Category Archives: Trawl Grounds

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,


Fishing by electrocution

23rd February 2018

Electric pulse fishing (also known as electrofishing or electrical trawling) is a trawl fishing technique used in Europe to target flatfish (sole) and shrimp.  It involves the release of electric currents with a range of frequency, voltage, pulse polarity, pulse shape, and pulse duration combinations into the seabed to either immobilize fish so they do not try to escape the fishing net or to startle them to jump into the fishing net.  Traditional beam trawlers drag bobbin rope or tickler chains along the seabed to push finfish or shrimp up and into the path of the fishing net.

On ‘Electro-trawlers’, these gears are replaced with a number of electrodes, attached to the gear in the tow direction, that emit electric pulses. There are two basic types of pulses depending on the target species. Vessels targeting fish like Dover sole use a bipolar pulse of around 80Hz to induce cramping in the fish that immobilizes them and stops them from escaping the trawl net. While vessels that go after shrimp tend to produce unipolar pulses of around 5Hz that startle the shrimp and induce an involuntary tail-flip that causes it to jump up from the seabed into the net.

Watch the video below to learn more about how electric pulse trawling works.

On the surface, electrofishing might seem like the ideal, environmentally friendly fishing method.  The gear used islighter than some gear used in conventional beam trawling and consumes up to 50% less fuel to tow making it more economical. It also appears to be more selective. An average by-catch reduction of 35% in volume was observed during extensive commercial testing of the prototype. The trial also indicated that contact with the seabed was reduced by 75% while catch efficiency was maintained.

This method of fishing has been banned in the European Union (EU) since 1998 due to uncertainty about its impact on non-target marine organisms and ecosystems that may be exposed to its effects. However, since 2009 an exemption in the legislation has allowed EU member states to electrofish using 5% of their beam trawl fleet in the southern North Sea, and this was increased to 10% in 2014. In addition, some members states have increased their electrofishing capacity under the guise of conducting scientific trials to test fishing methods that avoid, minimise or eliminate fishery bycatch. In 2016 approximately 91, mainly Dutch and British, trawl boats were commercially electrofishing in this region.

However there is growing concern that electric pulse fishing may not be as sustainable as it is touted to be by some quarters. Studies on adult Dover sole and Atlantic cod have shown that the response of fish during and after exposure to electric pulses can range from a straightforward escape response at low electrical loads, to cramp reactions at medium electrical loads and tonic-clonic epileptic seizures, spinal injury and haemorrhaging in cod at high electrical loads.

Further, fishers in the southern North Sea have been reporting that since the industrial scale ramping up of electric pulse fishing in the area they have seen a drastic reduction in the key target species, sole, cod and seabass. They are also reportedly hauling large amounts of already dead fish and observing dead shellfish, starfish and small fish in areas fished by electro trawlers, so much so that they have started referring to the southern North Sea as the dead zone.

In January this year, French fishers blockaded the busy port of Calais to protest over the damaging impact that electric pulse fishing is having on fish numbers and their livelihood. Amid such heated protestation and controversy, on 16 January the EU parliament voted to ban electric pulse fishing in its waters. This ban is yet to be confirmed as decisions have to be negotiated with the European Commission and members states prior to being final but the EU parliament’s resolve has concerned the mostly Dutch fishers that have heavily invested in adopting the technology.

The final outcomes of this saga may not be fully known for some time but if nothing else, this is a cautionary tale on the perils of unleashing on the environment technologies that may on the surface seem sustainability-friendly but are not sufficiently supported by rigorous scientific testing and evidence. What seems to have happened in the southern North Sea is that electric pulse fishing has resulted in the trawling and, potentially destruction, of benthic habitats that used to provide sanctuary to feeding and juvenile fish by virtue of their inaccessibility to conventional beam trawlers.

Electric pulse fishing is not an allowed method in the South East Trawl Fishery.    Conventional bottom trawling attracts criticism for its environmental impacts but Australian and international research has shown that its impact on the environment is less than many allege.  Bottom trawling in south east Australia is aggregated into small areas due to closures or due to grounds being unproductive or too rough for the fishing gear.  Research in the south east has found that only 6% of the seafloor is every touched by trawl gear and that bottom dwelling invertebrates populations are at  80-93% of their un-trawled abundance and continue t increase.

Read more.

*Featured image is by Wageningen UR.

Links to reports on electrofishing.

ICES working group report

IMARES research institute webpage on pulse fishing

an article in “The Conversation” by Mike Kaiser:

Science Mag article:


Gulper exclusion trial successful

10th December 2015

The gulper exclusion proof-of-concept trial has been successful. Read on to learn more and see trawl footage taken at 500m depth.

Harrisson’s dogfish and southern dogfish are part of a group of sharks called Upper-Slope Dogfish or Gulper Sharks. To rebuild populations of gulpers AFMA has put a series of closures in place.  These closures are equivalent in area to about 25% of total dogfish habitat available in the fishery.  Many of these closures overlap with grounds where royal red prawns are caught in the South East Trawl Fishery off Sydney.

In early 2014 SETFIA announced that it would trial a grid that aimed to catch royal red prawns but exclude gulpers.  The project team commissioned something they named a Gulper Exclusion Device or GED.  These are widely used in other Australian prawn fisheries.

New Picture (22)

A GED is an angled aluminium grid in the net that will deflect gulpers and other large fishes up and out of the net unharmed, while the smaller royal red prawns pass through to be caught (see image below). Underwater cameras were used to understand how gulper sharks and other larger fishes are ejected from the trawl net (see video above taken at 500m).

The footage clearly shows that the device works in that it ejects skates, small sharks and other fishes such as pink ling while allowing most prawns to pass through and be retained in the trawl’s codend.  Only four shots were completed and these were not in gulper habitat so none were encountered.


The Association and AFMA will now consider further research which aims to allow trawl fishing with a GED inside the Sydney gulper closure.

SETFIA thanked AFMA for funding the work, net-maker David Guillot who installed the GED, Wallace Hill the net maker and the Bagnato brothers who operate the survey vessel Francesca.

Final report on the project:

Final report RRP USD exclusion proof of concept

Six per cent of SE seafloor touched by trawling

16th October 2015

CSIRO scientists are changing the way we think about the affects of trawling. A report completed by CSIRO scientists titled, Predicting benthic impacts & recovery to support biodiversity management in the South-east Marine Region has found that trawling only touches 6% of the south east seafloor and has not had a major effect on groups of invertebrates (animals without backbones such as corals, sponges and sea-squirts). In fact, these invertebrate groups are now recovering, due to positive actions of industry and management.

The south-east Australia supports Australia’s second largest trawl fishery. The fleet of approximately 30 trawl vessels catches 10-12,000 tonnes of fish worth $50m at the port. The fishery is the largest supplier of fresh and healthy Australian seafood like ling, flathead and blue grenadier to the citizens of Melbourne and Sydney.

The South East is also home to the world’s largest network of continental shelf and deepwater marine parks. The 14 parks in the 388,464km2 South East Marine Reserve Network are about the same size as the landmass of the state of South Australia.

During this work CSIRO scientists working within the National Environmental Research Program Marine Biodiversity Hub integrated many data sets to produce three types of maps for the south-east:

1) Maps of where habitat forming bottom invertebrate (animals without backbones) groups occur based on previous surveys and computer modelling with depth, sediments, currents, temperature, nutrients and others.

2) A map of 15 different seafloor habitat types, or assemblages, obtained from existing survey data for all fishes, using invertebrates as indicators of different types of habitat and by again using computer modelling of things like depth.

3) A map of the trawl fishery’s swept area. Deepwater trawl fishing vessels log their position and width of their gear each time they shoot and haul their net and record the width of their fishing gear.

Existing research about the damage that trawl fishing gear causes to these invertebrate groups, and their recovery afterwards, was also considered.

CSIRO research calculated the effect of various management interventions including the removal of 86 trawl licences, establishing the South East Commonwealth Marine Reserve and other fishery area closures.

Key findings of this work were:

1) Only 6% of the seafloor is currently trawled annually because trawling is aggregated into a small area.

2) Some assemblages of invertebrates are not ever trawled because the area of seafloor where they live is either closed by fishery closures, protected by marine parks or is not trawled because it is unproductive or too rough. Large areas (44%) of the region are closed through fishery closures (39%) and marine parks (9%) with some overlap.

3) All 10 groups of seafloor invertebrates declined after trawling started to a low point around the year 2005 when these invertebrates reached 80-93% of their un-trawled abundance.

4) Closures, marine parks and licence buy-backs contributed to the recovery of invertebrates by 1-3% to 82-94% of their un-trawled abundance. Licence buybacks improved the status of all groups and closures contributed for most groups. However, most fishery closures and marine parks had little detectable influence on the abundance of invertebrates.

100 years of the south-east providing healthy seafood in relation to the loss of 6-18% of the SE region’s invertebrate abundance contrasts favourably to the loss of 40% of Australia’s forests and 50% of its wetlands . The trawl fishing of 6% annually of the south-east seafloor compares very favourably with the farming of 26% of the Australian landmass.

The South East Trawl Fishing Industry Association’s (SETFIA) Chairman, Mr Tom Bibby, explained,

“The fishing industry has always known that there are very few trawl vessels operating in a very limited area and that our footprint would be minimal. This research proves that. However, internationally funded green groups must try to convince the Australian community that trawl fishing is harmful in order to drive continued donations. Industry is not lobbying for the removal of marine parks but the industry operates under the constant threat of more closures; this work shows that they are not needed. Invertebrate communities never reached low levels and are rebuilding strongly”.

Lessons on marine parks from the Great Barrier Reef

23rd February 2015

In 2004, the Australian and Queensland governments increased protection of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) closing 117,000 km2 of the reef to commercial fishing inside the Great Barrier Reef marine park.

A report by four fisheries scientists explains that the Australian and Queensland governments supported the creation of the parks in the belief that the additional closures would generate minimal initial reductions of about 10% in both catch and landed value with recovery of catches after three years. To test these predictions the researchers used commercial fisheries data from the GBR and from two non-GBR areas of Queensland. They compared these areas for the periods immediately prior to, and after the closures were implemented.

They found that the total annual catch and value within the GBR declined from pre-closure by 35% and 36% respectively. Catch decreased by 4,500 tonnes; around a third of the production from the South East Trawl Fishery. The researchers found no evidence of recovery in total catch levels or any comparative improvement in catch-rates within the GBR nine years after implementation.

They concluded that these results are not consistent with the original advice to governments that the closures would have minimal initial impacts and rapidly generate benefits to fisheries in the GBR through increased juvenile recruitment and adult spillovers.

The researchers added that the absence of evidence of recovery in catches or catch-rates to date actually supports an alternative hypothesis. This is that where there is already effective fisheries management, the closing of areas to all fishing will generate reductions in overall catches similar to the percentage of the fished area that is closed.

The Association welcomes the finding that in this case marine parks had no fishery spillover benefit because the GBR fishery was already well managed.

However, the Association believes that in the case of the GBR there is growing evidence that dredging, agricultural runoff, climate change and its extreme weather events are causing the GBR to deteriorate. Since 1985, the GBR has lost more than half of its corals with two-thirds of the loss occurring from 1998 due to these threats. UNESCO recognised the GBR as a world heritage site in 1981 and has now deferred a decision to list the GBR as “in danger” to later this year.

Tax payers must ask whether the $213m they spent buying out commercial fishermen on the GBR was money well spent given it continues to cost the Australian economy $58m each year and has not addressed the threats to the reef?

Marine parks in the south-east are more than three times the size of the GBR’s parks at 388,000km.  All marine parks in the south-east are closed to trawling.

This report is timely given the Australian community is being asked to join the conversation about the way that Commonwealth marine parks should be managed.

Sub-Antarctic fishery pristine after 16 years of trawling

29th July 2014

The Heard and McDonald Island (HIMI) Patagonian Toothfish and Mackerel Icefish fishery is located in the Southern Ocean 3,000 miles south-west from the Australian mainland. An eight year FRDC study has shown that after 16 years of trawling and five years of longlining that 98% of sensitive sea floor biodiversity remains in pristine condition. The study was funded by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation and was a joint project between the Australian Antarctic Division, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority and fishing industry partners Austral Fisheries and Australian Longline (both of whom are SETFIA members). The research also found that the majority of vulnerable organisms live on the sea floor at depths less than 1,200 metres. This habitat overlaps with trawl fishing to depths of 1,000 metres, and to a lesser extent longline fishing.

Images of the HIMI seafloor can be found here.

There is a 65,000km2 Marine Reserve in the HIMI area. The location of this reserve was a collaborative effort between the fishing industry and the Commonwealth Environment Department and has been in place since 2002.

This result shows that well placed marine protected areas can bring about strong conservation outcomes while allowing sustainable fishing.

The South East Marine Reserve Network consists of 14 different marine reserves and covers most of the South East Trawl Fishery. It too was a collaborative effort between Government and industry. The 388,000km2 South East Network is far larger than the HIMI reserve and is in fact the largest deepwater marine protected area in the world. There are many other fisheries closures in the South East Fishery and combined with Marine Parks means that 87% of the fishery is closed to trawling.

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.

Seafood contributes to Australia’s food security

5th March 2013

Fears of a food crisis and violence were re-ignited internationally in August 2010 when the worst drought in 100 years destroyed a third of Russia’s grain crop, prompting the government to ban wheat exports. This move to protect domestic supplies and keep prices low encouraged the Ukraine and Kazakhstan to follow suit. Subsequently, typhoons hit the rice paddy fields in the Philippines and bad weather affected crops in China, Indonesia and other key producers. Prices for rice escalated. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) tracks the volatility of food prices and their threat to food security. The FAO’s Food Price Index hit an all-time high in December 2010, prompting the organisation to warn of the danger of a food crisis.
Australia will continue to position itself as a net exporter of food but even Australia is not immune from the threat of food insecurity. The recent Queensland floods wiped out crops and increased food prices in Australia.
Australia’s oceans, and the seafood they produce, are a valuable contributor to Australia’s food security but at times this is forgotten. As the Australian community continues to realise how sustainable their fisheries are, the Association hopes their contribution to Australia’s food security will be better recognised.