Category Archives: Environment

Seabird success

11th July 2014

All Commonwealth trawl vessels in South East Australia and the Great Australian Bight already operate under regulated Seabird Management Plans (SMPs) to minimise interactions with seabirds. Compliance with an SMP is a condition on the fishing license. Under these plans all vessels must manage their offal by batching or retaining it (to avoid attracting the seabirds) and use a mitigation device that protects seabirds from bumping into trawl cables.

Currently, the only mitigation device available to all trawl vessels in the fishery is the “pinky“, a buoy that is towed in the danger zone, just in front of where the trawl cables enter the water.

While pinkies have been shown to be effective at reducing seabird interactions (an AFMA report is pending), they can be operationally difficult to use on some vessels for a number of reasons. They are prone to tangle on the trawl cables, and because of the way some vessels are set up; some fishermen need to lean over the gunwale to reach the trawl cables. This is made worse if the net becomes snagged and has to reverse in order to retrieve the net. This raises real safety concerns especially at night and in bad weather.

Using a National Landcare Programme Innovation Grant from the Australian Government fishermen, Executive Officers from SETFIA and the Great Australian Bight Fishing Industry Association, a marine scientist and AFMA’s Bycatch and Discarding Manager travelled to New Zealand to find alternatives to pinkies that mitigate seabirds as well or better but are operationally easier to use.

New Zealand has much larger seabird populations than Australia, a much larger fishing fleet and more seabird/vessel interactions. Larger vessels in the Kiwi fleet are at the forefront of managing fishing interactions with seabirds.

The group attended the NZ Federation of Professional Fisherman’s Conference in Invercargill, where Portland skipper Ben Maas presented an overview of the project and the SESSF to the 120 participants.

Lead by expert Richard Wells from New Zealand’s Deepwater Group, the group travelled up the South Island from port to port meeting with fishermen, New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries staff, visiting fishing vessels, the Royal Albatross Centre, net makers and mitigation device distributors. Exposure to such range of people enabled the tour group to put management of seabird interactions in their fishery into perspective.

In Christchurch, the group learnt about seabird biology, distribution and migration from staff at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research’s Dr Paul Sagar, and undertook the renowned Seabird SMART training course run by Southern Seabird Solutions. This course covered seabird biology, interactions, mitigation devices and handling techniques.

The under-dressed delegation crossed Death’s Corner Arthur’s Pass en route to Greymouth, home to the infamous river bar crossing and Westfleet Seafoods. After visiting fishing vessels and a seafood processing plant there, they drove to Nelson for meetings at Sealord Group, a tour and an amazing dinner with Talley’s Group, and meetings with Mustad and the Deepwater Group Seabird Liaison Officer, John Cleal.

By the end of the trip, the group had been exposed to a wide variety of seabird mitigation devices (including a laser based system) and during a final debriefing session the group put forward mitigation devices they thought might work in the SESSF. As well as presenting some well-established designs, fishermen also came up with their own innovative ideas.

The seabird sprayer designed by Lakes Entrance trawl owners Tony Guarnaccia and Sot Sotirakis is showing great promise and will be further refined before being trialled under full scientific conditions. If successful it will be submitted to AFMA. Developmental trials on three other devices continue.

The trip’s progress can be reviewed on SETFIA’s Twitter feed.

Trawl vessels to receive text messages when they transit marine parks

23rd June 2014

Parks Australia manages six Commonwealth national parks on land, the Australian National Botanic Gardens, and Australia’s network of Commonwealth Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Parks Australia is part of the federal environment portfolio in the Department of the Environment.

Parks Australia is launching a new alert service to help Commonwealth commercial fishers know when they enter an MPA.  This free service comes at no cost to industry and has been successfully trialed by a SETFIA member and the Association.

The alert service starts on 1 July 2014 and will cover all fishing methods for Commonwealth operators licensed to operate in the South-East Commonwealth Marine Reserves Network. Only Commonwealth operators have an onboard satellite vessel monitoring system (VMS) which is required for the alert system to work.  The alert service is an important development in the South-East Fishery because transiting MPAs is unavoidable for trawl vessels – 14 MPAs crisscross the south-east forming the largest deepwater MPA network on the planet.

Commonwealth operators will receive a text alert to their nominated contact with the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) when they enter an MPA if the type of fishing method associated with the vessel licence is not allowed. There are no reserves in the South-East MPA network where trawling is allowed so trawl vessels will receive an alert as they enter every MPA but can opt out of the scheme if they wish. Commonwealth trawl operators are allowed to enter and transit MPAs provided they do not fish. As a general rule trawl vessels fish at 3.0 to 3.5 knots but move around at faster speeds.  Satellite tracks from the VMS system are regularly reviewed and any vessel travelling at less than 5 knots through an MPA is investigated by AFMA and Parks Australia.

Parks Australia has reminded operators that the alert service is a support tool only. It is still the Skipper’s responsibility to know where the vessel is, the fishing methods allowed in each MPA and to have nautical charts for MPAs on board.

A Recreational Fisherman’s Perspective on Drawing the Line

14th May 2014

By Lynton Barr
Editor of online recreational fishing magazine “Around the Jetties”

On the 30th of April I attended a film screened by SETFIA (The South East Trawl Fishing Industry Association) and the Lakes Entrance Fishermens Cooperative for the public. This was an excellent film examining many aspects of the offshore fishery industry, and in particular looking at the problem posed by having 40% of Australia’s offshore waters protected by Marine Parks. The relatively small marine protected areas in Queensland have cost over $300 million to introduce under the previous Government and only a further $100 million has been allocated to buy out offshore fishermen who will be removed in the national roll-out of parks. Despite the offshore fishing industry being a leader in worlds best practice, a vast area of coastal Australia has been removed from the fishery as a result of marine parks and this was despite Australia importing 70% of the seafood used in this country.

The film acknowledged that the World’s seas were under threat from overfishing, however a number of prestigious academics spoke on the film stating this was not the case in Australia, where scientific quotas protect the fish, and they argued that marine parks are not the only solution to ensuring a sustainable and renewable fishery. It was pointed out that as a result of the massive marine park off the Queensland coast Australia catches only 15,000 tons of tuna whilst Papua-New Guinea catches a million tons per annum from the same stock of fish.

The comment was made that the establishment of marine parks was more a political decision rather than an environmental protection. It was suggested we are importing $2 billion of seafood from poor third world countries, and the morality of this should be considered when we have an ability to provide that seafood ourselves, whilst at the same time having a sustainable and renewable resource with the current controls and quotas that apply to the Australian industry. The Australian seafood industry is regarded as the most scientifically managed fishery in the world, and many believe marine parks achieve nothing compared with the controlled offshore fishery. The lack of consultation with fishermen, and the fact that the introduction in 2013 of the world’s largest marine reserve put many fishing families at risk was a sad outcome of the previous Governments action and in the film the effect of this action provides a moving commentary as some fishing families face a bleak future.

The film concluded with a strong case being presented for the use of the Margiris, the super fish factory that was banned by the Government in 2012. The case presented relied on the fact that it would only have caught a scientifically determined quota, and there would have been no wastage because all the fish caught are processed at sea, and the Government could have provided an on board observer to all its fishing activities which were to be subject to filming including within the net. Again – a decision with little consultation and less understanding.

Drawing the Line was funded by a northern Australian fisherman, and raised many questions including the power of small groups to influence policy regardless of the effects on the Australian community. This is a film that should be seen generally as the decisions taken by Government have influenced the ability of Australians to access seafood whilst ensuring we continue to have a sustainable off shore fishery into the future. Thanks to SETFIA for making this film available to the public in Lakes Entrance.

What affect has fishing had on deepsea corals?

4th March 2014

A project undertaken at the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, and supervised by Dr Karen Miller

[Reproduced in full from the project summary by the Australia and Pacific Science Foundation].

Seamounts are recognised as hotspots of biodiversity, but are under increasing threat from activities such as fishing and mining, as well as climate change. There are current initiatives to protect deep seamounts through the designation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), but for MPAs to be effective they need to promote normal ecological processes in the ocean and maintain genetic and biological diversity. Due to our limited understanding of the biological process that regulate populations, especially the nature of connections among seamounts, it is difficult to assess the effectiveness of MPAs in these ecosystems.

Deep-sea corals are some of the most abundant organisms on seamounts and are important because they provide the three dimensional habitat within which most other species live; conservation of seamounts corals is therefore paramount in protecting deep seamount communities. This project used molecular genetic data from the widespread and abundant deepsea coral Solenosmilia variabilis to;

1. Determine the direction and frequency of dispersal of coral larvae among seamounts
2. Predict if there will be dispersal of coral larvae from seamounts in MPAs to unprotected areas (spillover effects)

Through the research funded by APSF, we have been able to determine that SE Australian seamount populations of Solenosmilia variabilis are genetically isolated, which suggests only low levels of larval dispersal among them and that seamount corals are largely self-recruiting. In this context, populations on one seamount are unlikely to be rapidly replensihed from populations on adjacent seamounts following a disturbance. We also found high levels of clonality within populations, suggesting asexual reproduction through fragmentation is likely to be an important part of the life-history of this coral species. From a conservation perspective our findings indicate that MPAs will protect a local population, but there will be limited spillover from MPAs to unprotected sites. However based on our genetic data, it seems that on the rare occasions that coral larval dispersal does occur among seamounts, it is primarily in a westerly direction consistent with the predominant ocean currents in the area, indicating oceanic dispersal is an important process that links these populations on evolutionary timescales.

Importantly, we found no evidence that there were lower levels of genetic diversity on fished seamounts compared with non-fished seamounts suggesting the level of damage sustained by coral populations associated with commercial fishing has not affected their longer-term resilience.

Project Aims to Catch Clean Royal Red Prawns

15th January 2014

Harrissons Dogfish and Southern Dogfish are part of a group of sharks called Upper-Slope Dogfish or Gulper Sharks. Over a number of years — in line with the objectives of the Fisheries Management Act — AFMA has put a series of closures in place to protect Gulper Shark. These closures are equivalent in area to about 25% of total Gulper Shark habitat available in the fishery.
SETFIA has applied for a scientific permit and research allowance to enable a vessel from the Commonwealth Trawl Sector to enter a Gulper Shark closure off Sydney to target Royal Red Prawns, using a bycatch reduction in the trawl that excludes Gulper Sharks from the net but allows Royal Red Prawns to be caught. Research scientists have called the device a Gulper Shark exclusion device or GED for short. A GED is an angled aluminium grid in the net that will deflect Gulper Sharks and other large fish up and out of the net unharmed, while the smaller Royal Red Prawns pass through to be caught. Underwater cameras will be used to understand how Gulper Sharks are ejected from the trawl net.
The project is partially funded by AFMA, but Sydney fisherman Vince Bagnato will provide his vessel the Francesca free of charge for the study. SETFIA Director and net-maker David Guillot will assist with the setup and fine tuning for the GED. The project is collaboration between SETFIA, Fishwell Consulting and AFMA staff.
Trials will take place between April and October this year during Royal Red Prawns season, and results will be reported and distributed towards the end of the year.

Seabirds Smiling About Government Grant

14th January 2014

14 January 2014, 9:30am. For immediate release.

The South East Trawl Fishing Industry Association (SETFIA) is delighted to announce that it is the recipient of a $360,000 Australian Government grant.

The Caring for our Country grant will be used to further reduce the low number of collisions that occur between seabirds and the cables used to tow trawl nets.

Simon Boag, SETFIA’s EO explained,

“All trawl vessels in South East Australia and the Great Australian Bight operate with regulated Seabird Management Plans to limit interactions with seabirds. These plans incorporate measures like managing their offal by batching or retaining it (to avoid attracting the seabirds) and using a device that protects seabirds from bumping into trawl cables”.

“Most vessels currently use large inflatable buoys attached to the vessel to ensure that seabirds do not collide with trawl cables. Although the buoys are effective, they are very difficult to use, and don’t work as well, because they tangle. So we’re keen to use the grant to develop alternative mitigation measures that are at least as effective as the buoys, but are more practical for use on trawl vessels”.

Video footage of the buoys in action can be seen here.

“The grant will be spent on trials of new methods to avoid harming seabirds, and will be monitored by scientific observers. Observers will be used to monitor and validate the use of water sprayers as seabird deterrents”.

A video of the sprayer that is under development can be seen here.

Additional scientific observer coverage will be used to test a yet-to-be identified approach to mitigation. Fishermen will be asked to nominate concepts for devices and a panel of experts will select a second device that will be tested.

The grant will also allow several young fishermen from South East Australia and the Great Australian Bight to travel to New Zealand to learn about New Zealand seabird mitigation measures. By creating champions we hope to drive innovation within the Australian fishery. We hope to that an expert from New Zealand can travel to Australia to help Australian trawl fishermen develop more methods to avoid any harm to seabirds.

All work will be managed by leading fisheries consulting firm Fishwell Consulting. All work will occur in collaboration with the Australian Fisheries Management Authority. SETFIA will also partner with the Great Australian Bight Fishing Industry Association to ensure all of South Eastern Australia is covered.

Mr Boag added,

“Fishermen in all Commonwealth trawl fisheries are developing a reputation for strong environmental stewardship. Australian fisheries are amongst the best managed in the world, and this grant will support our efforts to continue world leadership on environmental measures. If consumers want to make a sustainable seafood choice, they should buy Australian fish”.

For more information contact Simon Boag SETFIA’s EO 0428-141591

Colbeck moves to protect industries from unfounded environmental allegations

23rd September 2013

The Australian newspaper has reported that conservation groups seeking boycotts of products linked to alleged poor environmental practices may soon be liable for prosecution under consumer law.
Parliamentary secretary for fishing and forestry Richard Colbeck told The Australian the move would prevent green groups from holding companies to ransom in their markets.
“We’ll be looking at the way some of the environmental groups work because we are very concerned about some of the activities they conduct in the markets,” Senator Colbeck said. “They have exemptions for secondary boycott activities under the Consumer and Competition Act. We are going to have a complete review of the act”.
“And one of the things I’d be looking at would be to bring a level playing field back so that environment groups are required to comply with the same requirements as business and industry.”
Section 45D of the act prevents action to hinder or prevent a third person supplying goods to, or buying them from, another person. The law restrains business from unfair dealings and trade unions from dragging third parties into industrial disputes via sympathy strikes or trade boycotts. However, section 45DA exempts people from the secondary boycott provisions if their actions are “substantially related to environmental or consumer protection”.

With regard to fishing the Association hopes that a change to the Act would see an end to some of the seafood guides published by some conservation oriented NGOs. These guides tend to be non-scientific, not assess stocks against any published criteria, cover species names simplistically confusing species and are often completely at odds with credible scientific fish stocks reviews like the ABARES stock status report or the FRDC National Snapshot of the top 150 fish stocks in Australia.

In February this year the Victorian Minister for Agriculture, the Hon. Peter Walsh, intervened by “dumping” a Zoos Victoria campaign that suggested that not using certified recycled toilet paper would send kangaroos extinct.

Fishermen follow up on environmental training

12th September 2013

In 2009/10 SETFIA ran a series of two day courses held in four south-east Australian ports.   The courses were TAFE accredited and examined.  The curriculum aimed to build awareness of fisheries science and the harvest strategy, of customer expectations and how the Australian wild catch fishing industry is well placed to continue to build a sustainable industry that offers the best of all proteins – fish.   This initial work was funded by theFRDC and brought about immediate and significant gains in reporting and by-catch mitigation.

As a follow-up on this earlier work SETFIA ran a second series of accredited courses in Sydney, Ulladulla and Lakes Entrance with 38 fishermen achieving the qualification this year.   The most recent course aired a video recorded outside a supermarket asking flathead consumers’ about their perceptions of the fishery.  It also revisited the commitments that industry has made with regard to eastern gemfish, seals, blue warehou and seabird management plans.  The course proposed operational ways to ensure that seagoing crew adhere to codes of conduct and fluid management arrangements.  Participants completed a unit on influence and negotiation before adpoting unfamilar roles including that of a green NGO and recreational fishermen during a very funny role play in which the competitive nature of fishermen became apparent.  AFMA and Parks Australia appeared at some courses.

Successful participants who have completed both units of competence can count credits toward the nationally accredited certificate 3 level qualification in seafood industry fishing operations.

This second round of courses was funded by AFMA through the Australian Government’s Caring for our Countryprogram.

South East Trawl fish found to have low carbon footprint

17th July 2013

The concept of sustainability in seafood generally relates to issues such as overfishing, by-catch and impacts on marine habitats. Researchers at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS), University of Tasmania, are looking more broadly at the sustainability of seafood supply by assessing the carbon footprint across the supply chain. Marine capture fisheries account for 1.2% of global oil consumption and emit >130 million t of CO2e annually. Greenhouse gas emissions were measured for fish from capture to wholesale and converted into carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) using Life Cycle assessment (LCA), a standardised method for assessing and comparing the resource inputs and emissions of products across supply chains. 5.2kg CO2e are emitted per kilo of fish, 60% of which is at the capture stage. In comparison to other products, fish from the SETF has a low carbon footprint. For example, Tasmanian Southern Rock Lobster has a footprint of 17.6kg CO2e /kg and Banana Prawn from the Northern Prawn fishery 7.6kg CO2e /kg. More broadly, the global average for aquaculture prawns is 15kg CO2e /kg, Basa, 9 kg CO2e /kg, and Salmon up to 5.4kg CO2e /kg. For agricultural production, carbon footprints range from 9-129 kg CO2e/kg for beef and 2-6 kg CO2e/kg for poultry.  For more informaiton contact Anna on

Fleet 100% compliant with gear regulations

13th May 2013

All SE trawl vessels are required to run fishing gear that allows small fish to escape. The rules are technical but all vessels must either use large mesh in their codend (the end of the net that collects the fish) or use a by-catch reduction device (BRD). BRDs are used in many trawl fisheries, they allow small fish and in some cases non-commercial species to escape the trawl. Approved BRDs in the South East Trawl (SET) include square mesh panels in the top of the net. The image to the right shows a typical SET BRD and how when diamond mesh is rotated it becomes square (known as T90).  Square mesh is effective because it retains its shape as catch builds up in the net increasing pressure. BRDs are generally positioned in the top of the net because fish will flee upwards where they can see light from the surface.
AFMA recently engagedOceanWatch (an independant NGO) to survey south east trawl vessels. 33 of 39 active vessels completed the survey. 100% of vessels surveyed met the gear requirements.