In recent years, increased community awareness of bycatch in prawn trawl fisheries and scrutiny from conservation agencies have brought pressure upon governments and fisheries management agencies to implement bycatch reduction initiatives. This is of particular importance in Queensland as about 70% of the effort in the east coast trawl fishery occurs within the boundary of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
As such, several stakeholders have stated that bycatch reduction is a high priority area. This project will address the following priorities:
1) Priority 1.3 of QFIRAC’s current goals and priorities as reviewed with stakeholders "Effects of fishing activities on fish and their ecosystems", specifically point b, "Bycatch reduction, reduce volume of bycatch, improve bycatch reduction devices"
2) Section 2 of the Queensland Fisheries Business Group's Trawl Research Priority Areas for 2004/05, specifically "the development of management tools to reduce bycatch including alternative devices that minimise impacts and/or increase bycatch survival"
3) Part of Recommendation 26 of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s audit of the East Coast Trawl Fishery which states "that designs need to be developed to increase the chances of escape for unwanted bycatch, but do not result in significant product and by-product losses".
Further, the implementation of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 allows the Commonwealth Government, through the Department of Environment and Heritage, to assess the sustainability of all export fisheries within Australia. The Act is designed to ensure ecologically sustainable development through the conservation and ecologically sustainable use of natural resources, including both targeted and non-targeted animals. A significant reduction in bycatch is a favourable step in this regard.
Results from the FRDC research project number 2000/170 “Bycatch weight, composition and preliminary estimates of the impact of bycatch reduction devices in Queensland’s trawl fishery” highlight that bycatch can be reduced by 78% in the scallop fishery and 28% in the deepwater eastern king prawn fishery without significant reductions in catch. This represents the reduction of bycatch in the order of thousand’s of tonnes annually. Although robust estimates of bycatch reduction are unavailable for the black tiger (leader) prawn fishery, significant reductions in bycatch will occur if square mesh codend BRDs are used. Given the large size of the target species, bycatch reduction could be in the order of 50%.
Given the slow uptake of square mesh codend BRDs by commercial fishers, it is necessary to promote the use of this technology via a dedicated extension program. Success of previous extension programs, most notably the FRDC-funded extension project "Commercialisation of bycatch reduction strategies and devices within northern Australian prawn trawl fisheries" (FRDC Project No. 96/254), is evidence that such programs are crucial for the transfer of new technologies to industry.