Project number: 2005-031
Project Status:
Budget expenditure: $799,999.00
Principal Investigator: Timothy M. Ward
Organisation: SARDI Food Safety and Innovation
Project start/end date: 29 Jun 2005 - 1 Nov 2008


Provisions of the Commonwealth Environment and Biodiversity Conservation Act require strategic assessment and, if necessary, mitigation of the ecological effects of fishing, including trophic impacts.

The strategic assessment of the South Australian pilchard fishery identified the need to measure and minimize the impacts of the fishery
on the “broader ecosystem” and “to review the current ecological management objectives, management strategies and performance indicators”.

However, operational ecological performance indicators and mitigating strategies have not yet been established for any pelagic fishery in Australia, and there is no agreed scientific framework for establishing these tools.

In recognition of -
1) the high profile of the SA pilchard fishery (as Australia’s largest pelagic fishery);
2) the important ecological role of pilchards in the Flinders Current Ecosystem;
3) the high economic value and conservation significance of the region’s marine predators;
4) and the sophisticated (single-species) stock assessment procedures and management arrangements that have been established,
members of the South Australian pilchard fishery have identified the need to establish “world’s best practices” for managing the potential ecological impacts of the fishery. In response to this need, fishers have invested $620K to assess the role of pilchards in the Flinders Current Ecosystem and to begin to develop ecological performance indicators and reference points for their fishery.

Currently, there is no scientific framework to assess whether the management arrangements that have been established for the SA Pilchard Fishery are sufficiently conservative to ensure that fishery is managed according to the principles of ESD (i.e. that fishing does not significantly affect the status of other components of the ecosystem, Fletcher et al. 2002).

In recognition of the large data sets and extended timeframes that are needed to establish and assess ecological performance indicators and reference points for pelagic fisheries, members of the South Australian pilchard fishery have also agreed to invest a further $310K (cash) to support the additional ecological research that is outlined in this proposal.

This project addresses the pressing need to develop a scientific framework for establishing ecological performance indicators and reference points for pelagic fisheries. The focus on the SA pilchard fishery is necessary, as such a large and complex undertaking could only be contemplated in large and valuable fishery that has sophisticated stock assessment procedures and management arrangements in place, and can thus afford to allocate significant resources to support the establishment of an ecosystem-based management system.

This project is needed to refine the management plan for Australia’s largest fishery to include ecological perfomance indicators and reference points and to ensure that research and management systems for the fishery correspond with, or exceed, world’s best practice by incorporating scientifically-based approaches for assessing and, if necessary, mitigating, the fishery's potential trophic impacts.

Projects such as this are needed to maintain Australia’s position as the world leader in the ecosystem-based management of fisheries.


1. To identify species of key marine predators that consume significant quantities of sardines and could potentially be used to assess the need for ecological and/or spatial allocations in the SA pilchard fishery.
2. To identify population parameters for these key marine predators, such as measures of foraging and/or reproductive success, that are likely to be affected by changes in the distribution and abundance of sardines, and which could potentially act as ecological performance indicators for the fishery.
3. To examine the spatial and temporal scales at which these performance indicators vary in order to develop reference points that could be used to assess the need (if any) to establish ecological allocations in the fishery.
4. To use the results of this study to revise the managment plan and establish cost effective systems for ongoing monitoring and assessment of the ecological effects of the SA sardine fishery.

Final report

ISBN: 978-1-921563-38-6
Author: Tim Ward

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