Australia has a diverse range of freshwater and marine habitats that support many aquatic species. Australia’s maritime zone is one of the largest in the world, covering about 14 million square kilometres: about twice the area of Australia’s landmass. The zone contains about 4,500 known species of finfish (and perhaps tens of thousands of invertebrate species) — most in relatively small numbers. More than 800 seafood species are commercially harvested and sold in Australia, under about 300 marketing names, for local and overseas consumption. The commercial harvest, though low in volume, has high value. Australia has an excellent international reputation for the quality of its exports of abalone, rock lobster, prawn, scallop, tuna and coral trout. These fisheries are possible because of our diverse range of habitats, from tropical to temperate; and coastal to inland. These habitats also provide a wide range of high-quality recreational fishing opportunities.
Management of aquatic habitats
Federal, state and territory governments are responsible for managing the fisheries and aquaculture activities within their jurisdictions. The rationale for governments being involved in the management of fisheries and aquaculture activities flows from the issues that can arise if everyone is allowed open access to a resource. In managing fisheries and aquaculture, government agencies often employ a variety of management methods. These methods are constantly evolving as better information becomes available. Examples are fishing regulations, inputs to fishing effort (i.e., all elements of harvesting capacity, such as number of fishing vessels, type of gear etc) and output (e.g., the amount, sex or size of fish that may be harvested).Output controls have been the preferred management option for Commonwealth-managed fisheries since1989 and jurisdictions that had relied on input controls are increasingly using output controls. Neither option is perfect; each comes with its own set of challenges.
The importance of ecologically sustainable development
In recent years, the Australian community has become increasingly aware of the need to protect our natural aquatic resources (ocean, estuary, river, wetland and other habitats) and to maintain biological diversity and processes in ecosystems that support fisheries and aquaculture. Awareness is increasing about how fisheries are used, and how ecosystems (such as those of coastal plains and the continental shelf) are inter-connected. An area of constant public interest is the ability of aquatic environments to sustain fishing, aquaculture and other activities such as eco-tourism. The impacts of land-based activities, frequently transferred to marine, estuary and coastal environments by run-off and rivers, are also of concern. During the past 10 years, fisheries and aquaculture management has undergone profound change world-wide, particularly through adopting an “ecosystem-based approach” to management. All Australian fisheries and aquaculture management jurisdictions now include ecological sustainable development (ESD) in their legislative and regulatory instruments.
Access to aquatic resources
All Australians have some rights to access aquatic resources, although the nature of the rights is not always well defined and varies between the commercial, recreational and indigenous sectors. Additionally, aquatic resources are used in other ways: for example by people associated with tourism, pleasure boating and non-extractive diving. Community demands for establishment of aquatic protected areas as refuges for the maintenance of Australia’s biological diversity have placed increasing pressure on access for all sectors of the industry. Determining access to aquatic resources is complex. To be effective, it should involve the application of environmental, economic and social (including political) information to maximise returns to the community and the industry through an objective planning and resource allocation process. This process may involve continually adjusting resource allocation as community or political values change with time. Determining equitable methods of re-adjusting resource allocation is a contentious and challenging task for all jurisdictions.