Category Archives: Fish Stocks

Whiting machine now filleting

22nd October 2015

The Lakes Entrance Fisherman’s Co-operative has invested in a fantastic new automated school whiting filleting machine. This machine was adapted from Scandinavian technology and at full speed can fillet three whiting a second.

Dale Sumner, Co-op General Manager explained, “eastern school whiting is a large volume local species that for many years was packed whole and exported for processing overseas. With the support of FRDC, State & Local Government and most importantly a select number of Danish Seine operators that supply the whiting, we were able to implement various pieces of plant & equipment including a whiting grading line and the filleting machine. This machinery will allow a species that we believe is undervalued to be domestically produced and the consumer will be able to connect to the region as it will be branded and sold under the Co-op brand “Wild Catch”. The machine is the only one of its type in the world given the specific modifications and attachments fitted to deal with the size of the school whiting.”

The machine will enable the Co-ops to produce large quantities of fillets which will increase sales growth. The school whiting fillet story is already catching attention given its caught, landed, processed & packed at Lakes Entrance. Consumers increasingly want to connect to the products that they are eating. Sales of the fillets are growing throughout Victoria and NSW.

See a video of the new machine in action here.

Snapper under control

16th October 2015

Snapper has been small part of the South East Trawl Fishery’s catch for more than 100 years and is an unavoidable part of the sector’s 10,000 tonne catch of other species. There is also a separate, healthy commercial snapper catch in Port Phillip Bay licenced by Victoria which catches around 130 tonnes. Snapper is an iconic recreational species with anglers in Victoria catching more than 500 tonnes.

In recent years fishermen in the South East Trawl Fishery have unfortunately been forced to discard any snapper they caught in excess of 200 kgs per trip. Most, if not all discarded snapper is discarded dead. This management measure aimed to discourage trawl fishermen from targeting snapper but had the perverse outcome of often forcing the infrequent catches of snapper to be discarded dead.

The issue is particularly timely given recent data from Port Phillip Bay suggesting that the snapper there have undergone poor recruitment recently.

However, AFMA and SETFIA have found a better way.

Under the management arrangements in place SETFIA is able to grant an exemption to the 200 kg trip limit provided the skipper believes they can make a case that the snapper was taken incidentally. Skippers call before landing the snapper and are questioned about things such as the catches on other vessels in the area and their recent history of snapper catches. All landings under this exemption must be pre-reported to AFMA which allows them time to have someone meet the vessel or follow up later on to ensure that the catch was unavoidable. All vessels have satellite tracking which AFMA can review.

South East Trawl snapper catches since the co-management arrangement started have been lower than most years and in almost a year only four exemptions have been required. Some exemptions have been made for amounts just over the 200 kg limit and in total only about 8 tonnes of snapper have been landed under the scheme to date. Total South East Trawl catches over the last year are less than 20 tonnes or around 3% of the total catch.

Interestingly, much of this year’s snapper catch came from waters deeper than 200m which may come as a surprise to recreational anglers.

Fishing industry proposes roughy management

15th April 2015

Previous newsletter articles have explained how CSIRO’s acoustic optical system (AOS) surveys have found 30-48,000 tonnes of orange roughy on two hills east of Tasmania. Based on this, and within the context of the fishery’s harvest strategy,  the AFMA Commission has now set the eastern roughy total allowable catch (TAC) at 465 tonnes and the southern roughy TAC at 66 tonnes.

The challenge of working in this fishery is how to catch a small amount of fish when there are literally tens of millions of individual fish present in a small area.

Industry and AFMA have met several times to discuss rules to ensure that the TAC is not exceeded.  Industry proposals include:
• 100% observer coverage, paid for by the operator, when a vessel is fishing in season on these hills
• A minimum quota holding to be able to fish the hills in season
• To close the fishery 100 tonnes before the TAC is caught. Operators will be able to carry uncaught quota into the next year.

Fishermen are currently organising themselves by leasing quota to each other so that some are meet the minimum quota requirements; only a few vessels are expected to fish the hills this year. Agents from Melbourne and Sydney fish markets are negotiating with fishermen, their processors and domestic and international buyers.

The return of Australian caught roughy is a testament to modern fisheries science, to tough management over the last 20 years and to all those involved in CSIRO’s AOS surveys.

NZ orange roughy fishery seeks 3rd party sustainability certification

15th January 2015

Three of New Zealand’s orange roughy fisheries have entered the lengthy and rigorous Marine Stewardship Council sustainability assessment process.
New Zealand’s Ministry of Primary Industry and the industry association the Deepwater Group have been working together for the past ten years to better manage and rebuild the orange roughy stocks, and are now looking to measure this against the MSC standard.

The MSC’s Patrick Caleo explained that, the “MSC assessment process uses science and evidence-based facts, no judgements are made about how sustainable a fishery is until it has completed a full assessment and then we let the science speak for itself”.

This is the first orange roughy fishery in the world to undergo assessment and will be measured against the same standard that every fishery in the MSC global program is assessed against.
MSC’s standard for sustainable fishing is based on three core principles;

  1. Healthy populations of target stock,
  2. Reduced impact on the marine ecosystem (including bycatch and habitat impact) and,
  3. The effective management processes of the fishery.

It typically takes around 12 to 18 months for a team of independent third-party scientists to assess a fishery against the MSC standard for sustainability. There are many opportunities for stakeholders to input into the assessment process and all results are then peer reviewed.

If certified the fishery must also meet annual surveillance audits, improve on any conditions to international best practice level, and be completely reassessed every five years.

This is an interesting development given that much of New Zealand’s assessment data comes from CSIRO’s AOS program and because New Zealand manages its roughy stocks at lower biomasses than Australia.

2014 Fishery Independent Survey Finishes

24th September 2014

Catches in the South-East are controlled by quotas which are based on assessments of fish stocks. For many years, industry, managers and researchers have recognised the problems with using catch and effort data from commercial logbooks as the main index of abundance for SESSF species. This has been particularly the case in the South-East where a range of management arrangements such as closed areas, bycatch TACs and stock rebuilding strategies result in avoidance fishing behaviours by fishermen and undermine commercial catch rates as indices of abundance. Market prices, quota availability, the emergence of other stocks also affect the way that fishers target catch. These behaviours mean that commercial catch rates are questionable, and in some cases meaningless as an index of abundance for affected species. This cycle was recently the subject of an FRDC article titled, The catch 22 of catch-less abundance calculations.

This is not an unusual fishery management issue internationally, and often fishery independent surveys (or FISs) are used as a solution. A FIS is a strictly controlled survey conducted in a consistent manner where the same shots, gear and methods are repeated at regular intervals over time. FIS abundance indices can be used in addition to, or instead of commercial catch rate data. SETFIA members have supported a FIS in the South-East for the last eight years.

Because they do not consist of commercial shots, the cost of conducting a FIS has been a major hurdle preventing their implementation in the past. Also, Australian research agencies no longer have research vessels that are suitable for undertaking trawl surveys. About 60 tonnes of fish caught during the FIS is known as “research allowance” and is deducted from the following year’s commercial quota. This survey fish is sold and the proceeds are used to offset the cost of the survey. Industry vessels are chartered under an arrangement where vessels are paid a daily or per-shot charter rate. To reduce costs and ensure that the vessel contracts are cost effective the Association is the principle investigator (project manager) of the FIS.

Each winter, in July and August, around 200 shots are completed at locations that were selected prior to the first survey. The survey provides robust indices for Silver Warehou, Blue Grenadier, Tiger Flathead, Jackass Morwong, Mirror Dory, Pink Ling, Common Sawshark, Southern Sawshark, Offshore Ocean Perch, Gummy Shark, John Dory, the Deepwater Shark basket; Western Gemfish, Redfish, Ocean Jacket, Latchet, King Dory, Stargazer, Frostfish and Red Gurnard. These stocks make up 88% by weight of the catch of quota species and 75% of their value and include the major target species.

In addition to collecting catch rate data the survey collects around 20,000 length measurements and more than 3,000 otiliths (ear bones which are used to age fish).

Surveys were run in 2008, 2010, 2012 and the 2014 survey has just finished. Now that there is a time series of FIS data over eight years, this information can begin to be used as an abundance index in stock assessments.

Survey finds 10 million orange roughy off eastern Tasmania

15th May 2014

CSIRO have released preliminary results from the July 2013 SETFIA led stock survey of the Eastern Orange Roughy Zone. Two features known as St Patricks and St Helens in the Eastern Zone where roughy are known to aggregate to spawn were surveyed. St Helens Hill is typical of a roughy hill being a conical seamount rising from a depth of 1,100m to 600m. This is the 4th acoustic survey in the Eastern Zone since 2006.

CSIRO use an acoustic optical system or AOS designed by CSIRO Hobart. An AOS is a device that emits multiple frequency signals to calculate the amount of fish present. It is towed 200-300m above schools of aggregating roughy and can survey the size and densities of roughy schools and distinguish between roughy and other gas bladdered fish. It is particularly effective in assessing aggregations of deep-sea fish and has been used in Australasia to assess blue grenadier (hoki) and roughy.

By catching fish shortly before it spawns and studying reproductive organs called gonads scientists can tell which fish will spawn that year. They have found that not all roughy come to a hill each year to spawn. Previous eastern surveys have found that only 52-70% of roughy spawn each year meaning that there could be 1.4 to 1.9 more fish in the zone than surveyed.

The survey endured very bad weather last year. Unusually CSIRO found roughy on both eastern roughy hills and it was more widely distributed across the hills than in previous years with a declining trend over time at St Helens.

Previous surveys have found between 18,000 and 27,000 thousand tonnes of fish in the east. In this unusual 2013 year only 15,000 tonnes or about 10 million fish were found scattered widely across both hills.

To give readers some context about these numbers 40,000 horses weigh about 20,000 tonnes. Interestingly there are about 30,000 registered race horses in Australia. It is fair to say that roughy inside the eastern zone weigh more than all Australian race horses combined! Neither roughy nor race horses are going extinct any time soon.

New Zealand’s roughy stocks are estimated to be 168,000 tonnes from which an annual commercial catch of 7,000 tonnes is allocated. In the absence of a commercial fishery, the size of Australia’s stocks are less certain with somewhere in the vicinity of 21,000 – 48,000 tonnes in the east alone (allowing for fish not spawning) and an unknown quantity of fish in Australia’s four other roughy zones. A ban on targeted fishing and closures set down in the orange roughy conservation program means that the Australian roughy catch is only 200 tonnes in most years.

Plenty of fish in the sea. (Again).

17th March 2014

Quotas for the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery’s (SESSF) 2014/15 fishing year commencing on May 1 have been announced. Quotas increased between 2013/14 and 2014/15 by 816 tonnes or 4%. TACs are set through an exhaustive process that starts with CSIRO completing stock assessments on each stock. These assessments the pass through the Resource Assessment Group (RAG), the management advisory committee (MAC), the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) before finally reaching the Commonwealth Fisheries Commission where this advice is considered and a final decision is made. Total Allowable Catches (TACs) by stock can be found here.

If the fishery’s history is divided into five year bocks the trend for the last five years is for an average annual increase of +3%. The average annual trend for the three previous five year blocks is; -7% (2005-2009/10), -2% (2000-2004) and -1% (1995-1999). This makes the most recent five year block the only one during the fishery’s 22 years under quotas in which there has been an average annual increase in TAC’s.

Six stocks have increased year on year; blue grenadier, flathead, pink ling, ribaldo, royal red prawns and saw shark. Six stocks that have decreased; alfonsino, blue eye trevally, deepwater sharks east, mirror dory, redfish and silver trevally. Most stocks remain unchanged; blue warehou, deepwater sharks west, gemfish east, gemfish west, gummy shark, jackass morwong, john dory, ocean perch all orange roughy stocks, all oreo stocks, school whiting, silver warehou and school shark.

Most stocks targeted by trawlers are now managed under TACs that run for two or three years known as multi-year TACs. This will provide stability without increasing risk to the stocks but will also significantly reduce assessment and management costs enabling industry to afford another year of the costly fishery independent survey (FIS) to be run this winter.

Blue warehou catches kept to lowest ever

5th November 2013

Blue warehou has been classified as overfished since 2009 following peak catches of almost 3,000 tonnes in 1991. The landed catch fell substantially as a result of a series of quota reductions since 2006.
In 2009/10 SETFIA ran its first Skipper training course and communicated to Skippers the need to avoid blue warehou and to accurately record all catches. This need was reinforced in the 2012 refresher courses. During that year members resolved to implement a code of conduct to reduce the catch of blue warehou.
AFMA implemented a stock rebuilding strategy in 2008 and this was renewed in 2012. The rebuilding strategy aims to rebuild the stock to a level that would allow a sustainable yield within a stated time frame, to reduce incidental catches to the minimum possible, protect spawning aggregations, collect biological data and ensure that catches are accurately recorded.
The good news is that industry has successfully avoided blue warehou and 2012 calendar year catches of blue warehou have been the lowest ever (at 72 tonnes). This creates a conundrum for management decisions because without commercial catches it is very hard to assess the rebuilding. The Association has collected thousands of biological samples since 2011 in the hope that a new method called SPR might be able to provide some information. The other good news is that ABARES no longer list blue warehou as being subject to over-fishing. In their most recent stock status report ABARES acknowledge industry’s attempts to avoid blue warehou stating that, “There is evidence of significant reductions in targeting and catches…”
The blue warehou story is not a good one but is evidence that the Fisheries Management Act, and its Harvest Strategy, with action by fishermen can position stocks for rebuilding.

Sustainability status of five South East Trawl stocks improves

29th October 2013

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, Senator Richard Colbeck, today released the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) Fishery Status Reports 2012. The report assesses the status of all 93 Commonwealth fish stocks. Senator Colbeck said, “What this report shows us is that our fisheries are undeniably sustainable and our science-based management practices continue to improve. The ABARES report is a clear endorsement of Australia’s science-based fishing industry and shows that previous attacks on the industry were unwarranted. The numbers were an improvement on the previous ABARES report. When Australian families buy fish from a well-managed and sustainable fishery, they know they are getting the best. Australian fisheries are recognised as being among the best managed in the world”.

ABARES report on the South East Trawl Fishery (SETF) is that there were only positive changes in the status of SETF stocks. The status of gulper sharks, pink ling, eastern orange roughy and ribaldo all improved. The 2012 report shows that only a single stock in the trawl fishery, eastern gemfish, remains subject to overfishing. Trawl fishermen have worked hard to reduce the incidental catch of eastern gemfish to record lows to allow it to rebuild.

Amorous roughy respond to fishing

16th August 2013

A scientific paper (Pitman, Haddy and Kloser) has been released assessing the impact of commercial fishing on the reproductive capacity (fecundity) of orange roughy. Data from when exploitation began (1987–1992) is compared with current observations from the eastern Tasmanian stock. Findings show that fecundity is negatively related to stock size, meaning that as the population of orange roughy declined fecundity per individual increased 41,145 (± 1,363) eggs in 1992 to 59,236 (± 1,047) eggs in 2010. The fecundity per fish has increased by 73%. Modelling this increase based on the 2006 stock assessment showed that the female spawning stock biomass was at 19% of virgin levels, whereas the total reproductive potential was markedly higher and estimated to be at 32% of virgin levels. The biological mechanisms of this compensatory effect were also investigated and showed fecundity was not related to ovarian atresia levels but was positively related to body condition and liver condition. The implications of these findings for stock recovery and management suggest that the stock is in a better position to recover from over-exploitation than would be expected if only spawning stock biomass is considered. The full report can be read here.