, funding should not be a barrier to overcoming this longstanding need.


After 10 years of stocking an average of 2.3 million trout and native fish, in the year to April 2018, the Government exceeded its arbitrary five million target, releasing more than six million fish.  In doing so it boosted annual expenditure from a 5-year average of $0.8 million to an average of $2.8 million over 2015-2019.  Without any monitoring and assessment to establish the added value in terms of angler numbers and catches, the Government now says it needs to invest in a warm-water hatchery to increase native fish production capacity.

Before investing in a hatchery, how about determining how many anglers are targeting river blackfish, trout cod, Macquarie perch and catfish?  It’s one thing for anglers to say “yes please” when asked “Who’s interested in new stocked fisheries” for these species; the real level of demand is another thing altogether.

A measure of how many anglers are targeting these native fish and what they’re catching would be a good baseline for measuring the uptake under a new stocking program.

All these points considered, it seems that only a government and a fisheries agency uninterested in how many Victorians are fishing and how much they catch would not conduct a thorough survey.  These points address just some of the areas where Victoria’s fisheries management and investment planning capabilities are suffering from the lack of credible and current information on our recreational fisheries.  Their apathy over the past 18 years suggests that Victoria’s major parties won’t be including a statewide catch survey among their November pre-election promises.

Ross Winstanley is a keen angler, fishing writer and fisheries consultant.  For 30 years he worked with Fisheries Victoria in policy, management and research.

Revolutionary Australian fishing vessel design proposed

20th August 2018

An innovative new design is being proposed for fishing vessels in Australia.  Leading Australian boat designer Paul Bury has released concept drawings for a 20m fishing boat that can be configured to efficiently work different types of fishing gear. The design would be the largest Australian working vessel under a measured length of 20m.

The vessel design features an ‘inverted axe’ bow for a long waterline length; this provides better seakeeping and reduced vessel pitching and lower resistance which brings about fuel efficiency and reduced CO2 emissions.

The 12.6m long working deck is huge for such a small vessel and is configurable to individual operators’ requirements. The 110m3 fish room is enormous for such a small vessel and has 150mm insulated walls suitable for frozen fish storage. A total of seven crew can be housed onboard with up to six crew  accommodated in twin-share cabins with the Master in a separate cabin off the bridge.

Rather than a normal diesel engine a diesel electric drive system produces electricity which powers an electric engine.  This is the same system used in many trains and submarines.  Less combustion engines on the vessel means lowered fuel and maintenance costs.  Electrical motors are simpler than combustion engines and can often be switched out with a faulty motor sent for repair after being replaced by a new motor.  This is especially important for vessels like squid jiggers who use large amounts of power for lights used to attract squid but also for fishing methods that use winches.

Twin propellers mean that the vessel is highly manoeuvrable and doesn’t need a bow thruster.

The concept is presented here to gather comments and expressions of interest from commercial operators interested in updating their existing vessel or adding a new boat to their current fleet. These vessels will be built in Thailand by an Australian owned yard with Australian build supervisors and surveyors to current AMSA/NSCV standards. The vessel build is currently being priced, contact the designer for further information on

Fishing industry calls for halt to massive French seismic survey

16th August 2018

The Gippsland Basin in South East Australia is a hot spot for oil and gas resources.   Australia’s first oil field was discovered at Lake Bunga, Lakes Entrance in 1924.  More than 20 pieces of oil and gas infrastructure sit on the seafloor in eastern Bass Strait connected by numerous pipelines that return precious resources to land through Orbost, Seaspray and Longford.









The area is also one of Australia’s richest fishing grounds given the mixing of the East Australian Current with waters from Bass Strait and the large continental shelf that drains into the abyss through many small canyons into the enormous Bass Canyon.  Most of the fishing vessels accessing these resources do so from the small Victorian town of Lakes Entrance.

The oil and gas industry use seismic surveys to locate reserves of fossil fuels. They produce detailed images of local geology to determine the location and size of possible  reservoirs. Very strong sound waves are bounced off underground rock formations with the waves that reflect back to the surface  captured by recording sensors for analysis later.  An ABC animation shows graphically how seismic surveys work and extend up to 50 kms into the earth.

Recent research off Tasmania has shown that seismic surveys can kill scallops and zooplankton and have negative long term effects on crayfish.  Fishermen across the world report reduced catch rates that can last up to a year after a survey is completed.

The fishing and oil/gas industries have a history of co-existence and the fishing industry is proud that it has been a good neighbour for more than 40 years.  It would be hypocritical for the fishing industry to behave otherwise given the modern world’s reliance on fossil fuels – albeit with the environmental costs we now understand.



Peter Clarke is a former SETFIA Director, he is now retired after handing the reins of the family vessel Kendean to his son Stuart.  Peter explained to the newsletter how in 1965 as a 14 year old crew member on his Father’s fishing vessel they would regularly deliver supplies to Esso vessels.

Rather than fight all oil and gas development SETFIA has worked hard to assist the oil and gas industry to minimise their impact on the fishing industry and to minimise the risk that fishing vessels present to oil and gas infrastructure.  SETFIA’s clients have included Cooper Energy, Esso (Exxon), Tasmanian Gas Pipelines, 3D Oil, Geoscience Victoria, Geoscience Australia and many others.  SETFIA has become skilled at requesting and analysing fisheries data, while maintaining fishers’ confidentiality, so that oil, gas and now seismic survey companies can understand the fishermen that might be present, when they will be there, and how they work.  In partnership with the fishing industry they can then try to find ways to change the timing, sequence or footprint of exploration activities to reduce effects. Warning fishermen also gives them time to move elsewhere.

French company CGG has announced plans to undertake a seismic survey covering 18,000km2 in the Gippsland Basin – the biggest survey ever seen.  The survey will affect around one third of the fish going into the Melbourne and Sydney fish markets.  The Lakes Entrance Danish seine fleet will have almost all its grounds exposed to this seismic survey. This means that they seine fleet will have no-where else to go.  Stuart Clarke, now a third generation fisher,  explained to the newsletter his concerns about whether his business can withstand the short term displacement and the decline in catch rates that could last for more than a year after the survey.

Member for East Gippsland MLA Tim Bull made speech in Victorian Parliament last week raising concerns about CGG’s plans.

SETFIA has always been able to find a way to move fishing vessels elsewhere and to minimise seismic surveys effects on the fishing industry.  However, CGG’s proposal is huge covering entire fisheries and will displace the fleet for five months.

This is why SETFIA is calling on the federal oil and gas regular NOPSEMA to understand that the fishing industry in south east Australia cannot withstand a survey of this size and duration and to not approve this survey.

What’s to become of Victoria’s Gippsland Lakes commercial fishery?

15th August 2018

By Ross Winstanley*

Not content with their exclusive fishing access to every Victorian estuary, recreational fishers are now pushing for the closure of commercial fishing in the Gippsland Lakes.

From the 1960s through the 1980s, Victoria’s annual 800 tonne Gippsland Lakes commercial fishery produced 80% of Australia’s black bream landings, averaging about 250 tonnes.

Today, the Gippsland Lakes commercial fishery is under extreme pressure from recreational fishers and related business interests.  Flushed with the success of the 2014 campaign to end commercial net fishing in Port Phillip Bay, these interest groups are pressing the major political parties to bring an end to commercial fishing in the Lakes.

Success for this campaign would mean the end of another 10 perfectly sustainable family fishing businesses and the end of Victorian consumers’ access to black bream.

So, in the lead-up to Victoria’s November election, what positions will the major parties adopt regarding the future of fishing in the Gippsland Lakes?

Victoria’s 23-year record of fisheries and stock assessments have consistently shown the sustainability of the black bream and overall Gippsland Lakes fisheries.  Together with environmental assessments of the lakes system, these studies have tracked changes to fish habitats and fish stocks which have been matched with fisheries management changes.

Commercial fishermen have been proactive in initiating some important changes: in 1996 they observed the apparent total loss of juvenile bream throughout the lakes.  When surveys drew similar observations, the Government introduced emergency controls including tight monthly commercial catch limits and reduced recreational catch limits.  Many years earlier, the closure of commercial fishing on weekends and public holidays had a marked effect in easing competition with anglers.

The 1996 event brought about lasting changes: an increase in the legal minimum length for bream and the continuation of reductions in the numbers of commercial fishing licences.  Since 1995 alone, the number has been reduced from 21 to 10, mainly as a result of voluntary licence buy-outs.

As the numbers of licences have decreased, the level of commercial fish production has fallen accordingly.  In 1995/96 the total catch was 721 tonnes, including 130 tonnes of bream: in 2016/17 the total catch was 316 tonnes including 42 tonnes of bream.

The most recent estimate of the recreational catch from the lakes was 203 tonnes of bream in 2000/01.

Two comparative studies of the economic values of commercial and recreational fishing in Victoria’s bays and inlets showed no grounds for re-allocating fish resources between the sectors.

Current assessment
In 2017, the Victorian Fisheries Authority conducted detailed assessments of the State’s key marine stocks.  To lend additional rigour to the process, interstate fisheries managers and scientists participated in the assessments.  Drawing on detailed long-term commercial and recreational fisheries data sets, they found that the combined pressures from fisheries for black bream in the Gippsland Lakes are sustainable, as were the recreational-only fisheries in other eastern and western Victorian inlets.

Their conclusion was that “Appropriate management is in place.”

In contrast, none of the current anti-netting campaigns offer any evidence that commercial fishing is unsustainable or incompatible with angling.  Referring to the state of fish stocks and to angling success, statements such as “the decline is attributed to commercial fishing” offer no supporting evidence of declines from fishing or other causes.

Current political pressure
Since 1994, VRFish and local anglers have participated in at least seven Gippsland Lakes black bream and fishery assessments, all of which found fishing to be sustainable.  When presented with the evidence they agreed with the conclusions and the management implications.

Today, against this solid background of evidence-based policy and fisheries management come spirited appeals to end commercial fishing in the lakes.  Recreational fishing peak body, VRFish’s, key push to ‘save our Gippsland Lakes’ is a compulsory buy-out of all 10 licences as part of their ‘fish recovery plan.’  A petition asserts that ‘it’s time to end commercial netting of fish in the Gippsland Lakes’ to ensure ‘the sustainability of the Gippsland Region.’  The Futurefish Foundation web page simply urges “Ban netting in the Gippsland Lakes.”

VFA creel surveys show that angling success in the lakes is comparable to success in other East Gippsland inlets where anglers face no ‘competition’ from commercial fishing.  The evidence simply confirms what we know about recreational fishing everywhere: the majority of anglers catch very few fish.  Removing commercial fishing pressure – spread across 20 fish species – would not alter that reality.

The economic importance of recreational fishing to the Gippsland Region, including tourism, is widely acknowledged.  While the anti-netting campaigns claim that these benefits are threatened by commercial fishing, the VFA’s 2017 assessment shows that this is plainly untrue.  In fact, the full social and economic value from fisheries in the Gippsland Lakes can only continue if the viable commercial fishery is retained.  This has to be good news for government, seafood consumers and the wider Victorian community.

Market demand
Victorian seafood consumers’ keenness for bream can be seen in the prices they’re prepared to pay: about $30/kg which is more than they’ll pay for snapper.

Anyone who has read reports of fishing offences in Victoria might recall the prevalence of illegal gill-netting in rivers and streams around the bays, inlets and coastline.  Whether in the Werribee, Paterson or Tambo rivers, the main target for these activities is black bream.  This is a reflection of high prices and an unmet market demand for the species.

Speaking of markets, there’s more at stake here than 300 tonnes of fresh fish annually.  The Lakes Entrance Fishermens Co-op is a major source of Victorian and inter-state fish supplies.  The Co-op operates on very thin financial margins and closure of the lakes fishery would seriously threaten its continued viability.  As a popular direct outlet for fresh fish, the Co-op shop depends on the lakes fishery.  Without that fishery the shop would be likely to close as trawl-caught fish can be unavailable for weeks at a time during unfavourable seasonal conditions offshore.

Political response?
In 2014, the major political parties bowed to pressure from recreational fishing interests and committed to banning the commercial net fishery in Port Phillip Bay.  They did so without any consideration of the proven sustainability of that fishery.

Faced with similar pressures in 2018, what will the major parties do?  Will they seek balanced evidence-based policy advice from the VFA?  If so, what advice will they receive and how will they balance this against pressure from recreational fishing interests?

The outcomes will be revealed in the next couple of months.

Ross Winstanley is a keen angler, fishing writer and fisheries consultant.  For 30 years he worked with Fisheries Victoria in policy, management and research.

Danish Seine Fishermen Act to Protect Juvenile Flathead Stocks

21st June 2018

The harvest strategy in the South-East aims to maintain tiger flathead stocks at a pre-determined % of the pre-fishing, or virgin, biomass.   This is called the target reference point.  The flathead stock has been above this target for many years so fishermen have enjoyed quotas (total allowable catches or TACs) designed to slightly reduce flathead stocks down to that reference point.  However, the last flathead assessment showed that flathead is almost at that reference point so the quota has declined.

Less quota means less revenue so fishermen within the Association began to think about how to increase the per kg value of flathead.  One way is to catch larger flathead because larger flathead have a higher per kg price.  The market pays more for larger flathead because they are easier to fillet and they returns a higher yield of fillets as a % of whole weight.

Using larger mesh in the last section of the net called the codend increases the average size of flathead caught.

However, using larger mesh and not catching medium sized fish means less catch which means that fishermen must shoot their net more often, spend more time at sea and potentially increase their operating costs.  There are also costs to change to new fishing gear.

The debate was not an easy one but SETFIA members have resolved through a formal vote to increase Danish seine mesh size.  Two non-SETFIA member seiners were contacted and both supported the idea.

SETFIA has written to AFMA stating that they would like AFMA to increase the minimum mesh size in Danish Seine codends to 75mm by 1 May 2019 (the start of the new fishing season).

SETFIA has contacted fishing gear suppliers and advised them of the likely change so that they can adjust their supply.

Sustainable fishing practices protect our future.



Major changes in arrangements for commercial fishing in new Australian Marine Parks

21st June 2018

From July 1 2018, new Australian Marine Park management plans will come into effect, creating new rules for where fishing can occur in 44 marine parks around the country. Australian Marine Parks are located in Commonwealth waters, 3 to 200 nautical miles from the coastline, beyond state water boundaries.

Commercial fishing can occur in yellow and blue zones within these new Networks, in accordance with a class approval issued under each management plan. Class approvals set out the areas where commercial fishing can occur, the fishing methods that can be used, and the conditions that need to be followed while operating or transiting.

Parks Australia aims to contact all operators that fish in or near these new Australian Marine Parks, to inform them of the new requirements in advance of 1 July. This will include the final class approvals and factsheets for the Coral Sea Marine ParkTemperate East NetworkSouth-west NetworkNorth-west Network and North Network of Marine Parks. The factsheets will outline what you need to be aware of in order to comply and will include information on how to access electronic maps/files of all marine park boundaries. All documents will soon be available on the Parks Australia website:

Arrangements for commercial fishing within the South-east Marine Parks Network are not changing. The requirements in the existing class approval continue to apply.

If you would like more information please


phone 1800 069 352 or,


Marine Park Alert System Helpful in the South-East

21st June 2018

Marine parks are recognised globally as a tool that can contribute to protecting some marine environments from potentially damaging fishing methods such as trawling.  The South-East Trawl Fishery is proud to operate within a network of 14 Australian Marine Parks covering 388,000 km2.  The Association sees these marine parks as part of the risk-catch-cost fisheries management decision making trade-off.  Marine parks reduce the risk of commercial fishing, which should reduce fishery management costs and allow harvest strategies to set sustainable quotas.

The effectiveness of marine parks requires that fishing methods likely to harm the conservation values in that park are excluded from some parks. This requires compliance, including awareness of rules, monitoring and enforcement.  This can involve satellite photography monitoring, manned and unmanned aerial and sea patrols, acoustic detection and satellite-aided vessel monitoring systems.

The Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA), Parks Australia and SETFIA have worked together to set up a Marine Park Alert Service in the South-East and the newsletter has reported on this previously.  This system has since been rolled out to all Australian Marine Parks.  The backbone of this service is the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) platform; a satellite tracking system that is required on all Commonwealth managed fishing vessels that relays the position, speed, time and identity of vessels back to AFMA.

Under this marine park alert service an SMS message is sent to skipper and/or licence holder when the vessel enters a marine park  where the fishing method is not allowed. The alert is generated and sent following an initial poll and is only sent once (not repeatedly) when a vessel enters a zone, and then sent again on any subsequent new entry. This is to avoid excessive alerts being sent to a vessel, which could result in diminished effectiveness.

It is important to note that fishing vessels are allowed to transit through Marine Parks, but some fishing methods are not allowed in some marine parks.  For example, bottom trawling is not allowed in any of the South-East Australia’s Marine Parks.

The efficacy of the service has been recently reviewed by Parks Australia using three years of vessel monitoring system (VMS) data from AFMA.  Parks Australia has studied the tracks of vessels that entered within one mile of a marine park and received an alert.  The analysis aimed to identify tracks that might indicate fishing.  For trawlers, this involved looking at vessels travelling at less than 4 knots, noting that slower speeds also can indicate ‘dodging’ into bad weather.  For longliners, fishing was identified as a track pattern, typical with the setting and hauling of longlines.

In the three years studied, a total of 2,291 alerts were sent to skippers and concession holders to Commonwealth fishing vessels in marine park boundaries where the fishing method of that vessel was not allowed in that park.  On 18 occasions vessels appeared to receive an alert and then either departed or ceased fishing outside the marine park. These vessels may have already been planning to stop fishing prior to entering the marine park or may not have even been fishing, but there is a chance that some were fishing, received the alert and immediately stopped fishing possibly preventing a compliance incident occurring.

Prior to the alert service, AFMA ran regular VMS reports of South-East fishing vessels inside marine parks who were travelling at less than 5 knots.  After an initial human common sense scan where some vessels were identified as not fishing a ‘show cause’ letter was sent to the remaining operators asking them to explain their actions.  This was a lengthy and costly process with almost all vessels inside marine parks being false positives.

The alert service aims to prevent unintentional and intentional breaches, before a fishing vessel fishes within a marine park where it is not permitted to do so.  If this is possible it will significantly reduce the amount of tax payer funded work required to identify and pursue fishing vessels through show-cause.

When this review was completed the South-East’s Marine Parks had been in place for more than ten years, so fishermen know where the parks are and are used to being monitored by VMS.

When the national system of Marine Parks comes into effect on 1 July 2018 there will be ten-fold increase in the area of marine parks – to three million km2 consisting of 59 marine parks around Australia.  The alert service has proven itself to be a cost-effective and efficient way that contributes to reducing accidental and intentional illegal fishing activities in marine parks.  The fishing industry may find this free service helpful given the complexity of so many new marine parks in which allowable fishing methods vary given different zoning arrangements.  The challenge with implementing this service will be that many State and Territory managed fisheries do not currently require vessels to operate VMS, meaning that for some fishers the service will not be available, at least in the short term.

More information on the alert service can be found here.

We need your help to understand the diet of Shy Albatross

21st June 2018

By Dr Rachael Aderman

Wildlife Management Branch – Marine Conservation Program DPIPWE

The shy albatross breeds nowhere else in the world apart from three tiny islands in Tasmania—Albatross Island in the north and Pedra Branca (pictured) and the Mewstone in the south. Unlike many of the other albatross species that travel widely across the Southern Oceans, most of the shy albatross population remains year-round within the south-east Australian shelf waters. They are truly Australia’s own.

The total population is estimated to be around 15, 000 annual breeding pairs. Like the other 21 albatross species around the world, the shy albatross is of high conservation concern. Albatross are very slow to mature and they have a very low reproductive rate. This means that even a slight increase in mortality or reduced chance of successful breeding, may have significant consequences for the persistence of a population.

Many of the threats to the shy albatross are encountered while the birds are foraging at sea and include marine pollution and plastics ingestion; fisheries interactions; competition with fisheries or reliance on discards; and a changing ocean environment driven by climate change which  is altering the type, distribution and availability of food sources.

Central to understanding the nature and consequence of these threats is knowing where shy albatross are foraging; what they are eating; and is their diet changing over time?

Researchers from the Tasmanian State Government have been monitoring the shy albatross populations for over thirty years; however, studies of their diet have been limited. Traditionally, the only way to sample their diet is to force the birds to vomit up their most recent meal. This method not only invasive but can also bias the data, as often only the hard parts—such as squid beaks— can be identified.

Now there is a powerful new tool available. DNA analysis of albatross scats (aka poo) allows researchers to identify all the food sources they have recently consumed and in what relative proportions.

Researchers have spent endless days watching shy albatross on their nests on Albatross Island in Bass Strait—waiting for the distinctive sound of an albatross relieving itself – before darting in to collect a tiny precious sample of poo in a vial. Thanks to funding from the Fisheries Research and Development Corporations (FRDC), the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) and the Tasmanian Albatross Fund, researchers from the Marine Conservation Program of the Tasmanian State Government, in collaboration with CSIRO, are now analysing hundreds of diet samples collected over the past four years.

Key to the success of this project is ensuring that researchers have reference DNA sequences for all potential species the shy albatross could consume.

While we have managed to find samples from most of their likely food sources, DNA sequences from some key species of fish are still missing. SETFIA has kindly offered to help supply samples to fill these gaps. In coming weeks, we will be circulating to SETFIA fishers our ’most wanted’ list, complete with mug-shots and a how-to-guide. With your help, we hope to be able to create a complete picture of the diet of this incredible species.

[FRDC project 2016-118: Using scat DNA to inform sustainable fisheries management and Ecological Risk Assessments: a Shy Albatross case study]