CSIRO says commercial fish-stocks in Australia are not in decline

After the University of Tasmania published the “Edgar paper” - a study that claimed Australia's commercial fishing stocks had declined by 31 per cent over the last 10 years, has been debunked by CSIRO Senior Research Scientist of Oceans & Atmosphere, Richard Little.

“We reject the claim made by Edgar, Ward, and Stuart‐Smith (2018) that Australian fish stocks are rapidly declining. Extrapolating survey results from shallow inshore areas to the continental shelf and slope is invalid, and the broader examination of Australian fisheries involves analytical deficiencies and factual errors,” writes Little.

Little's paper continues: “In Australia, for example, catches of one of Australia's most valuable finfish fisheries (blue grenadier) decreased by more than 50% from 2013 to 2016. The large reduction in this Marine Stewardship Council‐certified fishery can be attributed to a single vessel not fishing, and not a decline in abundance.”

Seafood Industry Australia has issued a statement, saying Australia’s professional fishers adhere to strict regulations and monitoring to ensure we maintain healthy stocks.

“The ‘Edgar paper’ caused significant stress to Australia’s commercial fishers and was widely used to try to discredit Australia’s sound fisheries management and influence political debate," says SIA CEO Jane Lovell. "Let us be clear, Australia’s commercial fish-stocks are not in decline. In fact, for the fifth consecutive year Australia’s Commonwealth-managed fisheries have been listed as not subject to overfishing by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences. This is something our wild-catch fishers are very proud of, and is unprecedented internationally.”

Despite these findings, commercial fish-stocks are in decline globally. In 2018 the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations published that global fish consumption has increased by 67 per cent in the last 50 years. The World Economic Forum also reported that “nearly 90% of the world’s marine fish stocks are now fully exploited, ( i.e. "maximally sustainably fished") overexploited or depleted,” with 61 per cent being “fully fished” and 29 per cent “over fished”.

It's clear that chefs and consumers should be looking to source more sustainable seafood, from sustainable farms or fish caught on a line rather than a trawler.