Small Pelagics Research Co-ordination Program
Colin Buxton and Associates
Several scientific studies have recently examined the effects of fisheries on small pelagic species (also sometimes called forage fish) and how they should be managed so as to avoid undesirable flow-on effects of these fisheries on the food web and ecosystem. There is now clear and widely agreed understanding about how these fisheries should be managed, and this understanding has a strong scientific basis (e.g. Smith et al. 2011). The latest and most comprehensive study and guidance comes from the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force (Pikitch et al. 2012). Although methods used to set the TAC in the SPF were consistent with this scientific advice, recent attempts to introduce a factory trawler into the fishery were met with intense public resistance. Much of the concern related to perceived risks of localised depletion and the impact that this would have on fisheries for predator species (eg SBT). Thus the interaction between commercial fisheries for small pelagics and commercial and/or recreational fisheries that target predators is pertinent. There was also considerable debate over the stock status and assessment method (Daily Egg Production Method – DEPM). This highlighted a significant level of distrust in the science and management of small pelagics, something that is likely to continue unless a concerted effort is made to increase our understanding of small pelagic fisheries and to better communicate this knowledge to the community and other stakeholders. The aim of this project is to build confidence in the science underpinning the sustainability of small pelagic fisheries in Australia. Pikitch, E., et al. (2012) Little Fish, Big Impact: Managing a Crucial Link in Ocean Food Webs. Lenfest Ocean Program. Washington, DC. 108 pp. http://www.oceanconservationscience.org/foragefish/ Smith, A.D.M., et al. (2011) Impacts of fishing low-trophic level species on marine ecosystems. Science, 333: 1147-1150
1. To administer and co-ordinate the activities of FRDC funded small pelagics (SP) research
2. To review project proposals to ensure stakeholder relevance
3. To review milestone reports and final reports
4. To facilitate and chair meetings of the SP Technical Committee
5. To ensure appropriate liaison between beneficiaries and research providers
6. To provide advice to FRDC, DAFF, AFMA and other stakeholders on SP research
7. To communicate findings of SP research through: a) Research meetings (possibly held in conjunction with a major conference such as ASFB or Seafood Directions) b) Specialist workshops aimed at stakeholders on topics identified through the course of the program; and c) Relevant articles in the media and Fish magazine
Principle Investigator: Professor Colin Buxton
Key words: small pelagic fish, forage fish, Jack Mackerel trachurus declivis, Redbait emmelichthys nitidus, Blue Mackerel scomber australasicus, Australian Sardine sardinops sagax, maine mammal interactions, factory trawling
Summary: The Small Pelagics Research Co-ordination Program (SPRCP) was established to ensure that small pelagic fisheries R&D conducted by the FRDC was coordinated, made the most efficient use of available resources, and integrated key stakeholders including industry, government and research providers.
Small pelagic fish form an important link between primary and secondary producers and higher predators including tunas, seabirds and marine mammals. They also form some of the world's largest pelagic fisheries in the upwelling regions around the world. In Australia, despite our waters being relatively less productive, small pelagics support valuable localised fisheries for species such as sardines, anchovy and mackerels.
The introduction of large factory trawlers into the Small Pelagic Fishery revealed a significant lack of confidence and level of public distrust in the science and management of small pelagics in Commonwealth waters. This included debate over the stock status and assessment method and highlighted a need to increase our understanding of small pelagic fisheries and to better communicate this knowledge to the community and other stakeholders.
The aim of the co-ordination program was to build confidence in the science underpinning the sustainability of small pelagic fisheries in Australia.
This was achieved through a series of high profile workshops that included broad stakeholder engagement across industry, community, government and research, media reports and articles, and the completion of several major research projects. Research contributed significantly to the understanding of the stock status of target species in the Small Pelagic Fishery (SPF), while an international expert forum suggested that the assessment and management frameworks for Australia's fisheries for small pelagic species, especially the South Australian Sardine Fishery (SASF), were consistent with the world best practice.
Despite this there remains a considerable lack of community support for SPF and more needs to be done to build social acceptance in this fishery and to counter misinformation about the sustainability of small pelagic fisheries in Australia.