Project number: 1997-204
Project Status:
Completed
Budget expenditure: $280,358.00
Principal Investigator: Ron J. West
Organisation: University of Wollongong (UOW)
Project start/end date: 20 Jul 1997 - 31 May 2001
Contact:
FRDC

Need

Major structural changes are occurring in several natural resource industries as the
principles of Ecological Sustainable Development (ESD), Biodiversity Conservation and
National Competition Policy are implemented. These principles are beginning to have a
significant and fundamental impact on natural resource management, at all levels of
Government and in several primary industry areas, such as forestry, agriculture and the
water industry.

The forestry industry, which bears closest parallels with the fishing industry, has
been in the forefront of these policy changes. In NSW forests: implementation of
Biodiversity Conservation principles has led to the reservation of areas traditionally
harvested by industry; implementation of ESD principles has led to the need to prepare
forestry management plans, incorporating indicators of sustainability; and, National
Competition Policies have led to the imminent corporatisation of the NSW forestry
management agency and restriction of its activities to commercial harvesting (as
opposed to other forestry management activities which will be carried out by other
departments and local community management groups).

A major problem in reforming NSW forestry has been the lack of useful forestry data
relating to biodiversity and overall sustainability (eg. faunal components of forests).
This resulted from management agencies not giving priority to collecting data on
biodiversity and has led to somewhat arbitrary decision making and eventual
confrontation. A parallel situation now exists in fisheries where, in general, very
little data has been collected on diversity of fish communities in the vast majority of
areas that are presently being fished.

In NSW, estuary management is the responsibility of many players, such as Catchment
Management Committees, River Trusts, the Department of Land and Water Conservation
(DLWC), National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), as well as NSW Fisheries. For
example: the majority of estuary restoration projects in NSW are carried out by Local
Councils and Catchment Committees; DLWC is implementing "State of the Catchment"
reporting; and, "new" players, such as DLWC and NPWS, are beginning to impose
"external" constraints on fishing activities, with the objective of conserving
biodiversity. Yet very little data exist on variability and diversity of estuarine fish
communities in NSW.

While a number of agencies and groups have a role to play in estuary management,
none are likely to fund a major fisheries project at this stage. This proposed project
is a large-scale fisheries research project, relating directly to fisheries and the health of
fish communities. Every opportunity to involve other external collaborators in this project
will be explored, however only small-scale funding is likely to be achieved, leading to
a fragmented approach to this important collection of data. For example, the applicant has
already been successful in obtaining $5,000 from the Illawarra Catchment Management
Committee (ICMC) with a $10,000 extension of the project from FishCare, but none of the
sampling sites chosen by the ICMC are in areas fished extensively.

During the course of the project, the applicant will be in contact with all the relevant
agencies, such as NSW Fisheries, NSW Dept. Land and WaterConservation, NSW
National Parks and Wildlife, Local Councils and catchment groups, to ensure full
consultation takes place and that maximum collaboration is obtained.

The information to be collected during the course of this proposed FRDC project
is likely to be used widely in various management plans and reports prepared by both
community groups and Government, including:

* fisheries management plans,
* estuary management plans,
* catchment management plans, and,
* state of the environment reporting.

The inclusion of fisheries information in these reporting mechanisms would: raise the
profile of fisheries issues; encourage such data to become an established part of the
estuary health indicators; and, in so doing, help in future funding of on-going "monitoring"
programs, based on this research project. All of the above reports will be vital to the future
of the fishing industry in NSW. The NSW Fishing Industry Research Advisory Committee
(NSW FIRAC) has acknowledged the importance of the type of data collected from
this proposed project and, as a result, considered it to be amongst their highest priorities
for FRDC funding.

This project will provide data on shallow water fish communities in a wide range of estuaries
throughout southern NSW and will examine the usefulness of these data as indicators of
sustainability and biodiversity. Data on these shallow water fish communities are
comparatively easy to collect, but offer several advantages over other possible
sampling methods (see Appendix 2). The collection of environmental data at each
of the sampling sites will also provide useful information in itself, as well as important data
for the interpretation of changes in the shallow water fish populations.

Objectives

1. To examine variability in the diversity and abundance of fishes within and between selected estuaries, coastal lakes and lagoons in southern NSW, including fished and non-fished areas.
2. To provide the first set of comparative data for the south coast region of NSW on the recruitment intensity for a large selection of economically important estuarine fish species.
3. To investigate the usefulness of these data as indicators of biodiversity and sustainability, and possible inclusion as performance indicators in management of estuaries.
4. To provide a comprehensive set of environmental data relating to each sampling location, including water quality and habitat quality parameters.

Final report

ISBN: 0-86418-739-4
Author: Ron West

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