FRDC have recently allocated $0.5M over 3 years for MAFRI to develop an abalone fishery model (Project 1999/116). Whilst the lack of estimates of illegal catch will not preclude the development of a model it will impede the application of the model for assessing abalone stocks because the true catch is unknown. Recent modelling and risk analysis for the Victorian abalone fishery has demonstrated the high sensitivity of stock reduction models to unknown catch. Although current levels of abalone resource theft are perceived to be high in relation to legal catches, the need to know the quantity of illegally caught abalone persists regardless of such perceptions. Over-estimating the illegal catch can be as serious a problem as assuming it to be negligible. Whilst there is some support for the contemporary view that abalone resource theft is high we also need to know about historical trends in illegal catches to the extent that available data will allow. This is important if we want to draw conclusions regarding the sustainability of the current absolute catch.
Aside from modelling and stock assessment there are other reasons why estimates of illegal catch are required. From a fisheries management perspective the effectiveness of total allowable catch quotas as output controls on Australian abalone fisheries is severely compromised by illegal catches. Even if stock assessments were based solely on fishery independent data that are not compromised by illegal catch levels, management options when deciding whether to adjust catch quotas may be limited if the scale of resource theft is known. For instance, decreases in legal TAC will not reduce the illegal take and may precipitate an increased in unlicensed effort. There will be little ownership by stakeholders of management decisions made under these circumstances. Fisheries enforcement would also benefit from estimating illegal catches, particularly because the underpinning data could be utilised in assessments of compliance rates and evaluation of costs and benefits of alternative enforcement options.
As mentioned in the background to this application, FRDC has already identified the need for projects such as those proposed by MAFRI and NSW FRI (FRDC Wild Abalone Fisheries R & D Needs Review, Project No. 98/170, pp. 69-70).