Fisheries in global push for sustainable development

The efforts of Australian researchers are helping to underpin the sustainable development and use of fisheries resources internationally and at home 

By Gio Braidotti

Oyster raft off Cat Ba Island in Ha Long Bay, northern Vietnam.
Photo: Wayne O'Connor

Australian-led projects are helping to improve the sustainability of fisheries and marine resources, which are recognised as crucial to addressing extreme poverty, hunger and social disadvantage around the world.

It has been estimated that more than three billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods and their primary source of protein. Globally, the market value of marine and coastal resources and industries is estimated at US$3 trillion (A$4 trillion) per year, or about five per cent of global GDP.

In 2015, the United Nations introduced Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which has 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including one focused solely on marine resources.

The new SDGs supersede the previous Millennium Development Goals, which primarily targeted change in developing countries. The new goals apply equally in developed countries and reflect the changing view that substantial, ongoing and resilient change must be underpinned by sustainable practices.

SDG 14 deals with oceans, marine biodiversity, fisheries and the livelihoods that depend on these vast, globally significant resources (see below).

It has 10 fisheries-oriented targets, including eight that specify an increase in scientific knowledge, research capacity and the transfer of sustainable marine technology among the UN’s 193 member states.

The FRDC is one of two organisations in Australia that has long been active in building research capacity to help solve issues facing fisheries and the sustainable management of fisheries-related resources.

The other is the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), which has a 35-year history of funding Australian agricultural scientists to help solve food security and resource management challenges that affect developing countries.

ACIAR brokers collaborative partnerships that allow Australian researchers to work with communities and research organisations in developing countries. Gains in agricultural productivity are known to improve resilience and drive greater economic development.

ACIAR’s research program manager for fisheries is Chris Barlow. He says that ACIAR projects intrinsically build scientific capacity in the partner country, and Australian researchers acquire knowledge and expertise that ultimately benefits Australia – especially regarding biosecurity issues. The participating Australian laboratories are often also funded to work on a parallel problem affecting Australian producers. 

“ACIAR’s research-based approach to development delivers mutual benefits and these projects already have sustainability built into them,” Chris Barlow says. 

Tuna management

One such ACIAR project aims to improve Indonesia’s capacity to assess and manage Yellowfin Tuna (Thunnus albacares) and Bigeye Tuna (Thunnus obesus). Bigeye Tuna is classified as sustainable in the Indian Ocean and overfished in the Pacific Ocean, while Yellowfin Tuna is classified as sustainable in the western and central Pacific Ocean and transitional depleting in the Indian Ocean.

The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission and the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission are responsible for managing the world’s tropical tuna catch, which includes these two species. In managing Australia’s share of the catch, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority follows the decisions of both commissions.

Chris Barlow says that tuna, like all migratory fish species, pose particular management challenges. “The regional fisheries management organisations for migratory fish species have made national fishing quotas contingent on the implementation of strong monitoring and evaluation protocols,” he says.

“These protocols, however, require sophisticated scientific capability. Australia has that capability and it is in the national interest for us to assist in developing sustainable fish management capability in Indonesia.”

This capability is now being tapped to help Indonesia as its government moves to develop a harvest strategy for tuna fisheries as a key component of its National Tuna Management Plan. The project is led by CSIRO’s Craig Proctor and in Indonesia by Hari Eko Irianto from the Center for Fisheries Research and Development.

Oyster benefits

Often, the researchers and laboratories that participate in ACIAR projects are also tapped by the FRDC, with the investment provided by these two organisations creating synergistic benefits for fisheries, as in the case of efforts by Australia to diversify and expand aquaculture enterprises.

Wayne O’Connor is the aquaculture research leader at the Port Stephens Fisheries Institute within the NSW Department of Primary Industries. He has played many important roles developing production techniques for molluscs over 30 years, including the iconic Sydney Rock Oyster, and has also led an ACIAR project undertaken with Vietnam.

This project used bivalve hatchery and grow-out expertise to provide a new source of income for poor coastal communities in northern Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay. Today, 28 provinces produce about 15,000 tonnes of Portuguese Oysters a year for local Vietnamese markets, helping to lift many small-scale producers out of poverty.

At the same time, the partnership with Vietnam helped to expose Australian team members to aquaculture technology for species that are new to Australia.

That ACIAR investment subsequently had a bearing on the Australian production of Sydney Rock Oysters, allowing for research that improved the efficacy of the Sydney Rock Oyster breeding program. The investment also improved the reliability of Native Oyster production through enhancing knowledge of these oysters’ reproductive behaviour, and on pipi ecology and culture by demonstrating the possibility for hatchery production of pipi juveniles. It also led to the discovery, in the wild, of a previously unknown pipi parasite and the development of appropriate biosecurity measures.

“The researchers that receive financial support from ACIAR overlap a great deal with the teams used by the FRDC for research work,” Chris Barlow says. “ACIAR has a mandate to bene t both developing countries and Australia. We are quite overt about that. Everything we do has capacity-building aspects for Australian people and sometimes it has direct bene ts to Australia, as in the case of tuna and oysters.”

FRDC for research work,” Chris Barlow says. “ACIAR has a mandate to benefit both developing countries and Australia. We are quite overt about that. Everything we do has capacity-building aspects for Australian people and sometimes it has direct benefits to Australia, as in the case of tuna and oysters.” 

Sustainable Development Goal 14

The 10 targets to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources

  1. By 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution.
  2. By 2020, sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems to avoid significant adverse impacts, including by strengthening their resilience, and take action for their restoration in order to achieve healthy and productive oceans.
  3. Minimise and address the impacts of ocean acidification, including through enhanced scientific cooperation at all levels.
  4. By 2020, effectively regulate harvesting and end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices and implement science-based management plans, in order to restore fish stocks in the shortest time feasible, at least to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield as determined by their biological characteristics.
  5. By 2020, conserve at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, consistent with national and international law and based on the best available scientific information.
  6. By 2020, prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and refrain from introducing new such subsidies, recognising that appropriate and effective special and differential treatment for developing and least developed countries should be an integral part of the World Trade Organization fisheries subsidies negotiation.
  7. By 2030, increase the economic benefits to small island developing states and least developed countries from the sustainable use of marine resources, including through sustainable management of fisheries, aquaculture and tourism.
  8. Increase scientific knowledge, develop research capacity and transfer marine technology, taking into account the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission Criteria and Guidelines on the Transfer of Marine Technology, in order to improve ocean health and to enhance the contribution of marine biodiversity to the development of developing countries, in particular small island developing states and least developed countries.
  9. Provide access for small-scale artisanal fishers to marine resources and markets.
  10. Enhance the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources by implementing international law as re ected in United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,
    which provides the legal framework for the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources, as recalled in paragraph 158 of The Future We Want.

Source: United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

More Information

Chris Barlow,

Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research