- Say No
- Two stocks of gemfish are caught in two Commonwealth-managed trawl fisheries. The western stock is of less concern, but the eastern stock has been identified as overfished since 1992.
- Some of the area of seabed covered by the fisheries has been mapped, and trawling grounds overlap with high-risk habitats, including areas of sensitive corals and sponges.
- Historical high impacts on fragile marine habitats have been addressed through the closure of some trawling areas.
- One fishery catches some threatened species such as Australian fur seals, shortfin mako sharks and seabirds, although industry has been proactive in trying to reduce mortalities of these vulnerable species.
- All trawl vessels now must have seabird management plans in place to reduce seabird deaths, although the effectiveness of new measures will become clear in coming years.
- The fishery discards up to half of its catch. The ecological impacts of this discarding have not been fully quantified.
Note: Australian seafood is not labelled sufficiently for consumers to be able to identify whether they are purchasing fish from the overfished or the healthy stock of gemfish. The red 'Say No' ranking is based on the overfished stock. The healthier western stock of gemfish would qualify for an Amber rating but this is impossible under current labelling laws.
Commonwealth Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery (Commonwealth Trawl Sector and Great Australian Bight Trawl Sector) (103t in 2015-16)
Two stocks of gemfish are fished in a Commonwealth-managed trawl fishery. The western stock is of less concern, but the eastern stock is classified as ‘overfished’ in fishery reports. Stocks have been overfished since at least 1992, and estimates suggest that stock levels may be as low as 8% of historical numbers. While the fishing industry and managers have worked to reduce the catch of eastern gemfish, which is caught in a fishery that catches a range of other commercially valuable fish, the amount caught at present is still too high to allow the population to recover.
Gemfish are caught using otter trawls. Some of the area where fishing occurs has been well mapped in order to identify the distribution of sensitive sea floor species. Trawling sometimes takes place on areas of seafloor that support sponges, hard corals and bryozoans (small invertebrates that form colonies similar to coral reefs), but it is unclear how much trawling activity is resulting in damage to habitats and associated species. Some areas of marine habitat are protected in marine parks and through other spatial closures. It is likely the fishery has had a high impact on the marine environment in the past, but spatial closures and reductions in the amount of fishing over the past two decades has reduced that impact.
Protected species caught in one of the fisheries that catches gemfish (the CTS) include Australian fur seals, seabirds (including albatross and shearwaters) and shortfin mako sharks. Inconsistencies between logbook reporting and independent observers have been a problem in the past, and the fishing industry has been addressing these inconsistencies through training schemes. While bycatch of endangered wildlife is relatively low in the other fishery (the GABTS), interactions with seabirds is of concern.
Seal Excluder Devices (SEDs), which act as escape hatches for seals that enter trawl nets, are mandatory. All trawl boats must have a seabird management plan in place to guide how each boat aims to reduce interactions with seabirds while actively fishing. Many of the solutions to seabird interactions have been fishing industry-led innovations. Initial evidence seems to indicate that some innovations could reduce the impact of fishing on endangered seabirds, however these have only recently been applied to fishing vessels and their effectiveness remains unquantified at present.
There is some independent monitoring of the fisheries that catch gemfish. While reporting of endangered wildlife deaths has improved in recent years, a comparison between observer recorded deaths and fishery logbook records is necessary to provide confidence in reporting.
Gemfish is caught alongside unwanted fish that are then discarded. The amount of fish discarded has not been quantified, but it has been estimated that around half of the weight of the total catch in the otter trawl fishery may be discarded, with many of these fish dying during the process. The cumulative ecosystem impacts of discarding fish have not yet been quantified.