Letters to the editor

Fish stocks not in decline

Australia’s commonwealth commercial fish stocks are not in decline and recent research and analysis backs this statement.

I read with considerable concern the statements made in recent media surrounding the research paper by Graham Edgar, Trevor Ward and Rick Stuart-Smith which claims there has been rapid declines across Australian fishery stocks.

The claims are not supported by the weight of evidence published by AFMA, the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC), the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES), scientific publications, and information available on data.gov.au.

AFMA with the support of CSIRO introduced an ecological risk assessment framework to regularly assess more than 1000 species... across the marine ecosystem, rather than just focussing on commercial target species. This was done to further ensure ecological sustainability of the Australian Fishing Zone.

The research paper generally confines its data collection to finfish surveys in shallow waters in temperate reef areas, and then incorrectly applies their data to the entire Australian Fishing Zone.

A large portion of the commonwealth fisheries catch is harvested from tropical prawn fisheries and sub-Antarctic fisheries, and our pelagic fisheries operate well offshore. 

The methodology failed to include the majority of the environments that are home to commonwealth commercial fisheries.

Dr Edgar and his colleagues make statements about fisheries management which are dated and misrepresent fisheries management. A lot has happened in fisheries management since 2005, which is used throughout the paper as the baseline year.

The commonwealth government and AFMA have implemented robust and extensive management measures, including a buyback of commercial fishing licences... and the introduction of harvest strategies. This work has been supported by years of research and science-based decision making by the independent AFMA Commission.

The paper claims there are poorly documented stock assessments with limited public accessibility, but that’s far from true. Decisions made by AFMA based on its stock assessments are reviewed by ABARES and FRDC as well as other third party reviewers. AFMA’s stock assessments, summaries and outcomes are publicly available.

The paper claims fisheries management decisions are made by committees dominated by industry aligned members. None of AFMA’s committees are decision making bodies, they are advisory only. The commission has no industry members and is the responsible body for making all key management decisions. 

It’s questionable whether the analysis and conclusions drawn by these researchers could be applied to Commonwealth fisheries at all.

The management of our commonwealth fisheries is underpinned by world-leading scientific research and a strong legislative and policy framework. For the fourth consecutive year, there has been no overfishing in fisheries managed solely by the commonwealth.

AFMA isn’t ignoring the challenges that lie ahead. We are investing in research into the impacts of climate change, we are investigating why some species are not being caught by fishers, and we’re increasing the kinds of monitoring equipment that is mandatory on-board Commonwealth commercial fishing vessels, to ensure we are making decisions based on informed, accurate and timely fisheries data.

We work hard to ensure that Australians can be confident when they’re at their local fish and chip shop or buying wild-caught fish at their supermarket, that buying Australian wild-caught seafood is sustainable now and into the future.


Australian Fisheries Management Authority acting chief executive officer