Held annually, the Sustainable Seafood Awards focus on encouraging fisheries, suppliers and their retailers to be sustainable and protect the future of seafood.
Decision shy Aussies want unsustainable seafood removed from shelves and menus (78%) to help make choosing the right fish dish easier. Research released today by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) reveals the importance and desire for education on the labelling of sustainable seafood.
Despite being a nation of seafood lovers and home to some of the best seafood in the world, a quarter of Australians are consuming less than five years ago. This increased to 4 in 10 among 18-24-year olds**. As a more environmentally conscious population than ever before, it’s no surprise that the primary reason for this dip is not just price perception, but concern for declining fish populations and the effects of fishing on the ocean.
As a proud society of seafood aficionados, ensuring plentiful supplies for future generations is a crucial concern. Over three-quarters of seafood consumers (78%) say that we need to protect fish so our children and grandchildren can enjoy this much-loved Aussie staple.
Many are already using their purchase power to conserve our fish stocks with more than one-fifth saying they have switched to a brand or product that says it helps protect the oceans or fish, and another 33 per cent of people say they would take the plunge in the future.
“Concern for our ocean is driving Australians to ‘vote with their forks’ for sustainable seafood. Sales in Australia of sustainable seafood with the MSC’s blue fish tick label have more than doubled in the last five years thanks to the collective action of seafood consumers, retailers, brands, scientists, the fishing industry and celebrity chefs,” said Anne Gabriel, program director, Oceania and Singapore at the Marine Stewardship Council.
“As consumers, we are bombarded with so many mixed messages about what to buy and what not to buy. When it comes to seafood, the science-based blue fish tick label is being trusted more and more as a simple and empowering way to recognise and reward sustainable fishing efforts globally. Those concerned about climate change can be assured that sustainable seafood is a healthy, low carbon animal protein. You can find the blue fish tick across a wide range of price points to suit every budget, on canned, frozen and fresh fish.”
With 70 per cent agreeing supermarkets and brands claims need to be independently labelled, Rebecca Eichfeld, buying director for seafood at ALDI Australia, aligned with the MSC around the world, says having sustainably sourced seafood on shelves and in freezer cabinets is vitally important.
“We work with the Marine Stewardship Council to empower our customers to choose seafood which is not only delicious and healthy, but good for our oceans too.
“Well-managed and sustainable fishing is essential for the future health of our marine ecosystems. Independent certifications and labels such as the blue fish tick ensure we can enjoy seafood now and be confident there’ll be plenty more to enjoy in the future. ALDI is proud to offer the largest range of own brand seafood products carrying the MSC blue fish tick of any Australian supermarket, and to be recognised as Mid-Sized Retailer of the Year by the MSC’s Sustainable Seafood Awards Australia 2020.”
The MSC, who commissioned the research, is an independent and international not-for-profit which tackles overfishing to ensure we have seafood forever by driving the fishing and seafood industry towards sustainability. It sets globally recognised, science-based standards for sustainable fishing and seafood traceability using its world-renowned MSC blue fish tick label.
Consumers can feel confident in their choices by purchasing seafood with the MSC blue fish tick, which supports and rewards sustainable fisheries and helps put an end to overfishing.
The federal Government is calling on the nation’s small and medium sized businesses to help develop innovative solutions that can solve national environmental challenges.
Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews said $12 million was being made available through the latest round of the Business Research and Innovation Initiative (BRII) across five challenges.
“This is a great opportunity for Australian businesses to think outside the box and develop clever ideas that can help solve policy issues within Government,” Andrews said.
“This round of BRII aims to find more effective ways of dealing with challenges that affect our oceans, water and soil quality as well as recycling technologies.”
Not only does this initiative help government agencies with tailored solutions that mean better value for taxpayers, it also gives startups and businesses the chance to develop new products and technologies for the global market.
“Boosting opportunities for businesses to innovate, and doing things more efficiently within government will be crucial as we chart our COVID-19 economic recovery,” said Andrews.
The five challenges for this round are:
- Revolutionising agricultural spray application
- Turning farm crops into a renewable hydrogen source
- Counting fish using advanced technologies
- Automating the detection of whales at sea
- Turning office trash into energy treasure
Australian startups and small and medium businesses can submit proposals for ideas that address the challenges. Successful applicants will receive grants of up to $100,000 to further develop ideas and test feasibility over three months.
The most successful of these ideas may then be eligible for a grant of up to $1 million to develop a prototype or proof of concept over a maximum of 18 months. Relevant government agencies will have the option to purchase these solutions at the end of the proof of concept stage.
A new $110 million initiative will back Australia’s agricultural and fisheries sector by helping them export their high-quality produce into key overseas markets, with return flights bringing back vital medical supplies, medicines and equipment.
In addition, around $10 million in Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) levies will also be waived for all Commonwealth fishers, ensuring they do not have to pay Commonwealth levies for the remainder of 2020.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said the International Freight Assistance Mechanism would help secure freight flights into Australia’s key export markets.
“This will help restore key freight routes for our farmers until commercial capacity can be restored again,” McCormack said. “We are doing everything possible to help our high-value agricultural and fisheries exporters get their produce on airplanes and into overseas markets.
“Everything we are doing as a Government in response to this pandemic is focused on saving lives and saving livelihoods and we know our agriculture industry is key to this.”
Federal Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said the COVID-19 pandemic had led to major air freight shortages and had disrupted supply chains around the world.
“This temporary action will help Australian producers to protect the jobs of those who rely upon Australia’s export of safe, quality food into the world,” Birmingham said.
“Getting our export sector back on its feet is crucial to reduce job losses through the crisis and a critical part of the ultimate economic recovery. By getting flights off the ground, full of Australian produce, we’re supporting our farmers and fishers who have been hit hard by this crisis.”
Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said this initiative would focus on high-demand agricultural and fisheries exports who have been hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis.
“We’re backing our farmers by making sure they can get more of their high-quality product into overseas markets,” Littleproud said. “The more agricultural exports we can secure, the more regional jobs we can protect.”
Assistant Minister for Forestry and Fisheries Jonno Duniam said the freight assistance and levy relief was a lifeline for Australian fishers.
“The fishing industry was one of the first hit when access to China was cut off in January, bringing many in the industry to their knees,” Assistant Minister Duniam said. “Unlocking key international markets will get thousands of fishers, divers, deckhands and processors back on the job, and the levy relief will help to keep fishers financially afloat.
“Our seafood industry has been built on the back of some of the toughest and most resilient Australians, and this assistance will ensure that the sector can build a bridge to recovery.”
The International Freight Assistance Mechanism will initially focus on the key markets of China, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and the UAE, with four key departure hubs: Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth.
It will be overseen by Michael Byrne, who has been appointed as the international freight coordinator general. Byrne has international logistics experience as managing director of Australia’s two largest logistics companies Toll Holdings and Linfox plus as a non-executive director of Australia Post.
Byrne will work with Austrade to help establish arrangements with exporters, airlines, freight forwarders and industry bodies plus oversee the mechanism’s operations including advising the Government of destinations, freight selection and prioritisation.
The initiative is part of the Government’s $1 billion Relief and Recovery Fund to support regions, communities and industry sectors that have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Securing freight access for agricultural and fisheries exporters
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.
READ MORE: SIA happy with state of fisheries
“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 mdba.gov.au/native-fish-plan
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.
Seafood Industry Australia (SIA), the national peak-body representing Australia’s commercial fishing industry, is delighted that for the sixth consecutive year our solely Commonwealth managed fisheries are in great shape and being fished sustainably.
The release of the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) ‘Fishery status reports 2019’ highlights the quality of Australia’s Commonwealth fisheries management.
“This is great news and is unprecedented internationally,” SIA CEO Jane Lovell said.
“The ‘Fishery status reports 2019’ provides an evaluation of 96 Australian commercial fish stocks.
READ MORE: Positive outlook for Australian fish stocks
“This positive report card given for the sixth consecutive year to Australia’s solely Commonwealth managed fisheries is the ultimate endorsement that Australia continues to be a leader in world class seafood, and sustainability.
“Australians should be proud of their seafood industry which provides fresh, high-quality seafood, year-round. “As fishers, our priority is the ocean. We advocate the health, sustainability and future of our ocean. It’s our livelihood and the future livelihood of generations to come.”
With 30 per cent of seafood on the international market found to be incorrectly labelled when tested, the Marine Stewardship Council has revealed the causes and implications – and how it is almost eliminating substitution and fraud in the industry.
Anne Gabriel, Oceania program director for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), a global non-profit that sets a benchmark for sustainable fishing and traceable supply chains, will be speaking about this topic at the upcoming Asia Pacific Food Safety Conference in Sydney. The APAC Food Safety Conference is the leading food safety event in the Asia Pacific for retail, agriculture, food manufacturing and food-service professionals, and is organised by SAI Global.
“That such a significant proportion of the consumer seafood market is affected by substitution and fraud highlights the complexity of global food supply chains, which are inadequately regulated, and the challenges in monitoring every step. Substitution and fraud risk the sustainability of our global fishery resources, business reputations and consumer trust,” Gabriel said.
The two major causes of mislabelling
A motivation to boost profits is one of the two major causes of mislabelling. “Competition for low prices has motivated some food manufacturers to take shortcuts and make cheap substitutions. Scientific investigations have repeatedly revealed higher rates of mislabelling among premium products, such as wild-caught king salmon, in order to boost profits,” said Gabriel.
Accidental mislabelling is the second major cause. “Often, seafood is unintentionally mixed with different species at various points along the supply chain. This could be the result of poor systems or simply a lack of knowledge on the need for maintaining a traceable supply chain and to meet gaps in supply.”
Implications of seafood mislabelling
Gabriel says the implications can be alarming and wide ranging. Firstly, mislabelling can incentivise illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, estimated to cost the global fishing industry up to $33.8 billion a year. “This poses a significant risk to marine ecosystems, as it diminishes management efforts and can result in high levels of bycatch and abandoned ‘ghost nets’ damaging marine habitats,” she said. Secondly, the trade of vulnerable or endangered species can go undetected.
Thirdly, mislabelling deceives consumers. It can result in consumption of fish species that come with health warnings. Lastly, consumers might also be unwittingly purchasing less sustainable seafood options.
In her presentation, Gabriel will discuss the MSC’s efforts to improve traceability to tackle seafood mislabelling. The MSC’s third-party chain of custody program – which allows verified organisations to use the MSC’s blue fish tick label – is an effective deterrent for systematic and deliberate species substitution and fraud. DNA barcoding of more than 1400 MSC-labelled products has shown that less than 1 per cent were mislabelled. Anne says, “To be certain that a seafood product label is correct, we need to improve traceability back to the source – and through all stages of food production, processing and distribution. This is integral to ensuring oceans are teeming with life and seafood supplies are safeguarded for future generations.”
Each year the APAC Food Safety Conference attracts delegates involved in the development, implementation and maintenance of food safety programs across manufacturing, food services, food science, produce and retail. The 2019 conference will address current issues such as waste minimisation, food tampering, seafood fraud, food exports, and emerging superfoods.
Other speakers at the APAC Food Safety Conference will include:
- Dr Craig Shadbolt, food incident response and complaints manager at the NSW Department of Primary Industries, who will discuss ‘Recent Outbreaks with High Risk Horticulture’.
- Michelle Robertson, senior food scientist at Food Standards Australia and New Zealand, who will discuss ‘Review of Food Safety Management Requirements in Australia’.
- Felipe Favaro, general manager at Hemp Foods Australia, who will discuss ‘Hemp Foods & Food Safety, Challenges and Opportunities’.
- Mark Field, Head of Coles Brand, ‘Consumer Demands Driving Product Innovation and Emerging Food Trends’
- Craig McGrath, Detective Inspector at Queensland Police Service, who will discuss ‘Police Investigative Perspective – Lessons Learnt’ on the strawberry tampering incident in Queensland.
- Krista Watkins, food waste innovator at Natural Evolution, who will discuss ‘Minimising Food Waste’.
Australian organisation SafeFish is helping the country’s seafood sector maintain and enhance market access for future industry growth.
The Fisheries Research and Development Corporation has just invested $855,000 into SafeFish, to help the industry.
SafeFish provides advice to help resolve technical trade impediments, especially in relation to food safety and hygiene.
The project, led by South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) member Alison Turnbull, aims to deliver robust food safety research and advice to industry and regulators and to maintain and enhance capabilities to provide that research and advice in a cost effective, efficient and timely manner.
This collaborative approach between industry, government and researchers allows for improved efficiencies to current and emerging issues within the seafood industry.
Past project successes include the implementation of rapid test kits for marine biotoxins in the shellfish industry, practical technical reports and workshops on safely extending seafood shelf-life, technical advice during seafood incidents and factsheets on food safety hazards in seafood, research to underpin appropriate food safety standards and risk management policy and technical representation at Codex – the international food standards organisation.
The Fisheries Research and Development Corporation through investing in knowledge, innovation, and marketing aims to increase economic, social and environmental benefits for Australian fishing and aquaculture, and the wider community.
The corporation is a co-funded partnership between its two stakeholders, the Australian government and the fishing and aquaculture sectors.
SafeFish was developed by the SARDI with funding from the Australian Seafood Cooperative Research Council in 2010.
IBISWorld research has shown the increasing importance of lucrative overseas markets to the Australian Fishing and Seafood Processing industries. Exports are contributing more than half of total revenue for these industries at a time when Australian Aquaculture is battling with significant competition from Chinese imports.
According to IBISWorld, the Aquaculture, Fishing and Seafood Processing industries, which farm, catch and process fish, generate collective revenue of over $4.0 billion and support approximately 13,000 jobs across Australia. IBISWorld forecasts seafood consumption to have grown by 1.1% during 2016-17, to reach 18.3 kilograms per capita. However, this is lower than in 2003-04, when peak consumption was recorded at 20.3 kilograms per capita. Tuna, salmon and trout are some of the most frequently consumed varieties of fish in Australia.
“Seafood consumption has increased over the past five years due to rising disposable incomes, increasing concerns over health and obesity, and increases in the price of beef. As a result, many consumers have switched to alternative forms of protein. Imports from overseas nations, particularly ocean fish and processed seafood, have also continued to increase,” said IBISWorld Senior Industry Analyst, Nathan Cloutman.
“Over the last five years, exports have become increasingly important to Fishing and Seafood Processing in Australia as overseas markets command higher profit margins. Australia generally imports low margin, cheaper seafood products, such as bass fillets, and exports higher value products, such as premium Tasmanian salmon, which foreign consumers purchase for its premium quality,” said Cloutman.
“Exports from the Fishing industry are estimated to account for two-thirds of industry revenue. In particular, an expanding Chinese middle-class has supported strong demand for high-value Australian-caught fish and seafood, including lobster, crab and abalone.”
Among Australian seafood processors, IBISWorld estimates that exports account for a sizeable 76.6% of total industry revenue, or almost $1.2 billion. Some of the Seafood Processing industry’s key exports include rock lobster, tuna and prawns.
“Free trade agreements with South Korea, China and Japan have increased the amount of seafood imported into Australia, although imports in the Aquaculture industry are estimated to account of only 3.9% of domestic demand in 2016-17,” said Cloutman.
“Australians have traditionally preferred to consume Australian-grown produce and seafood, due to its perceived quality, and the economic and social benefits of supporting local industry. Some seafood products, such as salmon or snapper, will generally only be accepted by Australian consumers if they are Australian. Some other products, such as canned tuna, are purchased knowing the fish is processed offshore,” said Cloutman.
Contrary to the view that the South China Sea disputes are driven by a regional hunger for seabed energy resources, the real and immediate prizes at stake are the region’s fisheries and marine environments that support them.
It is also through the fisheries dimensions to the conflict that the repercussions of the recent ruling of the arbitration tribunal in the Philippines-China case are likely to be most acutely felt.
It seems that oil is sexier than fish, or at least the lure of seabed energy resources has a more powerful motivating effect on policymakers, commentators and the media alike. However, the resources really at stake are the fisheries of the South China Sea and the marine environment that sustains them.
The real resource at stake
For a relatively small (around 3 million square kilometres) patch of the oceans, the South China Sea delivers an astonishing abundance of fish. The area is home to at least 3,365 known species of marine fishes, and in 2012, an estimated 12% of the world’s total fishing catch, worth US$21.8 billion, came from this region.
These living resources are worth more than money; they are fundamental to the food security of coastal populations numbering in the hundreds of millions.
Indeed, a recent study showed that the countries fringing the South China Sea are among the most reliant in the world on fish as source of nutrients. This makes their populations especially susceptible to malnutrition as fish catches decline.
These fisheries also employ at least 3.7 million people (almost certainly an underestimate given the level of unreported and illegal fishing in the region).
This is arguably one of the most important services the South China Sea fisheries provide to the global community – keeping nearly 4 million young global citizens busy, who would otherwise have few employment options.
But these vital resources are under enormous pressure.
A disaster in the making
The South China Sea’s fisheries are seriously over-exploited.
Last year, two of us contributed to a report finding that 55% of global marine fishing vessels operate in the South China Sea. We also found that fish stocks have declined 70% to 95% since the 1950s.
Over the past 30 years, the number of fish caught each hour has declined by a third, meaning fishers are putting in more effort for less fish.
This has been accelerated by destructive fishing practices such as the use of dynamite and cyanide on reefs, coupled with artificial island-building. The coral reefs of the South China Sea have been declining at a rate of 16% per decade.
Even so, the total amount of fish caught has increased. But the proportion of large species has declined while the proportion of smaller species and juvenile fish has increased. This has disastrous implications for the future of fishing in the South China Sea.
We found that, by 2045, under business as usual, each of the species groups studied would suffer stock decreases of a further 9% to 59%.
The ‘maritime militia’
Access to these fisheries is an enduring concern for nations surrounding the South China Sea, and fishing incidents play an enduring role in the dispute.
Chinese/Taiwanese fishing fleets dominate the South China Sea by numbers. This is due to the insatiable domestic demand for fish coupled with heavy state subsidies to enable Chinese fishers build larger vessels with longer range.
Competition between rival fishing fleets for a dwindling resource in a region of overlapping maritime claims inevitably leads to fisheries conflicts. Fishing boats have been apprehended for alleged illegal fishing leading to incidents between rival patrol boats on the water, such as the one in March 2016 between Chinese and Indonesian vessels.
Fishing boats are not just used to catch fish. Fishing vessels have long been used as proxies to assert maritime claims.
China’s fishing fleets have been characterised as a “maritime militia” in this context. Numerous incidents have involved Chinese fishing vessels operating (just) within China’s so-called nine-dashed line claim but in close proximity to other coastal states in areas they consider to be part of their exclusive economic zones (EEZs).
The Chinese Coast Guard has increasingly played an important role in providing logistical support such as refueling as well as intervening to protect Chinese vessels from arrest by the maritime enforcement efforts of other South China Sea coastal states.
Fisheries as flashpoint
The July 2016 ruling in the dispute between the Philippines and China demolishes any legal basis to China’s claim to extended maritime zones in the southern South China Sea and any right to resources.
The consequence of this is that the Philippines and, by extension, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia are free to claim rights over the sea to 200 nautical miles from their coasts as part of their EEZs.
This also creates a pocket of high seas outside any national claim in the central part of the South China Sea.
There are signs that this has emboldened coastal states to take a stronger stance against what they will undoubtedly regard as illegal fishing on China’s part in “their” waters.
Indonesia already has a strong track record of doing so, blowing up and sinking 23 apprehended illegal fishing vessels in April and live-streaming the explosions to maximise publicity. It appears that Malaysia is following suit, threatening to sink illegal fishing vessels and turn them into artificial reefs.
The snag is that China has vociferously rejected the ruling. There is every indication that the Chinese will continue to operate within the nine-dashed line and Chinese maritime forces will seek to protect China’s claims there.
This gloomy view is underscored by the fact that China has recently opened a fishing port on the island of Hainan with space for 800 fishing vessels, a figure projected to rise to 2,000. The new port is predicted to play an important role in “safeguarding China’s fishing rights in the South China Sea”, according to a local official.
On August 2, the Chinese Supreme People’s Court signalled that China had the right to prosecute foreigners “illegally entering Chinese waters” – including areas claimed by China but which, in line with the tribunal’s ruling, are part of the surrounding states’ EEZs – and jail them for up to a year.
Ominously, the following day Chinese Defence Minister Chang Wanquan warned that China should prepare for a “people’s war at sea” in order to “safeguard sovereignty”. This sets the scene for increased fisheries conflicts.
The South China Sea is crying out for the creation of a multilateral management, such as through a marine protected area or the revival of a decades-old idea of turning parts of the South China Sea, perhaps the central high seas pocket, into an international marine peace park.
Such options would serve to protect the vulnerable coral reef ecosystems of the region and help to conserve its valuable marine living resources.
A co-operative solution that bypasses the current disputes over the South China Sea may seem far-fetched. Without such action, however, its fisheries face collapse, with dire consequences for the region. Ultimately, the fishers and fishes are going to be the losers if the dispute continues.
Clive Schofield, Professor and Challenge Lead, Sustaining Coastal and Marine Zones, University of Wollongong; Rashid Sumaila, Director & Professor, Fisheries Economics Research Unit, University of British Columbia, and William Cheung, Associate Professor, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, University of British Columbia
The Commonwealth of Australia yesterday announced that seafood industry leaders Grahame Turk, Dr Bruce Standen and Peter Dundas-Smith have been honoured with a Member in the General Division of the Order of Australia award.
Sydney Fish Market General Manager, Bryan Skepper commended each of the men for having played an important role in enhancing the industry in different ways.
“The seafood industry has many advocates and we are proud to see Grahame Turk, Dr Bruce Standen and Peter Dundas-Smith bestowed with awards from the Order of Australia. These three have contributed enormously to the seafood industry at both a state and national level over many years, and through their leadership they have helped create a more vibrant and sustainable industry,” said Skepper.
Grahame Turk, Chairman, Sydney Fish Market, was awarded a Member of the Order for significant service to the seafood and fisheries industry through leadership roles, and to the development and sustainability of the sector.
Dr Bruce Standen was awarded for Member of Australia for significant service to primary industry, particularly to agricultural economics, sustainability, and research.
￼Dr Standen has been an independent Director on the board of Sydney Fish Market since 1994. He is also Deputy Chair of OceanWatch Australia, a not-for-profit organisation that aims to make the seafood industry more environmentally sustainable.
Peter Dundas-Smith was awarded Member of the Order for significant service to the fishing, aquaculture and seafood industries through innovation, research and development. Peter played a major role in shaping the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC) during his time as Executive Director.
Since retiring from FRDC, Peter has continued to work to ensure a sound program of end user driven research and development is pursued.
While Australia’s love of seafood is tipped to continue with business information analysts at IBISWorld forecasting overall fish and seafood consumption to rise by only 5 per cent – from 18.7 kilograms per capita in 2015 to 19.6 kilograms per capita by 2021.
Subdued growth is anticipated for the nation’s Fishing and Aquaculture industries, forecast to grow by an annualised 0.9 per cent and 2.7 per cent respectively from 2015-2021.
The ongoing rise in disposable incomes and health consciousness, coupled with rising awareness about the health benefits of certain types of fish and seafood, particularly salmon, is continuing to drive overall fish and seafood consumption – however industry challenges are expected to dampen revenue growth.
Ongoing depletion of fish stocks, increasing competition from imports and seafood farming, rising operating costs, and stricter regulation of catch quotas have hurt industry revenue. In 2015-16, IBISWorld forecasts industry revenue of $1.46 billion, forecast to grow by an annualised 0.9% over the coming five years to $1.5 billion in 2020-21.
Rock lobsters are the largest contributor to industry revenue accounting for 32.6%, followed by fish (32.4%), crustaceans including prawns, crabs and crayfish (20%), and molluscs including abalone, octopus, scallops and squid (14.9%).
Fish caught by industry operators account for the largest share of production – at more than 70% by tonnage – however increasing competition from Australia’s Aquaculture industry, particularly in the provision of popular fish products, such as salmon and trout, resulting in the fish segment decreasing as a share of revenue.
Sardines are the largest contributor to fish production volumes for the industry, followed by tuna, shark and flathead.
Aquaculture is one of Australia’s most lucrative primary industries, largely due to its emergence as the most viable solution to maintaining seafood production in the face of ongoing declines in national and global fishing stocks, however rising industry operation costs – including fuel and wage costs – are anticipated to impact industry profit margins, reducing revenue growth. Industry revenue is forecast to at an annualised 2.7% over the coming five years, from $1.2 billion in 2015-16 to $1.3 billion by 2020-21.
Australia’s Aquaculture industry accounts for just under 35% of all fishery production in Australia and approximately 45% of total fishery value, with production increasing by an annualised 4.1% over the five years to 2015-16. This growth emphasises the role that aquaculture has played in creating a more sustainable fishing sector in Australia by supplementing the declining volumes of seafood caught in the wild. The industry also benefits from maintaining a more consistent supply of popular species, such as salmon, due to the controlled farming environments.
Salmon and trout account for 48.9% of industry revenue, followed by tuna (14.8%), edible oysters (10.5%), pearl oysters (9.7%), crustaceans (6.8%), other fish (6.3%) and other molluscs (3%).
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.
Fish numbers are rapidly dwindling globally, and fishery subsidies are one of the key drivers behind this decline. In 2009, these subsidies totalled about US$35 billion, creating incentives for fishers around the world to increase their catch. But this short-term “race to fish” is jeopardising the long-term environmental, social, and economic security that fisheries offer us all.
My group at the University of British Columbia recently cast our net into the troubling waters of fishery subsidies, to see how this ship might be turned around.
Overfishing: a major issue facing our oceans
According to the recently released World Wildlife Fund Living Blue Planet Report, our oceans are in a bad state. Climate change, habitat destruction, and deep-sea mining are wreaking havoc on marine biodiversity.
But overfishing is in a league of its own.
The WWF report found that population numbers of utilised fish (those species used by humans for subsistence or commercial purposes) have fallen by half in the four decades from 1970 to 2010. A full 90% of fish stocks globally are now classified as either overexploited or fully exploited. Common seafood choices such as tuna, shrimp, whiting, and salmon are among the worst affected.
Only the very deepest parts of the oceans are currently safe from the pressure of fisheries. But how long this remains the case is yet to be seen. The demand for fish is growing the world over, driven by population growth, increased wealth, and the continued mass subsidisation of the fisheries industry.
Fishing subsidies are a global problem
The US$35 billion of subsidies that we estimate that were handed out globally in 2009 is not trivial. In fact, this figure constitutes between 30% and 40% of the landed values generated by marine fisheries worldwide.
To understand their full impact, though, it is useful to divide these subsidies into three broad categories:
Subsidies for management and research – considered as “good” subsidies because they generally have a positive effect on our ability to manage fishery resources sustainably for the benefit of all generations.
Capacity-enhancing (or harmful) subsidies – for example, construction and fuel; these tend to promote the overexploitation of fish stocks by motivating overcapacity and overfishing.
Ambiguous subsidies – such as those to vessel buy-back programmes and rural fisher community development, can either promote or undermine the sustainability of fish stocks depending on how they are designed and implemented.
Our research found that capacity-enhancing, or harmful subsidies made up nearly 60% of the total; fuel subsidies alone (arguably the most capacity-enhancing) constituted about 22% of the total. Ports and harbours received a 10% share.
Meanwhile, subsidies provided for fishery management totalled only 20% globally. In Australia, we estimated these “good” subsidies similarly comprised about 29% of Australia’s total subsidies to fisheries.
Developed countries provided twice the amount of subsidies as developing countries, although the latter group lands about 80% of global fish catch.
In terms of national contributions, Japan provided the highest amount of subsidies (13% of the global total), followed closely by China (12.9%) and the United States (11.7%). Australia’s fishing subsidises came in at 1.4% of the global total.
The impacts of fishing subsidies
Although the direct impact of subsidies on fish resources depends on the health of the fish stock and the strength of management in place, fisheries management is rarely completely effective. In fact, there is evidence that subsidies alone can undermine efforts to manage stocks sustainably.
Commercial fishing enterprises are profit-driven, meaning the more profits that can be made the more fishing will typically take place. Because capacity-enhancing subsidies increase profits artificially, they are stimulating this “race to fish” within the industry. This is having disastrous consequences for many fish populations.
Fishery subsidies are also having socioeconomic, distributional, and trade impacts. They not only distort the market for fish, but often disadvantage fishers who receive relatively less subsidies.
In fact, most subsidies go to the large-scale industrial fishers in developed nations, rather than small-scale developing country fishers. This represents a barrier to development in precisely the regions where it is most needed.
What can be done about harmful subsidies?
Improving transparency is a fundamental requirement for reducing harmful fishing subsidies. Transparency around these subsidies could stimulate action, not only by revealing the scale of the problem, but also by providing a solid dataset that governments can use to implement reform. An important goal is to shift from “harmful” to “good” subsidies, which would go a long way to ensuring the money remains in fishing communities.
To make real progress in curtailing capacity-enhancing subsidies, it is important to develop and implement a multi-scale multi-stakeholder approach. Efforts must be made at the national, regional, and global levels of governance. Ultimately, these efforts should lead into a multilateral agreement at the World Trade Organization.
At the local level, we need to build political will to tackle the short-sightedness of our economic and political systems.
One step towards achieving this would be to develop a cadre of local opinion leaders who understand the benefits of eliminating capacity-enhancing subsidies. Supporting these domestic advocates for change could prove to be a crucial foundation stone for the building of a sustainable global fishery industry.
Amid growing demand for seafood, gas and other resources drawn from the world’s oceans, and growing stresses from climate change, we examine some of the challenges and solutions for developing “the blue economy” in smarter, more sustainable ways.
Fishing for tuna, swordfish, jack mackerel, Patagonian toothfish and many other species happens far out at sea, with fisheries often crossing multiple international boundaries.
It’s a huge global industry, which provides billions of dollars a year in direct and indirect benefits to developed and developing countries, and which supplies the world’s food markets. However, overfishing and weak management are serious threats, estimated to cost the world up to US$50 billion a year in lost benefits.
If we don’t learn to better manage transnational fisheries, we risk the long-term viability of key fisheries, as extraordinary global marine biodiversity is reduced to a shadow of its former health.
Whether you care about being better custodians of the Earth’s oceans, or simply want to be sure that we’ll have plenty of good fish in the sea to catch and eat for generations to come, it’s a huge global challenge.
Fortunately, there are new solutions we should be considering – including lessons from a tuna hotspot in the Pacific.
What we’re doing now is making things worse
Australia and other concerned nations have long warned that current levels of fishing are unsustainable and “leading inexorably to an impending crisis for global marine fisheries.”
Strong international action is required to strengthen fisheries management across multiple boundaries, reduce catches to sustainable levels, and optimise benefits to meet development goals.
But traditional management approaches can be politically contentious, especially because they often require consensus from numerous countries with conflicting interests.
It’s difficult to get multiple countries to agree on restrictions on fishing activities, or controls on fishing methods, or limits to access to fishing grounds or seasons – especially when that may not seem in their short-term national interest. That can be a particular concern for developing states that depend significantly on fisheries, with few other development and resource options.
Existing negotiation and treaty processes fail to successfully resolve the political aspects of conservation negotiations, and consequently, countries often prove unwilling to compromise.
Some argue that some form of property or use right must be distributed among participants to deal with overfishing, so that industry and others have the right incentives to fish in ways that ensure long-term sustainability and economic viability.
However, applying rights-based management approaches to international fisheries requires first that everyone involved agrees on national allocations before those fishing rights trickle down to those actually catching the fish. Determining such rights through an explicit allocation process is highly fraught and take years of effort, particularly as allocation decisions generally require consensus.
While the negotiations drag on, overfishing continues – and can be exacerbated in a race-to-fish to support arguments for more generous allocations.
In order to build political support, new benefits are required that balance conservation costs. Conservation proponents point to long-term benefits from conservation reductions, but these are often too distant to motivate narrowly focused governments facing short-term electoral cycles.
Rights-based management proponents will argue incentives and higher economic efficiency, but fail to provide a political pathway to distribute these benefits between States with diverse interests.
Solutions for the trans-boundary open ocean require sustainability, value and certainty – not politics.
Pacific nations show the value of scarcity
New markets are required that introduce scarcity values into conservation and turn limits into benefits. International negotiations need to move beyond traditional approaches and adopt innovative measures that create new markets.
A small group of Pacific Island nations are attempting just that, trialling different approaches to managing a crucial part of the world’s tuna supplies.
The Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu are all Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), working together to make fishing for tuna in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (shown in the map below) more sustainable.
The Western and Central Pacific Ocean is home to the world’s most productive tuna fisheries, supplying global markets with skipjack, yellowfin, bigeye, and albacore tunas. These were collectively worth approximately US$5.8 billion in 2014 and accounted for 60% of the global tuna catch.
Unfortunately, like many other global fisheries, overfishing is occurring and a political stalemate is undermining conservation.
Pacific Island nations have long been concerned about conservation limits putting a disproportionate burden of conservation action on to small island nations, and unfairly limiting their development aspirations. There was some justification for those concerns.
Previously proposed conservation measures would have directly benefited longstanding distant water fishing fleets, through capacity or catch limits that rewarded historical capacity and catch, while locking out developing nations with no history of overfishing, and potentially no future opportunity. In effect – it would have been the reverse of the polluter pays principle.
The small group of PNA nations control access to the most productive fishing grounds. So they aare a crucial voting bloc within the Western and Central Pacific Fishing Commission – an international treaty based organisation with responsibility over the Western and Central Pacific tuna fisheries.
Given that the PNA member nations arguably own and control access to most of the Western and Central Pacific Ocean tuna fishery, any conservation and management response must be fully supported by these countries and explicitly avoid any disproportionate conservation burden.
In recent years, the PNA nations have collectively implemented a Vessel Day Scheme that limited access to their productive fisheries and introduced a scarcity value that has dramatically increased benefits. In effect, they have created a new market for ‘fishing days’ and are now trialling auctioning and pooling of days to maximise their benefits.
Next, these countries will need to bring in tighter limits to reduce catches of bigeye tuna to sustainable levels. One of the key impacts on bigeye tuna is the use of fish aggregating devices (FADs) that are set at sea by large-scale purse seiners (seines are also known dragnets) to target skipjack tuna.
While countries involved with distant water fishing have proposed traditional measures that would apply across-the-board restrictions at high cost to the island states, the PNA members have been trialling satellite-based monitoring of FADs at sea. They are also cooperating to begin charging additional fees for the use of FAD sets within their waters, beginning in 2016.
This will create an incentive for purse seiners to set on free swimming schools and reduce FAD sets, and mitigate conservation costs for Pacific island through the additional financial revenue from the licensing fees.
As the scheme settles in, conservation limits can then be implemented to gradually reduce the number of FADs that can be set. This will increase the scarcity value of the FAD set, while decreasing the catch of bigeye tuna to more sustainable levels, and effectively create a new market for ‘FAD sets’.
Innovative management and market solutions will be critical to the sustainable, profitable and equitable future of the global “blue economy”. In trans-boundary fisheries, the Pacific is setting the agenda.
Tasmanian salmon producer Tassal has received an Australian Business Award for Sustainability.
The award, which is benchmarked against international performance standards, recognises organisations demonstrating leadership and commitment to sustainable business practices.
Tassal Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director Mark Ryan said the award was timely.
“The company is delighted to receive this award that recognises its achievements and commitment to responsible and sustainable salmon farming,” he said.
“Underpinning our goal to minimise our impact on the environment is our Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) certification which has now been achieved across all our farms. We are the first salmon company in the world to achieve this.”
Mr. Ryan said Tassal was committed to continuous improvement, ongoing measurement and transparent communications via its annual sustainability report and continuing leadership role in sustainable salmon farming.
Tassal’s Head of Sustainability Linda Sams said while the company had made significant progress in the sustainability space over the past four years, the company was not being complacent about future work.
“Tassal’s partnership with WWF Australia has been pivotal in our work to date,” she said.
“We still aim to continue to lead sustainable aquaculture production in Australia, with all our products meeting best practice environmentally-responsible standards.”
Tassal is a signatory to the WWF Global Seafood Charter which sets out clear principles and objectives to safeguard valuable marine ecosystems, ensuring the long-term viability of seafood supplies.