Destructive Fishing Practices


Recreational fishers in general try to ‘do the right thing’ and care about the fish and environments they fish in. Sometimes due to a lack of awareness, bad habits picked up from our elders or peers or just plain laziness we do employ fishing practices that are damaging to the fishing we love and the environment that supports us.

Commercial fishers are in the same boat (metaphorically speaking) and if you ask the average commercial fisher if they care for the environment and fish stocks they will answer that they do. Damaging fishing practices are still widespread in the Australian fishing industry. Economic pressures, lack of awareness and an outdated ‘endless resource’ mentality (often passed down from previous generations of pro fishers) contribute to the continued use of destructive fishing practices. A major effort is required to educate and regulate to stamp out the madness.

Photo: Blast fishing on a tropical reef, (c) 2004 Berkley White/Marine Photobank


The Outcomes Statement of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, held in Johannesburg in 2002, contains a commitment to phasing out destructive fishing practices in the marine environment by the year 2012. Australia supported this statement, as did all other nations attending the Summit. Many nations had made commitments to end destructive fishing practices much earlier. In 1999, 124 nations explicitly gave their support to the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries 1995 through the Rome Declaration on Responsible Fisheries. The list of these nations includes Australia. However, while the Code of Conduct contains a commitment to end destructive fishing practices, the Code (naturally enough) contains no time-lines. The narrowest definition of destructive fishing practices might refer principally to bottom trawling over vulnerable habitat (deep sea corals, for example), practices such as shark finning, along with blast fishing and poison fishing. These latter practices are thankfully not significant within the Australian fishing zone.white shark


Photo: Protected White shark killed in fishing net, Ron and Valerie Taylor

A wider and more useful definition would include:

• overfishing beyond reasonable recovery limits ;

• damaging levels of bycatch ;

• the fishing of spawning aggregations ; and

• bottom trawling over vulnerable habitat .

This definition could be extended to cover activities such as:

• ghost fishing by lost or discarded gear (at present Australian fishers have no legal obligation to recover lost gear, or to identify gear subject to loss),

• shark netting of popular swimming beaches (with high incidental catch),

• amateur use of fish aggregating devices where they increase the likelihood of unsustainable catch levels,

• spearfishing at night or with SCUBA ,

• use of stainless steel hooks; and

• deliberate (and sometimes illegal) destruction of marine life perceived as “getting in the way” of fishing operations.

Photo: Tasmanian Orange Roughy and bycatch, Stephen McGowan, Australian Maritime College, 2006/Marine Photobank

All these activities, in one form or another, continue in the Australian Fishing Zone under the regulation of either AFMA or State fisheries management agencies, or both. A notable example of destructive deep sea trawling associated with unsustainable bycatch is the orange roughy fishery over the Cascade Plateau in south-eastern Australia. However, Australia has taken a lead in addressing particular damaging fishing practices (DFP’s), such as albatross bycatch, for example (through the CSIRO). The FRDC has also taken an interest in scientific research on some DFPs. Policy change within fisheries agencies: Fisheries management agencies around the world have a history of moving slowly, often very slowly, to accommodate changes in both science and community attitudes (Hilborn 1992, Ludwig et al. 1993, Cochrane 2000)