Fishing terms

What is bycatch?

The term bycatch refers to all non-targeted catch, including by-product, discards and gear interactions. By-product refers to the unintended catch that may be kept or sold by the fisher. Discards refer to the product that is returned to the sea. Gear interactions refer to all species and habitat affected by the fishing gear. For gear interactions to occur, the affected species or habitat does not necessarily have to reach the deck of the fishing vessel. The gear includes hooks, fishing lines, nets, traps and fishing vessels. Over time, a species' classification may change. This means a species could go from being a discard to being a by-product or being targeted. Likewise a target species may become a by-product or discard. Issues such as stock levels, consumer demand, markets and new technology may affect this.

A number of national and Commonwealth bycatch policies have been developed and can be found on the Department of Agriculture and Water Resource’s website 

State jurisdictions are also likely to have further information related to bycatch in their fisheries.

What is sustainability?

In its simplest form, sustainability is the ability to continue a given activity indefinitely into the future. In this case, catch the same amount of fish now and into the future or grow the same amount of aquaculture seafood.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations defines sustainability as:

·       ability to persist in the long-term;

·       characteristic of resources that are managed so that the natural capital stock is non-declining through time, while production opportunities are maintained for the future.

Successfully managing available resources is essential to achieving environmental, social and economic sustainability.

What does it mean if a species is classed as ‘subject to overfishing’ or ‘overfished’?

The term ‘subject to overfishing’ describes a stock that is currently experiencing too much fishing effort and as a result it is being caught at an unsustainable rate.

This is very different from a stock which is classed as ‘overfished’. ‘Overfished’ is an historical term describing a past situation where the stock was fished unsustainably and it has not yet recovered.


A recovering stock, currently managed sustainably, may still be classed as overfished if its numbers have not yet recovered from being subjected to overfishing in the past.


Australia has some fish stocks which were overfished or subject to overfishing, but fisheries status can differ from year to year. For this reason, it is best to check the latest information here .