Australia’s Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley, has imposed strict new limits on the amount of coral that can be harvested from the Great Barrier Reef, rejecting a Queensland Government proposal to allow the unconstrained harvest of up to 200,000 kilograms of live coral to be exported to the world’s aquariums each year.
The Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries had sought to renew its Coral Fishery Wildlife Trade Operation which had seen a 705 percent increase in the number of coral pieces harvested since 2007.
Ley said the Queensland Fisheries Harvest Strategy proposal had been significantly overdue, had failed to establish adequate catch limits, or appropriate enforcement measures to constrain escalating harvest levels, and that it did not meet the goals in the state’s own Sustainable Fisheries Strategy.
“Coral harvesting dates back to the 1840s and, while evidence suggests that it can be sustainable, it can’t be allowed to continue at a rate which has seen a 40 percent increase in a single year,” she commented.
Independent expert recommends improvements
“An independent expert report has made a number of recommendations for management improvements and species-specific harvest limits to protect ocean ecosystems and industry sustainability.
The minister added: “I have written to Queensland Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries, Mark Furner, on two occasions to express my concern that Queensland’s failure to properly manage the fishery risked the livelihoods of fishers and the health of the reef.
“I would trust that the Queensland Minister for the Environment and the Great Barrier Reef would have no greater priority than seeking to address this problem with her fellow ministers.”
Strict annual harvest limits have been set with additional caps for at-risk species. These will be subject to further evidence-based monitoring and research about the long-term sustainability of the fishery.
According to a statement from Ley, the independent expert report finds that Queensland management of the fishery does need to improve, or it will risk contravening the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and face closure to international markets.
The independent report is available here.