The science which originally paved the way for the super trawler, Margiris/Abel Tasman, has been further discredited as the ship prepares to begin fishing at the end of its Federal Government ban – in less than three weeks.

The 60-day ban imposed in September by the federal Minister for Environment, Tony Burke, expires on 20 November 2012 and if he does not extend it, the Margiris/Abel Tasman, will be free to immediately take up to a possible 36,000 tonnes of small pelagic fish from Australia’s Small Pelagic Fishery (SPF).

Further expert analysis of the scientific report on which the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) based its decision to double a jack mackerel fish quota to commercially justify the super trawler, shows:

• Vital data was omitted from analysis;
• If the data had been included, the super trawler quota would have been substantially lower;
• A comparison of catch data shows that Australian small pelagic fish stocks may already be following the same steep decline which pre-dated the dramatic collapse of the small pelagic fishery in the South Pacific in the past six years;
• Scientific research into the South Pacific small pelagic fishes was far more rigorous than the same type of research done in Australia but still failed to prevent the commercial destruction of the Pacific’s small pelagic fish populations;
• Two of the scientists who originally supported the science that AFMA used to back the quota increase for the super trawler have now conceded, in a published paper, that the initial research was defective, and
• The same scientists also found that the original research likely wrongly inflated the fish population numbers on which AFMA’s super trawler quota decision was based.

The two formerly supportive scientists, Colin Buxton and Jeremy Lyle, co-authored their report, ‘Re-analysis of mean daily egg production in jack mackerel’, with K. Hartmann and C. Gardner. All are from the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania where the 2011 report they re-analysed, by Dr Francisco Neira, also originated.

They point out that there are different methodologies for calculating the biomass (and hence Total Allowable Catch and fishing quotas) and that the method used in the original 2011 report to set the Small Pelagic Fishery quota for the super trawler is questionable, and probably too high.

A separate expert re-examination of the original 2011 report also shows that a decision was made to omit from analysis samples of jack mackerel eggs taken in October 2003.

Dr Andrew Wadsley, a qualified statistician and Principal of Australian Risk Audit, Tasmania, says he believes the data was excluded because it would have led to a low estimate of egg abundance and therefore a low estimate of the biomass (population) of jack mackerel, the species targeted by the super trawler.

“They had two years of data (2002-2003), and more if the February 2003 and February 2004 datasets are included, which point to average low egg abundance and low resulting estimates of jack mackerel spawning biomass. All of this was ignored”, Dr Wadsley says.

Dr Wadsley also says there is a striking similarity between what happened in the South Pacific small pelagic fishery before it collapsed and the current fisheries management path being taken by AFMA in relation to Australia’s Small Pelagic Fishery.

“The catch data shows that in the South Pacific, the purse seine fishery collapsed and when the catch method changed to trawling, the trawl fishery collapsed. Australian Small Pelagic Fish catch data seems to be indicating a similar trend here in Australian waters”, Dr Wadsley says.

“This will be exacerbated by super trawlers. With the introduction of the super trawlers, their technology will catch the fish beyond the range of the current local fleet, inevitably leading to another small peak of catches of small pelagic fishes followed then by a collapse of their stocks, as happened in the South Pacific.”


The Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) based its doubling of the 2012 – 2013 Jack mackerel east quota to commercially justify the super trawler on a report by Dr Francisco J. Neira titled: Application of daily egg production to estimate biomass of jack mackerel, Trachurus declivis – a key fish species in the pelagic ecosystem of south-eastern Australia, Institute of Marine and Antarctic Science, University of Tasmania, Hobart, 2011. (on AFMA Website)

Neira’s report was re-analysed in 2012. The report of the re-analysis is:
Re-analysis of mean daily egg production in jack mackerel by J. Lyle, K. Hartmann, C. Buxton and C. Gardner, Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, Hobart, 2012. (Available from AFMA or IAMS.)

• Wednesday on Tasmanian Times: Close AFMA, says fisheries scientist. Includes linkes to earlier stories.