Next generation toothfish management tools

Antarctic scientists and the Australian fishing industry have received $1.2 million from the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC) to develop the next generation of management tools for the Patagonian toothfish fishery on the Kerguelen Plateau.

The funding secures a three-year collaboration between the Australian Antarctic Division, the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (University of Tasmania), Austral Fisheries Pty Ltd, Australian Longlining Pty Ltd, and the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle in France.

The international venture, worth $1.6 million in total, will tackle the complicated problem of ensuring sustainable fishing of Patagonian toothfish — whose habitat spans both French and Australian fishing zones — across the entire subantarctic Kerguelen Plateau.

Principle Investigator for the project and Australian Antarctic Division fisheries scientist, Dr Dirk Welsford, said that there was increasing evidence that Patagonian toothfish are part of a ‘metapopulation’ that spans both countries’ Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs).

‘This means it’s important that France and Australia combine and analyse their data on toothfish stocks — their movement, behaviour, biology and ecology — to ensure that stock assessment models capture fisheries data that spans these boundaries, rather than simply data obtained from within them,’ Dr Welsford said.

The new project will develop tools (mathematical models for assessing stock status) to enable resource managers and decision makers in both countries to better understand the impacts of harvesting toothfish in their respective EEZs.

The project will also provide data that enhances the current understanding of the biology and ecology of Patagonian toothfish in the Kerguelen Plateau region, and determine the ages of fish that are being caught by the fishery. This will help refine strategies for maintaining the reproductive success of the stock.

‘Our fishery is changing from mainly trawling to mainly longlining, and each method captures different sized and aged fish,’ Dr Welsford said.

‘This project aims to modernise our assessment methods to take account of these changes and to develop new technologies and methods to maintain best practice in sustainable fisheries management in the region.’

The project builds on a long history of collaboration between Australia and France, who have been working together to eliminate illegal fishing in the Kerguelen Plateau region for more than a decade. Government and industry initiatives directed by both countries and through the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), saw illegal activity within the EEZ boundaries decline to zero in 2007.

In 2012 the Australian toothfish fishery received the Marine Stewardship Council tick of approval, confirming that the fishery is successfully implementing the principles of global best practice. In April 2013 the fishery again received recognition for its sustainable practices with a ‘best choice’ label from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program.

Today, the Patagonian toothfish fishery is worth over $25 million a year and constitutes one of the largest catches of toothfish in the Southern Ocean.

Wendy Pyper
Corporate Communications, Australian Antarctic Division