Chapter 28: High-seas fisheries for non–highly migratory species
L Georgeson and S Nicol
A small number of Australian fishing vessels target demersal fish species (those associated with the sea floor) in high-seas areas of the south Pacific and southern Indian oceans. The fisheries resources in these areas fall under the jurisdiction of two regional fisheries management treaties: the Convention on the Conservation and Management of High Seas Fishery Resources in the South Pacific Ocean (South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation [SPRFMO] Convention), and the Southern Indian Ocean Fisheries Agreement (SIOFA). The SPRFMO Convention entered into force on 24 August 2012 and the SIOFA on 21 June 2012. Annual meetings of the SPRFMO Commission and Scientific Committee have been held since 2013. Annual Meeting of the Parties, the SIOFA decision-making body, have been held since 2015; and annual meetings of the SIOFA Scientific Committee have been held since 2016.
Demersal fishing on the high seas by Australian vessels occurs under permits issued by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA). High-seas permits allow Australian vessels to fish in high-seas areas outside the Australian Fishing Zone (AFZ), outside the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of other countries, and within the area of competence of either the SPRFMO or the SIOFA (Figures 28.1 and 28.6).
The Commonwealth Fisheries Harvest Strategy Policy (HSP; DAFF 2007) does not prescribe management arrangements for fisheries managed under the joint authority of the Australian Government and an international management body or arrangement. However, its principles guide Australia’s negotiating positions in international fisheries management forums. The HSP does not apply directly to these high-seas fisheries; there is therefore no formal harvest strategy required for domestic components of these fisheries.
The South Tasman Rise (STR) is an undersea ridge that stretches beyond the AFZ and into the SPRFMO Convention area (Figure 28.4). The South Tasman Rise Trawl Fishery (STRTF) is included in this chapter because it has not operated within the AFZ since 2007. The STR orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus) stock is the only high-seas stock that is assigned a status classification in this chapter. Orange roughy in the STR is classified as overfished. Since the fishery is closed, the stock is classified as not subject to overfishing.
Orange roughy stocks have recently been assessed in the SPRFMO Convention area (Cordue 2017; Edwards & Roux 2017; Roux et al. 2017) and the SIOFA area of competence (Cordue 2018a, b). These assessments are reported briefly in this chapter, but status has not been assigned for any stocks or regional ‘management units’. Catch of orange roughy taken by Australian vessels in the SPRFMO and SIOFA areas is currently low and sporadic. Assessment of status may be included in future editions of the Fishery status reports if catch limits for these stocks are formally included in Conservation and Management Measures (CMMs) and/or catches from these stocks taken by Australian vessels are deemed to constitute a proportion of catches that may influence stock sustainability.
28.1 South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation Convention area
Description of the fisheries
The SPRFMO Convention covers non–highly migratory fisheries resources and excludes highly migratory species listed in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (1982). The SPRFMO Convention area has historically been fished by vessels from various nations using pelagic and demersal fishing gear. The main commercial fisheries resources managed by the SPRFMO are Chilean jack mackerel (Trachurus murphyi) and jumbo flying squid (Dosidicus gigas). The SPRFMO also manages fisheries for lower-volume demersal species such as orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus) and alfonsino (Beryx splendens).
The bottom fisheries target demersal species associated with seamounts, ridges and plateaus in the central, eastern and western areas of the south Pacific Ocean (Figure 28.1). Deep-sea structures tend to attract and support fish resources because their physical and biological properties enhance local productivity and retention. Some deepwater species form dense breeding aggregations over deep-sea structures, potentially allowing high catch rates and large catches (Norse et al. 2012). Some demersal species are slow growing and long lived, and aggregations can represent the accumulation of numerous age classes recruited over many decades. Initial catch rates typically made on these aggregations may not be sustainable, and can lead to rapid declines in abundance and availability (Norse et al. 2012). Long-term sustainable yields are usually only a small percentage of initial high catches.
Trawl fleets from the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) began fishing the high seas in the south Pacific for deep-sea species in the early 1970s. These vessels fished several areas, taking pencil (or bigeye) cardinal fish (Epigonus denticulatus),orange roughy,blue grenadier (Macruronus novaezelandiae)and oreodories (Oreosomatidae) (Clark et al. 2007). Expansion of Australia’s and New Zealand’s fisheries into the high seas saw the establishment of a fishery on the Louisville Ridge in 1993 and on the STR in 1997. These fisheries were predominantly fished by New Zealand and Australian vessels; other nations, including Belize, Japan, Norway, Panama, the Republic of Korea and Ukraine, also accessed these deep-sea resources, although taking lower catches (Gianni 2004).
The species composition of catches from line and trawl fishing has varied over time. Historically, Australian high-seas fishing effort targeted orange roughy using demersal and midwater trawl gear. A low level of non-trawl activity, predominantly dropline and auto-longline methods targeting other species, such asjackass morwong(Nemadactylus macropterus), yellowtail kingfish(Seriola lalandi) and blue-eye trevalla (Hyperoglyphe antarctica),also occurred. Non-trawl catches now exceed those taken by trawl. An increase in catches of emperors, sweetlips and deepwater snappers (as well as other more subtropical species) in the non-trawl fishery in recent years reflects a change in the main fishing grounds used by Australian non-trawl vessels. Deep-sea gillnets were prohibited in 2010 under an interim measure applicable to all fishing vessels within the SPRFMO Convention area, and this gillnet prohibition was adopted in a SPRFMO CMM in January 2013 (SPRFMO 2013).
In accordance with SPRFMO CMM 03-2018 (and since 2007), Australia has restricted fishing to within the 2002–2006 bottom fishing footprint and limited catch to the average annual level between 2002 and 2006. Although Australia has not expanded bottom-fishing activities in areas outside the 2002–2006 footprint, new and exploratory fishing may be considered and approved by the SPRFMO Commission, consistent with SPRFMO CMM 13-2016. Consistent with SPRFMO CMM 02-2018, Australian high-seas fishing permits require the implementation of vessel monitoring systems, mandatory observer coverage on all trawl vessels and a minimum of 10 per cent observer coverage per vessel on all non-trawl vessels.
In 2011, Australia completed a bottom fishery impact assessment in the SPRFMO Convention area to examine whether individual bottom-fishing activities by Australian vessels have significant adverse impacts on vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) (Williams et al. 2011a). The study concluded that the current overall risk of significant adverse impacts on VMEs by Australian bottom trawl and bottom longline operations is low, and the impact caused by midwater trawling and droplining is negligible (Williams et al. 2011a).
Catch and effort
The total reported catch retained by Australian vessels in the SPRFMO Convention area was 243 t in 2017 (Figure 28.2). Three Australian vessels were active in the SPRFMO Convention area in 2017: one trawl and two longline vessels. Trawl effort was 52 trawl-hours and non-trawl effort was 840,700 hooks.
The trawl catch for 2017 reported in logbooks was 98 t, an increase from 84 t in 2016. Orange roughy comprised 95 per cent of the 2017 trawl catch (93 t). Zero discards were reported in logbooks in the trawl fishery for 2017.
Total non-trawl catch retained by Australian vessels in the SPRFMO Convention area was 145 t in 2017. Bottom longline was the only non-trawl method used in 2017. Yellowtail kingfish accounted for 24 per cent (35 t) of the 2017 non-trawl catch; the remainder comprised jackass morwong (16 per cent; 23 t), redthroat emperor (Lethrinus miniatus; 15 per cent; 22 t), flame snapper (Etelis coruscans; 11 per cent; 16 t), Robinson’s seabream (Gymnocranius grandoculis; 9 per cent; 13 t) and other species (24 per cent; 35 t). Logbooks reported discards in 2017 in the non-trawl fishery were 14 t.
Total reported catch of demersal species by all fleets in the SPRFMO Convention area was 1,992 t in 2015 and 1,717 t in 2016 (Figure 28.3). Most of this catch was reported from the western SPRFMO Convention area, primarily by New Zealand and Australian vessels.
The biological structure of stocks in the SPRFMO Convention area is uncertain. Research indicates that there is a greater level of genetic structure in global orange roughy populations than has previously been detected (Varela, Ritchie & Smith 2013). However, genetic studies have not detected differences between orange roughy from New Zealand and Australia. Past studies on catches and estimated biomass have identified separate and geographically distinct fishing areas for orange roughy due to substantial distances or abyssal-depth waters. These fishing areas are STR, northern Lord Howe Rise, southern Lord Howe Rise, Challenger Plateau and West Norfolk Ridge.
In 2013, the first meeting of the SPRFMO Scientific Committee recommended that work be done to identify the existence and distribution boundaries of stocks of orange roughy and alfonsino that straddle EEZ boundaries and extend from EEZs into the SPRFMO Convention area. It is likely that alfonsino on northern Lord Howe Rise and orange roughy on Challenger Plateau, both within the SPRFMO Convention area, constitute such straddling stocks. Under the SPRFMO Convention, such stocks are subject to compatible management arrangements within EEZs and on the high seas.
A number of regional management units of orange roughy have been assumed for assessment purposes in the SPRFMO Convention area. In addition to the STR stock (which straddles the AFZ and the SPRFMO Convention area), these units are Louisville North, Louisville Central, Louisville South, Lord Howe Rise, north-west Challenger Plateau and West Norfolk Ridge. Work is currently underway to improve the delineation of biological stocks of orange roughy in the SPRFMO Convention area.
SPRFMO orange roughy stock assessment
A number of assessment models have been attempted for orange roughy stocks in the SPRFMO Convention area (Clark, Dunn & Anderson 2010; Cordue 2017; Edwards & Roux 2017; Roux et al. 2017; Wayte et al. 2003). The Cordue (2017) assessment is a catch history–based method that uses an age-structured population model with parameters borrowed from five stocks within New Zealand’s EEZ. The method focuses on the minimum virgin biomass (Bmin) that would allow the historical catches to have been taken, assuming a maximum exploitation rate of 67 per cent. The assessment results indicated that in 2015 five of the seven SPRFMO stocks are very likely to have been above a limit reference point of 0.2B0.1 There was an indication that the north-west Challenger Plateau and Lord Howe Rise stocks may be below a limit reference point of 0.2B0 and that recent exploitation rates were too high. It should be acknowledged that the results of the Cordue (2017) assessment are conditional on the stock hypotheses being approximately correct, and are highly uncertain. The SPRFMO has recommended that additional work be done to derive age data from otoliths taken from spawning plumes and to improve acoustic estimates of plume biomass.
Woodhams et al. (2012) assessed the sustainability of harvest rates of species targeted by Australian vessels in the SPRFMO. The study concluded that only a small proportion of the total assumed habitat area for the target species had been fished by Australian vessels, and that none of the stocks targeted by Australia’s high-seas fishing operations have been classified as overfished or subject to overfishing.
28.2 South Tasman Rise Trawl Fishery
Orange roughy (Hoplostethus altanticus)
Line drawing: Rosalind Murray
TABLE 28.1 Status of the South Tasman Rise Trawl Fishery
| Fishing mortality|| Biomass||Fishing mortality||Biomass|| |
(Hoplostethus atanticus)||Not subject to overfishing||Overfished||Not subject to overfishing||Overfished||Fishery has been closed under domestic arrangements since 2007 as a result.|
|Economic status||Fishery closed.|
Description of the fishery
Fishing began in the STRTF in 1997, using demersal trawl to target a recently discovered orange roughy stock. The fishery has not operated since 2007. Under the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement,2 other countries are entitled to access the high-seas portion of the stock, provided that a cooperative management regime with consistent measures for both portions of the stock (inside and outside the EEZ) is established.
Australia and New Zealand established a memorandum of understanding for cooperative management of the orange roughy stock in the STR in 1998. The arrangement has been revised since, with both governments agreeing to set a total allowable catch of zero tonnes, but providing for the possibility of a research quota. Through this process, Australia agreed to cease fishing orange roughy in the EEZ portion of the STR.
Orange roughy catches peaked at 3,270 t in 1998–99 and declined thereafter (Figure 28.5). From 2001 to 2006, when fishing was occurring, less than 10 per cent of the total allowable catch was landed. Following indications of depletion of the orange roughy stock in the 2002 stock assessment and the limited fishing for several subsequent years, the STR was closed to Australian fishing vessels—both inside and outside the AFZ—in 2007.
In the later years of activity in the STRTF, catch was mostly smooth oreodory (Pseudocyttus maculatus)and spikey oreodory (Neocyttus rhomboidalis).No formal stock assessment of oreodories in the STRTF has been undertaken. However, before the fishery was closed, trends in catch and catch rates for these species indicated that stocks had been fished down. If fishing in the STRTF resumes, management arrangements for oreodories should be considered as part of the development of a revised harvest strategy, to ensure that these species are not overexploited.
The orange roughy stock in the STR is managed independently, as a discrete population, as are the orange roughy stocks in the other fishing zones in the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery (see Chapter 9).
An assessment of the orange roughy stock in the STRTF by Wayte et al. (2003) used catches and catch rates in a standardised catch-per-tow analysis, as well as examining acoustic data collected during the 1998–2002 winter spawning seasons. Annual reported catches in the fishery declined after the first couple of years (Figure 28.5). Standardised catch-per-tow analysis (Wayte et al. 2003) indicated that catch rates declined by 92 per cent between 1997–98 and 2002–03. Anecdotal information suggests that illegal catches in 1999 may have been substantially higher than documented. These reductions in catch and catch rate, when the cumulative total reported catch was 11,341 t, indicate that the initial stock biomass was not large compared with some other orange roughy populations and had been considerably reduced by 2002–03 (Wayte et al. 2003).
No recovery was evident after this, and estimated relative abundance in 2002–03 was only 8 per cent of abundance in 1997–98 (Wayte et al. 2003). No significant acoustic marks, indicative of spawning aggregations, were apparent during industry surveys in 2000, 2001 or 2002. Although orange roughy may not form spawning aggregations in the same location every year, the absence of aggregations for several consecutive years is concerning. The assessment concluded that there was little doubt that the stock size, or the availability of fish to the fishery, had decreased dramatically after the first couple of years of the fishery and shown no signs of recovery. The fishery has not been surveyed since 2002.
Stock status determination
The assessment by Wayte et al. (2003) indicates that the stock biomass had been overfished. The life history characteristics of orange roughy may make the recovery of the stock a slow process—possibly in the order of decades—given the estimated level of depletion. Although the fishery has not been surveyed since 2002, in the absence of any new information, the stock remains classified as overfished.Since the fishery is closed, the stock is classified as not subject to overfishing.
28.3 Southern Indian Ocean Fisheries Agreement area of competence
Description of the fishery
Fisheries in the SIOFA area predominantly target demersal or bathypelagic species using demersal trawl, midwater trawl and demersal longline gears. Fishing in the SIOFA area occurs on or near seamounts and ridges in the southern Indian Ocean (Figure 28.6). The former USSR began deep-sea trawling in what is now the SIOFA area in the 1960s. USSR vessels conducted periodic deep-sea trawl research cruises on a commercial scale from the mid 1970s until the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. During the 1990s, several Ukrainian-flagged deep-sea trawl vessels operated in the area (Bensch et al. 2009; Clark et al. 2007; Romanov 2003). No catch has been recorded by Ukraine since 2001.
Deep-sea trawlers from New Zealand and Australia were reportedly fishing in the SIOFA area before 1999. In 1999, deep-sea trawling in the area increased substantially after orange roughy stocks were discovered (Japp & James 2005). In 2000, the combined catch of all deepwater species for all international vessels in the area was estimated at 40,000 t (Bensch et al. 2009), which was taken by up to 50 vessels from more than 12 nations. Accurate catch data are not available for many of these vessels because of the unregulated nature of the high-seas fishery at that time (Bensch et al. 2009). Although more vessels were thought to be fishing, only eight reported participating in the fishery to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in 2001.
Australian vessels have reported catch from the SIOFA area since 1999. Fishing methods have been specified on Australian high-seas permits issued by AFMA since 2008; they include midwater trawl, demersal trawl, auto-longline, dropline and trap. Gillnetting was permitted up to 2008, but there are no records of gillnetting by Australian operators in the area after 1999 (Williams et al. 2011b), and AFMA has since prohibited the use of deepwater gillnets by Australian fishing vessels.
In 2011, Australia completed a bottom fishery impact assessment in the SIOFA area to examine whether individual bottom-fishing activities by Australian vessels have significant adverse impacts on VMEs (Williams et al. 2011b). The study concluded that the current overall risk of significant adverse impacts on VMEs by Australian bottom trawl and bottom longline operations is low, and the impact caused by midwater trawling and droplining is negligible (Williams et al. 2011b).
SIOFA has adopted various CMMs, including CMMs relating to large-scale pelagic driftnets and deepwater gillnets; interim management measures for bottom fisheries; a measure for new and exploratory fisheries; an authorised vessel list; an illegal, unreported and unregulated vessel list; vessels without nationality; data standards and data confidentiality; and measures to regulate at-sea and in-port transshipment and vessel monitoring systems.
Recent catch and effort
Midwater and demersal trawl have contributed most of Australia’s catch from the SIOFA area. In 2016, one multipurpose vessel (trawl and demersal longline) was active in the fishery. There was no fishing effort by Australian vessels in the SIOFA area in 2017.
Because of confidentiality restrictions, catch data for the SIOFA area cannot be disclosed. The main species caught in 2016 using midwater trawl were blue-eye trevalla, alfonsino and rubyfish (Plagiogeneion spp.). The main species caught in 2016 using non-trawl methods was hapuku (Polyprion spp.).
The biological structure of stocks in the SIOFA area is uncertain. For orange roughy, seven regional units have been assumed for assessment purposes: Walters Shoal Region, Meeting, North Walters, Seamounts, North Ridge, Middle Ridge and South Ridge.
SIOFA orange roughy stock assessment
Assessments have recently been attempted for seven orange roughy stocks in the SIOFA area (Cordue 2018a, b). The assessment for the Walters Shoal Region (Cordue 2018a) incorporates biological data in conjunction with a stock hypothesis, a catch history and acoustic estimates. The results indicate that the absolute scale of the stock is very uncertain because the true scale of the acoustic biomass estimates is poorly known. Virgin biomass is estimated to be in the range of 25,000–90,000 t. Given the stock hypothesis, it is highly likely that stock biomass is above 0.5B0.
For six stocks, a catch history–based assessment was undertaken (Cordue 2018b). For three of these stocks, Cordue also did a simple model-based assessment that incorporated acoustic biomass estimates and borrowed results from the Walters Shoal Region. Exploitation rates of 5 per cent and 40 per cent were used to bound stock size and estimates of biomass. Under the assumption of a maximum exploitation rate of 40 per cent, the spawning biomass (SB) in 2017 was estimated to be 0.22SB0 for the Seamounts region and 0.43SB0 for the South Ridge region. All other stocks were estimated to be above 0.5SB0 under this assumption.
Woodhams et al. (2012) assessed the sustainability of harvest rates of species targeted by Australian vessels in the SIOFA area. The study concluded that only a small proportion of the total assumed habitat area for the target species has been fished by Australian vessels, and none of the stocks targeted by Australia’s high-seas fishing operations have been classified as overfished or subject to overfishing.
28.4 Economic status
The gross value of production is not available for the SPRFMO and SIOFA areas for confidentiality reasons. In 2017, three vessels were active in the SPRFMO area; no vessels were active in the SIOFA area (one in 2016). Given limited catches in recent years, the value of the fisheries would be relatively low compared with other Australian fisheries.
The STRTF has been assessed as overfished, and so stocks are below the level associated with maximum economic yield. The fishery has been closed since 2007, so its economic status has not been assessed.
28.5 Environmental status
Deep-sea fisheries generally operate at depths of 200–1,600 m, on continental slopes or isolated oceanic structures such as ridges, seamounts and banks (FAO 2012). The depths and distances from the coast pose challenges to research, assessment and management of the effects of fishing on the environment and on target stocks (FAO 2012).
Impact assessment of bottom fishing
Under the United Nations General Assembly resolutions on sustainable fisheries (specifically, paragraph 83a of resolution 61/105, and paragraph 119(a) of resolution 64/72), states are called on to assess, based on the best available scientific information, whether individual bottom-fishing activities would have a significant adverse impact on VMEs, and to ensure that these activities are managed to prevent such impacts or are not authorised to proceed. This obligation was reflected in the SPRFMO interim measures (SPRFMO 2007), resulting in the development and adoption by the SPRFMO of a standard for impact assessment of bottom fisheries (SPRFMO 2012), compatible with the FAO deepwater guidelines (FAO 2009). The 2014 meeting of the SPRFMO adopted a binding CMM to give effect to these resolutions (SPRFMO 2014).
The South Tasman Rise Commonwealth Marine Reserve, which came into effect in 2007, overlaps with the STRTF (Figure 28.4). The reserve covers 27,704 km2, including several seamounts. Commercial fishing is not permitted in the reserve. Several other marine reserves are near the STRTF.
Australia completed bottom-fishing impact assessments for demersal fishing activities in the south Pacific and southern Indian oceans in 2011 (Williams et al. 2011a, b). The impact assessments for both areas concluded that the current overall risk of significant adverse impacts on VMEs by Australian vessels fishing with bottom trawls and bottom-set auto-longlines was low, primarily because of the low fishing effort and the small number of areas of high fishing intensity. The assessments also concluded that the current overall risk of significant adverse impacts on VMEs from midwater trawling and droplining by Australian vessels was negligible (Williams et al. 2011a, b), based on the low level of fishing effort, the small number of areas of high fishing intensity and the effects of current management arrangements.
List of exempt native specimens
Under part 13A of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), Australian fisheries are assessed to ensure that they are managed in a manner that does not lead to overfishing, and that fishing operations are managed to minimise their impact on the structure, productivity, function and biological diversity of the ecosystem. In 2018, Australia’s high-seas fisheries were reaccredited for eight years under the EPBC Act.
Since 2010, AFMA observers have recorded few interactions with protected species in the SPRFMO and SIOFA fisheries. One interaction with a white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) was reported in SPRFMO non-trawl logbooks in 2017.
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—— 2012, Deep-sea fisheries in the high seas: ensuring sustainable use of marine resources and the protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems, FAO, Rome.
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—— 2012, Bottom fishery impact assessment standard, third session of the Preparatory Conference, February 2012, Santiago, Chile.
—— 2013, ‘Report on the first meeting of the Commission of the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation’, annex N, Auckland, New Zealand, 28 January – 1 February 2013.
—— 2014, ‘Report on the second meeting of the Commission of the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation’, Manta, Ecuador, 27–31 January 2014.
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1 Reference points have not been adopted by the SPRFMO.