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‘Australia’s commercial fish-stocks sustainable’: CSIRO paper highlights ‘Edgar paper’ flaws, reject

Published by Seafood Industry Australia.

Seafood Industry Australia’s response to L. Richard Little, Jemery Day, Malcolm Haddon, Neil Klaer, Andre E. Punt, Anthony D.M. Smith, David C. Smith, and Geoff N. Tuck’s research paper, “Comments on the evidence for the recent claim on the state of Australian fish stocks”, Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, 2019.

Seafood Industry Australia (SIA), the national peak-body representing Australia’s seafood industry, has welcomed a paper led by Rich Little, CSIRO, Senior Research Scientist, Oceans & Atmosphere denouncing claims by Graham Edgar et al. (2018).

“The basic premise of the ‘Edgar paper’, that Australia’s commercial fish-stocks have declined by a third over the last 10 years has been debunked by the work of Dr Little and his team,” SIA CEO Jane Lovell said.

“SIA’s initial response to the ‘Edgar paper’ and the questions we, as an industry, raised regarding the validity of the data presented have been substantiated. The opening line of the Rich Little paper rejects Edgar et al.’s claims that Australian fish stocks are rapidly declining. Little et al. note significant problems with the Edgar’s methodology and also highlight factual errors within his 2018 paper.

“The very idea that statements could be made about the state of all Australia’s fisheries based on a photographic surveys from shallow, in-shore waters, and a tiny number of commercial species just didn’t make sense; and have been shown to be flawed methods of research.   

“The ‘Edgar paper’ caused significant stress to Australia’s commercial fishers and was widely used to try to discredit Australia’s sound fisheries management and influence political debate.  Once misinformation is published it is hard to combat, however we are confident the Rich Little paper shows the community and our politicians the truth behind Australia’s fisheries management techniques, which are some of the best in the world.

“Australia’s professional fishers adhere to extremely strict regulations and monitoring to ensure we maintain healthy stocks. There are prescriptive management plans, quotas and licences in place controlling what can be caught and where.  We don’t, we can’t and we wouldn’t want to just go out and catch as much as we possibly can.

“Let us be clear, Australia’s commercial fish-stocks are not in decline. In fact, for the fifth consecutive year Australia’s Commonwealth-managed fisheries have been listed as not subject to overfishing by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences. This is something our wild-catch fishers are very proud of, and is unprecedented internationally.

“In addition, the footprint of Australia’s trawlers has been found to be one of the smallest in the world. Australian seafood is one of the best managed and most sustainable protein sources in the world.

“As fishers, our priority is the environment, if there was cause for us to step away from the harvest of a particular species, then we would listen. We advocate the health, sustainability and future of our ocean and land based aquaculture activities.

“The Little et al. paper concludes with a statement SIA thoroughly agrees with – better collaboration between fishery scientists and marine ecologists is needed. Had this been the case, perhaps this whole debacle and insinuation of poor fisheries management in Australia could have been avoided.

“We raised our concerns regarding the process of peer review, publishing and promotion of the ‘Edgar’ paper with the University of Tasmania (UTas). We have engaged in meaningful discussions with UTas regarding process changes. We look forward to their initiatives to prevent a recurrence of situations like this that discredit the hard and accurate work of so many other researchers and the efforts of our commercial fishers, coming into effect. We encourage other research organisations to make sure they have suitably rigorous processes to ensure scientific rigour and processes are maintained.”


Examples of Edgar et al (2018) inaccuracies highlighted by Rich Little et al (2019):

P1 – Extrapolating survey results from shallow inshore areas to the continental shelf and slope is invalid, and the broader examination of Australian fisheries involves analytical deficiencies and factual errors.

P2 – The analytical deficiency concerns the use of catch‐only methods to infer stock status. Extensive analysis has indicated that methods that use only catch data typically have much higher uncertainty than those based on model‐based estimation methods (Carruthers et al., 2014). Part of the reason is that catches are influenced by many factors other than abundance, including markets, changes in fisher behaviour and management arrangements. In Australia, for example, catches of one of Australia’s most valuable finfish fisheries (blue grenadier) decreased by more than 50% from 2013 to 2016. The large reduction in this Marine Stewardship Council‐certified fishery can be attributed to a single vessel not fishing, and not a decline in abundance.

P6 – We would also like to correct the statement that the 2015 catch of eastern school whiting (Sillago flindersi) managed by the SESSF under several names was 166% of the total allowable catch (TAC). Comparing catches with TACs in this fishery is complicated because catches are often reported by calendar year, whereas TACs apply to a management year, from May to April. Thus, the TAC of (eastern) school whiting for the period from May 2015 to April 2016 was set at 747 t, whereas catches over that period in the following year were reported as 733 t, below the TAC. The value of 166% was likely the result of Edgar et al. (2018) mistakenly combining state and federal catches for comparison against the federal TAC alone.

P8 – Importantly, only five submissions occur after the implementation of the Australian federal Commonwealth Harvest Strategy Policy, which set three major initiatives:

  • recover overfished stocks and prevent future overfishing;

  • reduce excess effort through a government buy‐out; and

  • implement a network of marine protected areas in south‐eastern Australia.

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