The Commonwealth Fisheries Association (CFA), with the support of industry around Australia, has lodged a nomination with the Department of Sustainability, the Environment, Water, Population and Communities for marine seismic survey activities as a key threatening process under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
There is growing evidence that seismic surveys cause damage to marine life, displacement from habitats and disruption to breeding.
The nomination lists nine species that could become vulnerable or more highly endangered: black jewfish; Bass Strait scallop; arrow squid; scampi; blue warehou; southern bluefin tuna; orange roughy; gemfish; and the loggerhead turtle.
The CFA’s goal is to achieve appropriate protection for these species.
South East Trawl vessels managing offal to reduce their attractiveness to seabirds but also use pinkies (buoys) to physically deflect seabirds away from warps (cables used to tow nets). Both are part of what is known as a Seabird Management Plan (SMP). Operating to an approved SMP is now a condition on the fishing permit of all South East Trawl vessels and is fully supported by industry. Pinkies sometimes tangle in rough weather and untangling them can be a risk to crew. A SETFIA meeting this year resolved to form a sub-committee to investigate other options for physical seabird mitigation devices. This group trialed road cones wrapped around the warp and water sprayers. The road cones were problematic because they wore out and had to be fitted and removed from the warp (cable used to tow the trawl).
However, trials to date show that the water sprayers have real promise. A boom of sprayers (water jets) were fitted to the starboard side of the trawl vessel Lady Miriam. The boom is adjustable so the spray can be adjusted depending on the angle of the warp wire to make sure it douses the warp. When the vessel is fishing in shallow water it is aimed further back, in deep water closer to the vessel and in windy weather it can be directed to allow for wind. There is nothing to tangle and nothing to forget because the system is turned on when the vessel leaves the wharf and off when coming into port. Video footage frrom trials on the Lady Miriam can be seen here. For reasons known only to the birds they actively avoid getting wet. The Australian Fisheries Management Authority is currently verifying sprayers are an alternate physical mitigation that can be used within an SMP.
Funded by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, SETFIA, in partnership with Fishwell Consulting and the South East Australian Maritime Education Centre has run a nationally accredited training course called Improved Environmental Work Practices. The courses were run in early 2011. A steering committee including a representative from the Australian Marine Conservation Society set the curriculum. The assessed course society’s expectations of the industry, stock assessments, reducing marine pollution, stopping the spread of foreign aquatic organisms, improving reporting, mitigating interactions with threatened, endangered and protected species , identifying upper-slope dogfish, closures and stock rebuilding strategies. Graduate Skipper Ben Maas from the trawl vessel Celtic Rose in Portland said, “I think the course was great. Skippers need to become more involved as the industry evolves, we are the people that actually catch the fish”.
A new project aims to reduce seal interactions by shortening trawl fishing nets. SETFIA has established a project steering committee with representatives from the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA), SETFIA, Fishwell Consulting and the Phillip Island Nature Parks.
The project is supported by AFMA through funding from the Australian Government’s Caring for our Country initiative and ExxonMobil Australia. Caring For Our Country funds environmental projects aimed at protecting Australia’s natural environment and sustainability. ExxonMobil Australia supports marine conservation projects through its community contributions program and it has been a long term supporter of seal tracking and education projects by Phillip Island Nature Parks.
Seal populations are increasing but Fur Seals sometimes opportunistically feed on fish inside of trawl nets, and are occasionally caught in the net. Sometimes the seals are returned to the water unharmed, however some unfortunately drown. Populations of Australian Fur Seals are rapidly increasing in numbers, which may result in an increase in these interactions with the fishery. Reducing the chance of these interactions is a logical step for the fishery which is actively working to improve its sustainability.
Large trawl vessels are able to use grids that exclude seals from trawls, however they are impractical and unsafe on small vessels that are typical in the South East Trawl Fishery. In a rush to return to sea last year, a South East Trawl vessel did not have time to sew extensions into their trawl as they normally would. The extensions make the trawl longer and stops fast swimming fish escaping from the trawl. The crew found that having a shorter net (“modified trawl” in diagram above) did not affect catches of the slow swimming species that they were catching, but instead over time noticed a large decrease in interactions with seals.
These fishermen approached SETFIA to formally trial the net in reducing seal interactions. Key areas of investigation are whether the shorter net can reduce seal interactions without reducing commercial fish catch. The project will collect data from a normal trawl and a shortened trawl over a year and results will be reported in early 2014.
SETFIA and the South East Maritime Education Centre (SEAMEC) have won the Seafood Industry Victoria’s Seafood Industry Training Award for 2011. The award is recognition of the Improved Environmental Operations course completed by 82 South East Trawl fishermen. The award was presented to Richard Owen, SEAMEC’s General Manager and Simon Boag, SETFIA’s CEO by Victoria’s Minister for Agriculture and Food Security the Hon. Peter Walsh. The training course is certified under the national qualifications framework and was fully assessed. The course explained the Australian community’s expectations of the fishing industry and then worked through issues such as reporting, mitigating protected species interactions, marine pollution, foreign aquatic organisms and how fishery assessments work. The course has brought about immediate benefits including dramatically improved reporting levels and a faster than planned implementation of seabird management plans. SETFIA would again like to thank the Fisheries and Research Development Corporation for funding this project. SETFIA is committed to at least a single day’s training of South East Trawl fisherman each year on an ongoing basis. [Image by Emily Guy]
SETFIA has supported the progression of an additional condition to the trawl fishing license. The new condition states that all trawl vessels must have, and work to, an approved seabird management plan (SMP). This new condition is effective from November 1 2012 this year. From that time South East Trawl vessels must work to approved SMP’s or are in breach of their license conditions and a breach carries severe penalties. The SMP’s are tailored to individual vessels which are all different. All plans contain ways to manage offal so that birds are not attracted to the vessel and some sort of physical device to discourage birds away from warps such as the pinky buoy system used on many vessels. Over the last few months AFMA have visited every vessel in the fishery with the result that all vessels now have approved SMPs. A video of the buoys in use can be found here.
Diesel costs for the South East Trawl fleet are in the order of 20-25% of total operating costs. Diesel prices have been rising steadily for some years and as such the industry has been strongly incentivised to reduce fuel use for some time. An FRDC report about alternate fuels for fishing vessels found that although there was potential for alternate fuels such as natural gas, LPG, lower grade diesel fuels, biodiesel, fish oil, ethanol and hydrogen that there were many issues including safety, storage at sea, competing value as food, unavailability, increased emissions (sulphur and CO2) and cost. It therefore appears that diesel will drive the fleet for the immediate future at least.
The Commonwealth Government assisted industry through a structural adjustment process in 2006 that purchased fishing concessions allowing fishing businesses to voluntarily exit the industry. Figures adapted from an ABARES report on the profitability of Commonwealth fisheries before and after the structural adjustment process shows that the South East Trawl fishery reduced its CO2 emissions by 34%. This was achieved by removing licenses in the fleet allowing the remaining lower number of vessels to catch larger individual (per vessel) volumes of fish.
As a food industry, the fishing industry is exempt from the carbon tax costs of its direct emissions.
Seals are attracted to fishing vessels by the promise of an easy feed, they often chase fish in trawl nets. Unfortunately, some seals become disorientated in trawls and drown. Freezer vessels are boats that freeze fish at sea rather than bring fish home fresh. Around half of the South East Trawl blue grenadier catch is taken by freezer vessels. Seals are protected under the EPBC Act, it is not illegal for a fishing vessel to accidently have an interaction with a seal provided the fishery is a certified Wildlife Trade Operation (WTO) and vessels take reasonable steps to avoid interactions.
There are three phases of a fishing operation; shooting (deploying the trawl),fishing and hauling. Seals are only vulnerable when the net is near the surface during shooting and hauling. Before shooting, the net mouth is tied closed with light twine. Only when it is well underwater (too deep for seals to reach), does the spreading force of trawl doors (large metal plates used to open the net) break the twine and the net opens and begins fishing. During fishing the net is too deep for seals to reach. A seal exclusion device or SED helps protect seals during hauling. A SED is a device that allows seals to escape before they reach the cod-end (see image). SED’s are a legal requirement on freezer vessels operating in the winter blue grenadier fishery. The use of SED’s and tying the trawl mouth closed as it is shot have contributed to a significant reduction in seal interactions.
Ashley McNamara (left) (21) and Brendan McKewen (24) are the Skippers of the 71 foot South East Trawl vessel the Western Alliance. The pair of Gen-Y’ers have volunteered to run the shortened trawl project that was launched in September. The project is supported by ExxonMobil and the Australian Government’s Caring for Our Country program. Seals sometimes chase fish into trawls and may drown if they can’t find their way back out. This project hypothesises that seals are more likely to find their way out if the length of the trawl net is shortened. Ashley and Brendan will work a shortened and normal trawl net alternately during the next year and carefully gather data on the number of interactions in each net. By helping protect seals, the boys’ work will help protect their future as fishermen.
Australia may have bowed out of the Rugby World Cup in the semis but South East Trawl (SET) Fishermen continue to do well. SET fishermen have been recognised in a strong field and have placed as finalists in the prestigious Environment and Sustainability Awards at the 2011 Regional Achievement and Community Awards. Ian Walker (right, Director of Healthy Parks, Parks Victoria) presented the award to long time industry stalwart Michael Miriklis (left) who accepted it on members’ behalf. Michael operates the board trawler Derwent Venture which is based in Portland. The awards dinner was held in Ballarat in front of 300 guests including the Hon Peter Ryan (MLA, Deputy Premier) who is the patron of the awards. South East Landcare won the award. SETFIA’s Chairman, Mr Tom Bibby, said that, “he was pleased fishermen had been recognised for their performance in the environment. The most surprising outcome of the night was that it appears that Michael owns and occasionally wears a suit”.