The Australian Marine Conservation Society says it is encouraged by the announcement of Federal Government funding for ‘e-monitoring’ technology on fishing fleets, and appealed for the “vital” system to extended to all sections of Commonwealth fisheries.
E-monitoring involves the installation of video cameras on fishing boats, providing fisheries officials and scientists with data on the numbers of endangered species caught as bycatch.
Cameras will also help to identify any saleable fish that are thrown back into the sea, legally or otherwise.
Sustainable Seafood Program Manager at the conservation society, Adrian Meder, said no new fisheries were getting e-monitoring in the announcement, with funding instead being allocated to upgrade existing equipment and monitoring systems.
Cameras help rectify under-reporting of bycatch
“Government investment in collecting better data on the catches of our fishing fleet is always welcome. Cameras on boats help to rectify major under-reporting of endangered wildlife caught as bycatch in Commonwealth waters,” said Meder.
But he added that the society was calling for the scheme to be extended to the trawl and Danish seine sectors of the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery. This multi-species fishery covers almost half of the Australian Fishing Zone.
“The failure to extend e-monitoring through the whole [fishery] is a serious lapse and avoids dealing with some of the most pressing problems Australian Commonwealth-managed fisheries are facing,” Meder stated.
According to the society, in the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery, more than 60 percent of the fish stocks caught are continuing to decline or are failing to recover.
The fishery has pushed several overfished species – some of which once provided substantial sustainable catches over many decades – onto Australia’s Endangered Species List.
Human-observer scrutiny inadequate in some areas
Most of these listed threatened species – such as school shark, blue warehou and eastern gemfish – have shown no verified signs of recovery.
“Human-observer scrutiny of the trawl sector of the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery has also been woefully inadequate, at only around a third of the level that is applied in the Commonwealth fisheries that have e-monitoring,” Meder warned.
He said that in the Commonwealth fisheries where e-monitoring has already been established, such as Australian tuna longline fisheries and shark net fisheries, fisher reporting of what they catch has become far more reliable.
In those fisheries, reporting by fishers of protected species bycatch – including turtles, whales and sea lions – had skyrocketed after e-monitoring cameras were installed on fishing boats, highlighting historic and systemic under-reporting of impacts on endangered species.