The change in focus of fisheries management towards ecosystem-based management (Pitcher 2001) is a worldwide trend. Within Australia it is particularly evident in the requirements of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, and in the development of regional marine plans (RMPs) under Australia’s Oceans Policy. The former requires strategic assessment of the ecological impacts of fishing, including assessing trophic impacts. The latter seeks to integrate management of entire regions through an ecosystem approach that considers impacts from all uses of the marine environment (including impacts of other users on fishery ecosystems). The southeast region is the first to be evaluated under Oceans Policy.
Even without the “stick” of EPBC and RMP, there are good reasons to attempt to synthesize current data and understanding of the SEF ecosystem, and to model the impacts of and on the fishery. Specific questions that need addressing include:
·What changes in the fish community have taken place in the past, and what are the consequences for current fishery production and value?
·What further changes might be expected under planned reduction or elimination of discarding in the SET?
·What are the implications for the fishery of current rapid recovery in seal populations?
·What are the reasons for and impacts of year-to-year variability in the SEF ecosystem (including regional circulation and primary productivity) on distribution and catches of quota species?
This study will provide a set of tools to explore answers to these questions.