All food production activities have some level of impact on the environment. For fishing, one of the most direct and visible impacts is the capture of non-target species, or ‘bycatch’. In many cases bycatch is unavoidable, and occurs across all fisheries in Australia, and also internationally. Bycatch however can be minimised through the application of a range of mitigation measures. Left unmanaged, bycatch may have a negative impact on the status of some marine species such as marine mammals, reptiles, seabirds, sharks and bony fishes, the populations of which may not be sustained when subject to additional mortality from fishing and other sources. There is an increasing demand from consumers and the community for evidence that seafood comes from sustainable sources and that Australia’s fisheries and their interactions with the marine environment are well managed.
The term bycatch can be defined as:
“Species that physically interact with fishing vessels and/or fishing gear and which are not usually kept by commercial fishers.”
‘Interact(ion)’ includes any physical contact with a species and includes all catches (for example; hooked, netted, entangled), discards, releases and collisions with these species. As taken from the report for the review of the Commonwealth Policy on Fisheries Bycatch.
Regardless of whether a species is kept, discarded or interacts with fishing gear, the objectives of the Fisheries Management Act 1991 state that there is a need for the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) to have regard for the impact of fishing activities on non–target species and the long term sustainability of the marine environment. A range of mechanisms exist to manage different types of catch, and particular arrangements are in place to manage the take of marine species, whether targeted, by–product or bycatch.
FAO guidelines on bycatch management and reduction of discards
Australia is a member of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO) Committee on Fisheries which is responsible for the long-term sustainable development and utilisation of the world's fisheries and aquaculture. The committee promotes policies and strategies aimed at sustainable and responsible development of global fisheries and aquaculture in inland and marine waters.
In February 2011 the first global guidelines for bycatch management and reduction of fishing discards were agreed upon by members of the UN FAO Committee on Fisheries at their 29th meeting, which included Australia.
The guidelines cover all types of bycatch including discards, that is, fish that are caught accidently and then thrown back into the sea either dead or dying. The guidelines also cover bycatch management planning, improvement of fishing gear, fisheries closures, economic incentives to facilitate uptake of measures, monitoring, research and development, building the capacity of states to follow the guidelines and other relevant issues.
More information on FAO guidelines on bycatch management and reduction of discards
Commonwealth Policy on Fisheries Bycatch
The Commonwealth Policy on Fisheries Bycatch (2000) has been reviewed, with the review report released on 27 May 2013. For more information please see Review of the Commonwealth Policy on Fisheries Bycatch.
It is important to manage bycatch to ensure that direct and indirect impacts on aquatic systems are taken into account and managed accordingly.
The development of the National Policy on Fisheries Bycatch - August 1999 and Commonwealth Policy on Fisheries Bycatch – June 2000 demonstrate a long–term commitment by the Australian Government to ensure fisheries are ecologically sustainable. This is accomplished through bycatch reduction, improved protection for vulnerable and threatened species and minimising adverse impacts of fishing on the marine environment.
The National Policy on Fisheries Bycatch was developed in cooperation with all Australian governments and provides a national framework for coordinating efforts to reduce bycatch. The policy provides options by which each state/territory jurisdiction can manage bycatch coherently and in a national context while still allowing for differences in state/territory fisheries.
The Commonwealth Policy on Fisheries Bycatch ensures that direct and indirect impacts on marine systems are taken into account and managed accordingly. The policy covers fisheries managed by the Commonwealth and represents a significant commitment by the government, industry and conservationists to ensure fisheries are managed on an ecologically sustainable basis. This is done through mechanisms that reduce bycatch, improve the protection for vulnerable species and minimises the adverse impacts of fishing on the marine environment.