Two years after the Ministers of Environment and Fisheries imposed a temporary ban on the use of large scale freezer trawlers in the SPF, an Expert Panel has produced a report that gives a cautious green light to fishing. The Panel found that these vessels should be managed in a precautionary, risk-based way – effectively the approach that is already used by AFMA.
The Harvest Strategy for the SPF was endorsed as being conservative against international benchmarks, consistent with best available advice on the management of small pelagic species, and provided a sufficient ecological allocation to predators and the broader ecosystem.
The Panel dispensed many myths about the fishery:
• It clearly identified that the disappearance of surface schools of jack mackerel off the east coast of Tasmania in the 1990s was caused by environmental factors not fishing, and that similar events had occurred in the 1950s and 1970s as a result of warming water temperatures.
• It confirmed that catches of SPF species would not have an impact on SBT that are wide ranging predators; and
• Confirmed that the ability of the large scale freezer vessel to stay on a school of fish and continue to fish it until it was depleted is determined by the schooling behaviour of the fish, not by the vessel being used.
The Panel made useful suggestions for how fishing operations should be managed to help mitigate impacts on seals, dolphins and seabirds through direct interactions with the gear and through possible local depletion of their food sources. These included spatial and temporal closures around breeding colonies and forage areas, improvements to SED designs, and the use of high intensity, directional pingers.
Overall, the Panel report is a useful document that provides guidance to fisheries managers on how to design closures to protect central place foragers while endorsing AFMA’s precautionary, risk-based management approach, and created no barriers to the use of large scale freezer vessels in the fishery.