All food production activities have some level of impact on the environment. For commercial fishing, one of the most direct and visible impacts from the harvest of commercial fish species is the unintentional catch of species that are not retained—known as ‘bycatch’.
Bycatch occurs in many fisheries in Australia and internationally, and is in many cases unavoidable. If left unmanaged, bycatch may have a detrimental impact on marine species and the marine environment.
Bycatch can be minimised, or for some species eliminated through the implementation of a range of management and mitigation measures.
The term bycatch can be defined as:
‘Species that physically interact with fishing vessels and/or fishing gear which are not usually retained by commercial fishers and do not make a contribution to the economic value of the fishery.’
‘Interact (ion)’ includes any physical contact with a species and includes all catches (for example, hooked, netted, entangled), and collisions with these species.
‘Not usually retained’ applies fishery-by-fishery, based on catch history and landing data.
Australia is a member of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO) Committee on Fisheries responsible for the long-term sustainable development and utilisation of the world's fisheries and aquaculture.
Australian governments have taken a number of steps to address bycatch, including:
- the National Bycatch Policy—sets out an agreed framework for coordinating efforts to reduce bycatch across all jurisdictions
- the Commonwealth Fisheries Bycatch Policy—which is applicable to fishing activities in Commonwealth managed fisheries and is currently being revised to ensure it continues to reflect international best practice
- Australia’s threat abatement plan to mitigate the take of seabirds in longlining
- Australia’s National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks
- Australia’s draft National Plan of Action for Minimising the Incidental Catch of Seabirds in Australian Capture Fisheries.