Study shows drifting fish larvae allow marine reserves to rebuild fisheries

New study on benefits of marine sanctuaries to fisheries…

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Marine ecologists at Oregon State University have shown for the first time that tiny fish larvae can drift with ocean currents and “re-seed” fish stocks significant distances away – more than 100 miles in a new study from Hawaii.



Post of the Month: The Economics of Marine Protected Areas – Allen Consulting Group Report Shows Benefits from Marine Sanctuaries

This month’s post of the month as decided by number of readers was: The Economics of Marine Protected Areas – Allen Consulting Group Report shows benefits from Marine Sanctuaries.

First posted in March, 2010, this is back as a post of the month as interest in marine sanctuaries heats up ahead of big decisions from the Federal Government expected early in 2010 about Australia’s national marine parks network – starting with the unique South West region.

This economic report found long term economic benefits were on offer from a network of marine sanctuaries in WA’s southwest.

You can find out more about the campaign for marine sanctuaries in the South West, and take action online, at Save Our Marine Life.

You can discover the amazing marine life and underwater world of the South West in the online flip book Atlantis Found.

Note you can subscribe to the blog by email via the box at the top of the right hand column of this page or follow me on Twitter (@Happy_Squid).

Wishing you a Happy Christmas and a very Happy New Year – 2011 will be the year of Australia’s oceans!

Queensland Brings in Seasonal Fishing Closures

Queensland has bought in seasonal fishing closures for a number of species, in a move very similar to that made by the WA Fisheries Department a couple of years ago for similar species in SW WA. (courier mail) (dpi)

As in WA with the ‘vulnerable five’ demersal reef fish,  it is rapidly increasing recreational fishing pressure that has done the recent damage in bringing stocks down to unsustainable levels despite heavy cuts to commercial fishing catches.

In WA, the two month seasonal ban on dhufish at the start of summer was highly unpopular, and has been implicated in financial stress and even the closure of some tackle shops, although there are no specific recorded examples.

It has left some fishos questioning whether it might not be better to have spacial closures than seasonal closures. Whether it might not be better to be able to go fishing for more of the year with a few less spots, than for less of the year with full access.

Spacial closures are of course the same thing as the marine sanctuaries that environmentalists are calling for as a conservation tool.

Most WA scientists outside of the WA Fisheries Department are calling for marine sanctuaries, or permanent spacial closures, to protect breeding fish and help cut the overall fishing catch. However, whilst unpopular fishing license fees and seasonal closures have been implemented, the recommendations for marine sanctuaries continue to be ignored – with a likely consequence of increasingly poor fishing and harsher fishing restrictions down the track.

It will be interesting to see what happens in Queensland as this progresses.  As in WA, something clearly needs to be done to arrest the decline in fish stocks – for fishing and for the environment But are seasonal closures the right method to pick first? Or are they the last resort of fisheries scientists who remain ideologically opposed to  marine sanctuaries, despite the recommendations of the majority of their marine science peers and an increasing body of evidence?

Marine sanctuaries are not the only fishing management we need, and we may still even need seasonal closures for some species if sanctuaries are put in place, but it seems crazy to resort to these harsh fishing management restrictions whilst still refusing to try area closures when they are clearly working in many other parts of the world.

The Queensland Fisheries Minister is quoted as saying “The aim is to achieve sustainability at minimum economic and social cost, while ensuring fair access to the stock across the fishing sectors.”

Interestingly, this is exactly the description that can be used for marine sanctuaries.  Marine sanctuaries are the cheapest management to enforce because it is very clear that anyone fishing in the area is in breach of the rules,  and also ensure equity because no one can fish the sanctuary, but everyone benefits from the increased breeding stocks within the sanctuary.

And in terms of costs, it can be argued from comparing the experience with seasonal closures in SW WA with the experience of new marine sanctuary networks at Ningaloo Reef or the Great Barrier Reef, that seasonal closures may well be more expensive to the recreational fishing industry than marine sanctuaries.

Experience from Ningaloo and the Great Barrier Reef which both have greater than 30% of the area in marine sanctuaries is that there has been very little, if any, impact on recreational fishing income.

It will be interesting to see where this heads next.


Kimberley Gas Hub Strategic Assessment Released

The long awaited strategic assessment report on the proposed LNG hub at James Price Point north of Broome in the Kimberley has been released. (click here)

Will have to wait for analysis from the Wilderness Society and Conservation Council to report more deeply on the content, although there are two obvious initial holes.

The first is it is called a strategic assessment, yet only considers one location for the hub.  That isn’t a strategic assessment which should look at all available options in a strategic manner, which would include piping the gas to existing facilities in the Pilbara and any other valid options for a gas hub location.

Second, the front introduction page notes that “some studies in relation to Marine Waste Discharge Modelling, Oil Spill Modelling, Marine Benthic Primary Producer Habitat, and Coastal Processes are not yet complete.”

These are all critical to the community establishing a view on the acceptability of this development.  How can people be expected to comment on the impacts of the construction of a massive (km’s long) breakwall and jetty, when they don’t know what is living in the ocean, and how the structure will affect coastal processes?

A development of this scale has the potential to seriously impact coastal water and sand movements right along the Dampier peninsula.

I think a lot of people will also be concerned about the potential for oil spills, and where they will go, given recent events at the Montara oil rig offshore from the Kimberley.

Fortunately, the EPA will hold all submissions open on the Strategic Assessment until 6 weeks after this information is released early next year.

More information – see The Wilderness Society Kimberley Campaign, CCWA Kimberley page and Environs Kimberley Browse Basin Gas campaign page.

South West marine life in the Balance – 9 places to take action online

The campaign for a network of marine sanctuaries is heating up, with 2011 looking to be the year for big decisions that will determine the future for South West WA’s unique marine life.

A number of groups are running online petitions you can sign to help pressure Environment Minister Tony Burke to do the right thing in 2011. A great Christmas present for our marine life.

Save Our Marine Life

Conservation Council of WA

Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society

The Wilderness Society

Australian Marine Conservation Society


Sea Turtle Restoration Project


Sea Shepherd Australia

To find out more about this remarkable marine region: home to up to 90% unique marine life, one third of the world’s whale and dolphin species, Australia’s biggest mountain range and deepest canyon and much much more, check out Atlantis Found.  As an online book full of great photos it is perfect for sharing online.

The End of the Line available on DVD!

The long anticipated DVD release of The End of the Line has finally come!

Powerful, moving and motivating, The End of the Line tells the story of overfishing in our oceans and the three simple steps we need to take to turn this potentially overwhelming problem around.

In ‘three steps to heaven’ we can act as consumers, eating only sustainable seafood, and act as citizens, pressuring our Governments to create new marine sanctuaries and cut the world’s over-subsidised and bloated fishing fleet.

You can purchase the DVD online (click here)

You can help create new marine sanctuaries in Australia (click here)

You can learn more about eating sustainable seafood in Australia (click here)

Fisheries Department Artificial Reef Push a Wacky Waste of Money

The Fisheries Department and recreational fishing representatives just got back from a jaunt in China and Korea where they were impressed by the use of artificial reefs that have  helped in increasing fish stocks in these countries.

As a result, they are considering funding the establishment of new artificial reefs in WA .

Unfortunately, reading through the many objectives and outcomes of the tour, they have failed to examine one important factor – how similar is WA’s situation to China’s? The answer is not very.  We have a hyper abundance of reefs, the problem is that there aren’t any fish on them.

WA’s coastal waters are made up of bands of limestone reef that runs for hundreds of kilometers along our shore, they used to be full of fish.  So what is the problem? A lack of reef, or a lack of fish?

It is typical of past missteps made in fisheries management in WA. We assume WA is like the rest of the world when it is clearly not.  We made the same mistake in the wheat belt, where clearing like it was Europe resulting in infertile saline wastelands over large areas that were once covered in massive woodland trees.

In the ocean environment, we have presumed you can fish like it is Europe, reducing stocks down to 30% or less of their virgin biomass and presuming that this will result in younger, faster growing fish rushing in to take their place.  Unfortunately, the biology of WA fish says different.

In the infertile WA waters fish grow slowly.  In many species, the big old fish we are wiping out wait for years until conditions are right to have their big breeding years.  Smaller numbers of big old fish, not big mobile schools of young fish, repopulate the fisheries.  Dhufish live to 40 years, and a one metre fish will produce as many young as eleven 60cm fish. Blue Groper live to 80 years, and change sex from female to male at 30 years old.

Similarly this proposal is missing the crucial difference.  In the fertile seas fed by the mighty rivers that run out of Korea and China, the environment is very different to WA and lack of structure for fish may well be a concern in fisheries management.

But in WA, there are hundreds of kilometers of reef that should be covered in fish, but they are not.

Creating artificial reefs like it is China is not the answer to fisheries management in WA anymore than clearing like it is Europe worked for managing farming.  However, paying attention to marine science and the biology of our fish will work.

The idea of trying to restock our waters from aquaculture tanks has also been mooted.  This is an even more wacky idea.  Whilst it has been successful in small areas like estuaries, lakes and rivers for smaller and easy to breed fish like bream or trout, trying to restock the expanse of the ocean with large fish is a pipe dream, unlikely to be effective and mind bogglingly costly compared with investing in better management and establishing marine sanctuaries.

Artificial reefs might be something to consider in the future, but whilst we are still ignoring the increasing consensus amongst scientists that marine sanctuaries that protect breeding areas and bring large fish back onto our reefs are the missing piece in conservation and fishing management in WA, they are a wacky waste of money.

Money that could be better spend on  ensuring compliance with fisheries management rules and regulations like bag, size and boat limits.