Several scientific studies have recently examined the effects of fisheries on small pelagic species (also sometimes called forage fish) and how they should be managed so as to avoid undesirable flow-on effects of these fisheries on the food web and ecosystem. There is now clear and widely agreed understanding about how these fisheries should be managed, and this understanding has a strong scientific basis (e.g. Smith et al. 2011). The latest and most comprehensive study and guidance comes from the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force (Pikitch et al. 2012).
Although methods used to set the TAC in the SPF were consistent with this scientific advice, recent attempts to introduce a factory trawler into the fishery were met with intense public resistance. Much of the concern related to perceived risks of localised depletion and the impact that this would have on fisheries for predator species (eg SBT). Thus the interaction between commercial fisheries for small pelagics and commercial and/or recreational fisheries that target predators is pertinent.
There was also considerable debate over the stock status and assessment method (Daily Egg Production Method – DEPM). This highlighted a significant level of distrust in the science and management of small pelagics, something that is likely to continue unless a concerted effort is made to increase our understanding of small pelagic fisheries and to better communicate this knowledge to the community and other stakeholders.
The aim of this project is to build confidence in the science underpinning the sustainability of small pelagic fisheries in Australia.
Pikitch, E., et al. (2012) Little Fish, Big Impact: Managing a Crucial Link in Ocean Food Webs. Lenfest Ocean Program. Washington, DC. 108 pp. http://www.oceanconservationscience.org/foragefish/
Smith, A.D.M., et al. (2011) Impacts of fishing low-trophic level species on marine ecosystems. Science, 333: 1147-1150