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Management evolves for Sardine Fishery

State's sardine industry is sustainable, The Advertiser 6 September 2011 (external website)

Full report 'Establishing ecosystem-based management for the South Australian Sardine Fishery: developing ecological performance indicators and reference points to assess the need for ecological allocations' (external website) 

Deploying nets off SARDI's research vessel, Ngerin, conducting sardine researchThe rapid growth of the South Australian Sardine Fishery since 1991 has not adversely affected the surrounding ecosystem, according to a landmark study by South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) scientists on the role of sardines in the region’s food web.

The potential ecological implications of the fishery’s development in the eastern Great Australian Bight prompted a $2.5m seven year study funded by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation and the South Australian Sardine Industry.

“The sardine industry, South Australian fisheries managers and SARDI scientists initiated this study to address community concerns that taking large catches of sardines could change the balance of the ecosystem, and potentially impact on some of the region’s valuable marine predators including southern bluefin tuna, seabirds such as crested terns and short-tailed shearwaters and marine mammals, including New Zealand fur seals and common dolphins” said Associate Professor Tim Ward, who oversees the SARDI Wild Fisheries research team.

The sardine fishery is Australia’s largest by weight with around 30,000 tonne harvested annually, mostly to feed farmed tuna but increasingly to supply the emerging human consumption market.

A/Prof Ward, who has led the research program for the sardine fishery since 1998, said that SARDI assessments have estimated the total sardine population in the eastern Great Australian Bight at around 200,000 tonnes.

“This equates to a conservative exploitation rate of 15% of the spawning biomass, which is well below the internationally accepted boundaries for small pelagic fishes, and well within the biological limits of the stock.”

Research Officer, Alex Ivey, collecting sardines off SARDI's research vessel, Ngerin A/Prof Ward says the sardine fishery grew from nothing to eclipse all other Australian fisheries in just 18 years.

“We have monitored the sardine population using an advanced stock assessment technique known as the daily egg production method (DEPM) since the 1990s, so we knew that the stock was in a strong position” said A/Prof Ward. “What we didn’t understand before this study was done, was the role of sardines in the ecosystem and how the ecosystem was structured.”

“This study shows that South Australia’s pelagic marine ecosystem is in good health. The evidence suggests that the precautionary approach to management that the sardine fishery has taken is achieving its goal of ensuring ecological sustainability,” he said.

The project produced a trophodynamic model of the eastern GAB ecosystem which captured 18 years of change in the region, including development of the sardine fishery and fluctuations in 11 other fisheries, changes in apex predator populations and oceanographic variations especially those  involving the region’s nutrient rich upwelling system.

The expertise of 22 researchers from SARDI Aquatic Sciences was used in completing the project, including Honours and PhD students from University of Adelaide and Flinders University, who investigated the diets and habitats of 47 predator groups including pelagic fishes, squids, marine mammals and seabirds in the eastern GAB region.

Researchers deploying nets off SARDI's research vessel, NgerinAssociate Professor Simon Goldsworthy, whose Threatened, Endangered and Protected Species group at SARDI played a major role in the project, says the model provides a landmark for assessing ecological sustainability.

“The ability to resolve and attribute potential impacts from multiple fishing fleets, other human impacts and ecological change will be critical to ensuring future ecological sustainable development within the region,” he said.

“The sardine industry should be congratulated for supporting the study, because as well as demonstrating the sustainability of the fishery, this work will ultimately benefit many other fisheries and stakeholders in the region.”

South Australian Sardine Industry Executive Officer Paul Watson says the project demonstrates that the industry is leaving nothing to guesswork or speculation regarding the ecological sustainability of the fishery.

“Now more than ever, fisheries are being scrutinised over their potential environmental impacts and a report that credibly quantifies the benign ecological footprint of the SA Sardine Fishery leaves us in a strong position,” said Mr Watson.

“The findings in this report will give industry immense leverage in the future should it wish to pursue accreditation as a sustainable fishery from global organisations such as Marine Stewardship Council or similar”

For further information contact:

Associate Professor Tim Ward, Wildfisheries Program Leader, SARDI Aquatic Sciences, E-mail: tim.ward@sa.gov.au

Associate Professor Simon Goldsworthy, Threatened, Endangered and Protected Species Program Leader, SARDI Aquatic Sciences, E-mail: Simon.goldsworthy@sa.gov.au