Marine Park Alert System Helpful in the South-East

Marine parks are recognised globally as a tool that can contribute to protecting some marine environments from potentially damaging fishing methods such as trawling.  The South-East Trawl Fishery is proud to operate within a network of 14 Australian Marine Parks covering 388,000 km2.  The Association sees these marine parks as part of the risk-catch-cost fisheries management decision making trade-off.  Marine parks reduce the risk of commercial fishing, which should reduce fishery management costs and allow harvest strategies to set sustainable quotas.

The effectiveness of marine parks requires that fishing methods likely to harm the conservation values in that park are excluded from some parks. This requires compliance, including awareness of rules, monitoring and enforcement.  This can involve satellite photography monitoring, manned and unmanned aerial and sea patrols, acoustic detection and satellite-aided vessel monitoring systems.

The Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA), Parks Australia and SETFIA have worked together to set up a Marine Park Alert Service in the South-East and the newsletter has reported on this previously.  This system has since been rolled out to all Australian Marine Parks.  The backbone of this service is the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) platform; a satellite tracking system that is required on all Commonwealth managed fishing vessels that relays the position, speed, time and identity of vessels back to AFMA.

Under this marine park alert service an SMS message is sent to skipper and/or licence holder when the vessel enters a marine park  where the fishing method is not allowed. The alert is generated and sent following an initial poll and is only sent once (not repeatedly) when a vessel enters a zone, and then sent again on any subsequent new entry. This is to avoid excessive alerts being sent to a vessel, which could result in diminished effectiveness.

It is important to note that fishing vessels are allowed to transit through Marine Parks, but some fishing methods are not allowed in some marine parks.  For example, bottom trawling is not allowed in any of the South-East Australia’s Marine Parks.

The efficacy of the service has been recently reviewed by Parks Australia using three years of vessel monitoring system (VMS) data from AFMA.  Parks Australia has studied the tracks of vessels that entered within one mile of a marine park and received an alert.  The analysis aimed to identify tracks that might indicate fishing.  For trawlers, this involved looking at vessels travelling at less than 4 knots, noting that slower speeds also can indicate ‘dodging’ into bad weather.  For longliners, fishing was identified as a track pattern, typical with the setting and hauling of longlines.

In the three years studied, a total of 2,291 alerts were sent to skippers and concession holders to Commonwealth fishing vessels in marine park boundaries where the fishing method of that vessel was not allowed in that park.  On 18 occasions vessels appeared to receive an alert and then either departed or ceased fishing outside the marine park. These vessels may have already been planning to stop fishing prior to entering the marine park or may not have even been fishing, but there is a chance that some were fishing, received the alert and immediately stopped fishing possibly preventing a compliance incident occurring.

Prior to the alert service, AFMA ran regular VMS reports of South-East fishing vessels inside marine parks who were travelling at less than 5 knots.  After an initial human common sense scan where some vessels were identified as not fishing a ‘show cause’ letter was sent to the remaining operators asking them to explain their actions.  This was a lengthy and costly process with almost all vessels inside marine parks being false positives.

The alert service aims to prevent unintentional and intentional breaches, before a fishing vessel fishes within a marine park where it is not permitted to do so.  If this is possible it will significantly reduce the amount of tax payer funded work required to identify and pursue fishing vessels through show-cause.

When this review was completed the South-East’s Marine Parks had been in place for more than ten years, so fishermen know where the parks are and are used to being monitored by VMS.

When the national system of Marine Parks comes into effect on 1 July 2018 there will be ten-fold increase in the area of marine parks – to three million km2 consisting of 59 marine parks around Australia.  The alert service has proven itself to be a cost-effective and efficient way that contributes to reducing accidental and intentional illegal fishing activities in marine parks.  The fishing industry may find this free service helpful given the complexity of so many new marine parks in which allowable fishing methods vary given different zoning arrangements.  The challenge with implementing this service will be that many State and Territory managed fisheries do not currently require vessels to operate VMS, meaning that for some fishers the service will not be available, at least in the short term.

More information on the alert service can be found here.