ENVIRONMENT: What happened to NSW’s Fisheries Management Strategies?

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Image: Patrick Linehan

BACK in the early 2000’s the commonwealth determined that Australian fisheries would not be able to export their catches unless they were covered by an environmental assessment and a fishery management strategy.

NSW Fisheries responded by commissioning Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) and Fisheries Management Strategies (FMSs) for each of the commercial fisheries under its control, to ensure that fishing activities in NSW could be accredited as sustainable under both state and commonwealth legislation. EISs and FMSs were also to be prepared for the recreational fishery and the shark beach meshing program.

Fisheries staff were charged with the preparation of these instruments, under the guidance of an advisory committee made up of representatives of each commercial sector, aquaculture interests, the recreational sector, the indigenous community and independent fisheries scientists. Many thousands of hours (and taxpayer dollars) went into crafting the documents. By 2003 seven were substantially completed and the first four were approved: Ocean Hauling, Ocean Trawl, Estuary General and Estuary Prawn Trawl. Abalone, Ocean Trap and Line, and Lobster, had not been ticked off when the minister changed, from Eddie Obeid to Ian Macdonald.

The advisory committee was up and EISs and FMSs for the last three sectors mentioned above were finally approved in 2006 and 2007. Plans for the recreational and sharking meshing instruments were abandoned.

They were good, thorough documents which provided vision, strategies and transparency for stakeholders. They set performance indicators and trigger points aimed at ensuring ongoing sustainability of individual fish stocks. Their implementation and regular reviews on their success were to be made publicly available. In 2004, the first Fishery Management Strategies Performance Report was published, covering the Ocean Hauling, Estuary General and Estuary Prawn Trawl fisheries. It, with all the completed FMSs and EISs, are still on the NSW DPI Fisheries website.

And since then? Well, basically nothing to see here. No more performance reports. Was all that work scrapped? Has anything more happened in the last 16 years? Most of the staff who worked incredibly hard developing all this have probably moved on and there has been a succession of Ministers for Fisheries from both sides of the political spectrum since. Some seemed genuinely interested in this portfolio, some not.

Now NSW has commenced to follow the commonwealth and Queensland and develop Fisheries Harvest Strategies. Sustainable stock management and productivity will be key goals. We wish them well. But it would be nice to know what happened to the last lot.

Any old NSW fisheries managers out there who could shed some light?

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