Fishing for Innovation
A 2014 Nuffield Scholar, and successful Victorian commercial fisherman, has called for the reform of the management structure of Australian fisheries to restore greater profitability to the sector while addressing growing environmental and social concerns. Wayne Dredge, from Lakes Entrance, has experience in Commonwealth and state fisheries and across the trawl, rock lobster, shark, squid, prawn, estuary, scallop and longline fishing sectors. His Company owns two commercial boats and taking him to sea for more than six months each year at sea on fishing vessels.
Mr Dredge was awarded a Nuffield Scholarship, supported by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC) and Woolworths, to explore fishing techniques that could be used as an alternative to Gillnets in fishing for Gummy shark in Australia’s Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery (SESSF) – a multi-sector and multi-species fishery encompassing approximately half of the Australian Fishing Zone.
Gillnets act as a barrier or fence placed along the sea bed which sharks or fish swim into and, due to the light nature of the mesh, become entangled. However, there have been significant spatial closures in recent years to the Gillnet, Hook and Trap (GHaT) fishery within Commonwealth fishing grounds amid concerns they were impacting on other species, most significantly Australian Sea Lions. However, as Mr Dredge embarked upon a study tour to observe fishing practices and management structures across more than 100 fishing ports in 20 countries, and to investigate the use of longline fishing techniques as an alternative to Gillnets, it became clear what was more urgently needed was regulatory reform.
“Given the closure of available fishing grounds generally corresponds with decreased catches of a similar magnitude, I originally wanted to identify other fishing techniques that may be implemented that would reduce marine mammal interactions, allow previously closed areas to be reopened to fishing and improve the overall economic efficiency of the industry. But in undertaking this research, it became apparent that while longline methods and other fishing techniques could be used within the SESSF and GHaT fisheries, there remained the fundamental problem that current management or regulatory arrangements prohibit it, make entry into the fishery extremely difficult or that using different fishing methods would cause conflict with other fishing sectors.”
To add a further complication there are a number of State managed fisheries operating within the Commonwealth managed SESSF, often in the same fishing grounds and at times even targeting the same species.
“Due to these overlapping management jurisdictions, vessels often catch a species of fish not permitted under their respective Statutory Fishing Right (SFR) or state licence and are forced to discard any quantity not deemed to be within the range of incidental bycatch which can be as low as zero. While such discards may not negatively affect the sustainability of the fishery, the practice of discarding high-quality food product is fast becoming a significant social and political issue and one which consumers most often blame commercial fishers for.”
Mr Dredge said these complicated regulatory and jurisdictional arrangements mean any change in fishing practices could incite further conflict between fishing sectors harvesting from the same resource under different licensing arrangements or amongst management authorities.
“So capital investment in Australian fisheries production is inherently risky and a lack of resolution regarding these management arrangements is causing a loss of confidence within the industry. This comes at an economic cost to fishers, reduces consumer choices for Australian seafood and decreases the current production potential and economic return from Australia’s marine resources.”
Mr Dredge recommended a number of key changes to help remedy the problem and to build the strength of the industry.
“Proactive reform driven by industry which seeks to increase individual accountability and responsibility, improved and uniform data collection and auditing processes through e-logbooks and Electronic Monitoring (EM), 100 per cent accountability for all catch across state and commonwealth fisheries and the ability to transfer fishing rights between State and Commonwealth fishers would have the potential to open the door for greater innovation in fishing practices. It could also improve industry productivity and decrease compliance costs across the sector. However, any attempt at these reforms without concurrently addressing management and jurisdictional conflicts would only result in increased costs to industry without productivity gains and more burdensome regulation within what is currently an inherently dysfunctional legislative and decision-making framework.”