Action to protect native fish ahead of hot, dry summer

The Federal Government is working with the states to protect the Murray–Darling Basin’s native fish ahead of an expected hot and dry summer.

Minister for Drought David Littleproud released the Native Fish Emergency Response Plan. Make no mistake, we are likely to see fish deaths this summer,” Minister Littleproud said.

“We’re facing another hot summer with very little water flowing through our rivers. This plan will give the MDBA and the states vital tools to help protect fish populations. The Federal Government has money put aside for fish-death prevention measures and environmental water holders will replenish areas on red alert, where they can.

“Fish deaths are common during summer but what we saw last year were a major wake-up call about the impact of the drought on our rivers. After the Vertessy Review we have put an emergency plan in place.

“The plan will see more activity in high risk areas, with aerators, fish relocated and algae blooms watched closely.

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“The last Northern Basin environmental watering program refreshed waterholes and fish refuges although there is little environmental water left.

“NSW emergency measures have seen fish relocated so they survive this summer and re-populate the rivers when conditions improve.

“The Commonwealth is also bringing government officials and experts together this month to coordinate plans and identify areas at high risk of fish deaths.

“Communities too have their part to play and we also ask the community to report river conditions and fish deaths to help with fish relocations and recovery.

“We want native river fish such as the Murray cod, silver perch and golden perch to have the best chance of surviving this summer.

“We want healthy and thriving fish populations in our rivers during drought and in the good times.”

The Emergency Response Plan is available at


Under the Native Fish Emergency Response Plan, the Commonwealth Government will:

  • Provide emergency funds from the Emergency Contingency Fund to help states manage urgent and extreme fish death events, with $300,000 set aside.
  • Provide available Commonwealth environmental water to mitigate fish deaths.
  • Support the coordination of emergency response activities and sharing of resources.
  • Maintain a database of significant fish deaths events.
  • Contribute to water quality monitoring programs to identify areas at risk.

In return, the states will:

  • Identify and monitor high risk sites for fish deaths.
  • Identify priority refuge areas for native fish.
  • Prepare on-ground emergency response plans for priority species and areas.

Native fish report card improves information on Victorian fish

Victorians will get a better insight into the health of the state’s waterways and native fish numbers following the launch of the native fish report card.

Victoria’s minister for water Lisa Neville said the report card will give the community and anglers important information about the state of Victorian fish.

“Through Water for Victoria, we’re improving information about our waterways and catchments, and better reporting back to communities,” said Neville.

By monitoring fish populations in Victoria’s 10 priority rivers, the report card will tell anglers and conservationists about the health of key Victorian fish species.

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The priority rivers are Gellibrand river, Glenelg river, Goulburn river, Gunbower, Lindsay and Mullaroo, Mitchell river, Ovens river, Thomson and Macalister, Wimmera river and Yarra river.

Fishers, citizen scientists and community members alike can access information about recreational and threatened non-recreational fish species through a web-portal that will be updated with new fish population data every year.

Over the next three years this website will provide information on the condition of native fish.

As data is strengthened throughout the years, it will help discover trends in fish populations.

Minister for agriculture Jaala Pulford said the government wants Victorians fishing more often, which is why it’s investing in the native fish report card to provide the community information on what they can expect to catch.

“We can’t wait to see the benefits of our record native fish stocking and continued investment in snags for fish reflected in future report card results,” said Pulford.

Funding for this program comes from the Victorian government’s $222 million investment into waterway and catchment health, recreational fishing licence fees and Target One Million, which is investing $46m to get more people fishing.

The program is run by Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning and the Victorian Fisheries Authority.

Eliminating waste in the fisheries industry

Every year 340,000 tonnes of usable whitefish by-product are discarded into the sea. But the fisheries industry has now identified ways of halting this practice.

The fishing company Nordic Wildfish has been assisting in the development of a new technology that can make use of the entire by-product from whitefish such as cod, pollock and haddock.

Instead of discarding the heads, guts and the rest of the fish, they can all be incorporated into a hydrolysis process that separates the bones, leaving a kind of “soup” to which enzymes can be added and valuable oils and proteins extracted.

“The entire process takes place on board the trawler, which has only been at sea for two months,” says Anders Bjørnerem, R&D Director at Nordic Wildfish in Norway.

So this technology is entirely new? “Yes. No one has done this before, and it’s very exciting. We’ve already been nominated for the 2016 Innovation Prize awarded by the technical journal Teknisk ukeblad,” says Bjørnerem.

Non-sustainable food production Nordic Wildfish is located on the island of Valderøya, west of Ålesund, Norway, and has been working closely with the research-company SINTEF for some time to promote technological development.

“As much as 92 per cent of marine whitefish by-product is not utilised,” says Bjørnerem. “Commonly it is only the fillets that are processed to become food. This is not sustainable food production. As we approach 2050, the demand for food on this planet will increase by as much as 70 per cent due to high levels of population growth.

The industry must make it its goal to utilise the entire fish,” says Ana Karina Carvajal, Research Manager at SINTEF Fisheries and Aquaculture.

According to a report published by SINTEF in 2014, 340,000 tonnes of whitefish by-product are discarded annually. SINTEF believes that this material has major commercial potential if it can be processed to produce high quality end-products such as ingredients in animal feed and food for human consumption.

Teamwork is key On board the trawler Molnes, whitefish by-product is processed using enzymatic hydrolysis to produce valuable proteins, amino acids and fish oils.

Many technologies have been developed and adapted for installation on board the refurbished trawler. “Excellent teamwork between researchers and the industry will enable many new systems for better exploitation of the fish to be implemented within the next two to four years,” says Carvajal.

“We’re very pleased to see that some segments within the industry have already taken the first steps towards more sustainable food production,” Carvajal says.

Read more at:

Catch of the day: the TPP might be good news for sustainable fisheries

Since the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) text was released earlier this month, commentators have sought to assess its impact on the environment.

They have expressed concerns about the enhanced rights it provides for investors, and criticised the absence of climate change mitigation in its provisions. However, the TPP does contain clauses that can enable countries to combat another global environmental crisis: overfishing.

Many of the world’s most significant producers and consumers of fish are parties to the TPP. Japan and the United States are the top two importers of fish products, while the United States, Vietnam, Chile, and Canada are some of the biggest exporters. If the TPP comes into force, it will apply to a significant proportion of the global fish trade and its environmental impacts.

Background: the crisis of overfishing

As the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Blue Planet Report emphasised last month, overfishing destroys marine ecosystems. Yet despite the risk of massive collapse of fish stocks, the trade in fish and fish products continues to grow, with exports reaching a new record of more than US$136 billion in 2013.

Certain features of the trade are particularly worrying. For example, international and domestic laws that limit catches, promote effective management, and protect certain species are often ignored.

Illegal, unregulated, or unreported (IUU) fishing accounts for between 13% and 31% of catches and more than 50% in some regions. Countries could do more to close their markets to IUU fish products. The European Union has led the way in using trade measures – including import bans against offending countries such as Cambodia, Guinea and Sri Lanka – to fight against IUU fishing. The United States, Japan, and other countries that are now in the TPP have not been as proactive.

The trade in fish products is also distorted by massive subsidies. In fact, taxpayers, through the policies of their respective countries, are propping up the fishing sector. Fisheries subsidies were estimated at about US$35 billion in 2009. These subsidies allow boats to be built and operated when it would be otherwise unprofitable to do so.

Ongoing negotiations to clarify and reform fisheries subsidies at the World Trade Organisation have failed to achieve agreement.

TPP for sustainable fisheries?

The Trans-Pacific Partnership attempts to address these problems — at least for the trade between TPP countries.

In the separate Environment Chapter, the agreement recognises that participating nations may use measures to prevent trade in fish products that result from illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. These measures may include catch documentation schemes and port access restrictions.

Given the scale of trade between TPP parties, an increased use of trade measures to control IUU fishing – and therefore overfishing – is an important development. It is estimated that within the United States, for example, between 20% and 32% of wild-caught seafood imports are illegal. The United States intends to improve its methods to trace fish products throughout the supply chain, and the TPP would support this initiative as well as other measures to restrict the trade in IUU fish.

Methods that allow countries to restrict access to ports of certain fish products are also important. The Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing was concluded by members of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in 2009 and ratified by Australia this year. But it does not yet have enough ratifications to come into force.

Seven of the twelve parties to the TPP are yet to ratify this FAO agreement (including Canada and Japan). So the TPP’s explicit obligation for parties to implement port state measures to combat IUU practices is a positive development.

Also welcome is the Environment Chapter’s prohibition on subsidies for fishing that “negatively affect fish stocks that are in an overfished condition”. Many nations subsidise their fishing industries, with Japan currently providing the most subsidies among developed countries (19.7% of total). Despite continuing uncertainty about how to characterise and document the subsidies that will be prohibited under the TPP, getting agreement on this issue is a significant achievement that may even influence the broader reform currently discussed at the World Trade Organisation.

Other provisions in the Environment Chapter require each nation to seek to operate a science-based fisheries management system, and promote the long-term conservation of sharks, marine turtles, seabirds, and marine mammals. The draft text leaked last year shows that these provisions could have been stronger, even extending to shark finning and whaling.

One strength in the TPP is that the obligations relating to fisheries are enforceable. Countries can bring legal challenges against one another for violations in a way that is not always possible under environmental treaties.

To be sure, the enforcement of the provisions of the Environment Chapter will depend on the willingness of countries to take environmental claims against one another – a willingness that is rare in the context of other US-partner free trade agreements – but having the possibility is a positive step.

Australia showed that it is willing to take such litigation when it brought a claim against Japan over whaling in the International Court of Justice.

The TPP’s environmental credentials

Now that the negotiations of the TPP have concluded and the text has been made available, TPP Parties will be engaged in a process of consultation and review before each country decides to ratify. As part of this process, politicians and the public should make an assessment of the environmental credentials of this agreement.

In Australia, ratification will not occur until after the TPP and accompanying National Interest Analysis are tabled in the Parliament. The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties will also conduct an inquiry and will report to Parliament.

In regard to fisheries, the provisions in the Environment Chapter should be assessed alongside other TPP rules, particularly those concerning investor protection and investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS). For example, would denying a supertrawler access to territorial waters leave Australia open to expensive litigation and liability for compensation? It may be that the useful rules relating to the trade in fish do not outweigh such risks.

Moreover, the fate of fisheries is only one of many urgent environmental problems. There is no doubt that the TPP’s vague support for transitioning to a “low-emissions economy”, for example, will do little to alleviate climate change.

A thorough interrogation of the TPP’s environmental credentials must precede Australia’s ratification. This article seeks to contribute to this ongoing work and finds that the agreement contains trade rules that can help countries to combat overfishing.

The Conversation

Margaret Young, Associate Professor, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.