With nearly 1,500 fishing businesses processing wild fish and aquaculture worth $150 million, the seafood industry generates $500 million overall for the New South Wales economy.
Ocean and Estuary fishing
NSW with just over 2.000 kilometres of coastline, has nearly 1.500 fishing businesses. Each year these businesses process 25 million tonnes of wild fish and aquaculture worth $150m, of which $25m is exported. Overall the seafood industry generates $500m for the NSW economy.
Ocean fishing within Australian waters is managed under the Offshore Constitutional Settlement (OCS, 1991), an agreement between the Commonwealth and the States. NSW has jurisdiction over all ocean fishing activities out to 80 n miles (nautical miles, about 150 km) offshore north of Barrenjoey Head and out to 3 n miles (6 km) south of Barrenjoey Head. Beyond that, out to the 200 n mile (370 km) limit, the Commonwealth government has jurisdiction. For example, all tuna taken by longline and purse seine methods are managed by the Commonwealth.
Fishing Activity and Ports
The excellent reputation of the NSW seafood industry depends on fisheries being viable, profitable and sustainable. The industry underpins the economy of many coastal towns providing business and employment. Towns and areas such as Maclean and the Clarence River, the Central Coast, Newcastle, Port Stephens, Coffs Harbour, Wollongong, Nowra and Eden are some of the important commercial fishing ports.
The ocean waters and estuaries of the NSW north coast and mid-north coast are productive. Consequently the ports of Ballina, Iluka, Coffs Harbour, Evans Head and Newcastle are busy, together landing catches over 4,000 tonnes as well as their share of fish caught in Commonwealth waters further off-shore. Nearly 700 people are employed directly in fishing on the coast north of Newcastle.
There are also busy ports on the south coast, especially Eden where the bulk of tuna landed in NSW is brought ashore. The large ocean catch recorded in NSW waters in this zone is supplemented with a large share of the fish caught in the adjacent Commonwealth waters.
Managed NSW Fisheries
There are eight managed fisheries in NSW waters.
Each fishery has a licence to operate (a ‘share’) in a designated fishery or geographic area. Most of these fisheries are divided into zones and the shares are sold separately for each zone but many fishing businesses hold shares in several fisheries. The abalone and lobster fisheries are managed by a quota system.
The total fish and shellfish production of NSW is only 11% of the Australian total. South Australia is the most productive state, with large catches of tuna and other fish, followed by Queensland (prawns and crabs), Tasmania (salmon) and Western Australia (prawns, lobster and scallops). Nevertheless, the range of species caught in NSW is extensive and the pie charts show the top species of fish and shellfish, by quantity.
The “other” category for fish includes 110 other species or sub-species caught in NSW waters. Oysters, although technically aquaculture, are included for comparison.
The NSW aquaculture industry is dominated by oyster farming and this is also the oldest aquaculture industry in the State. Producing around 4,500 tonnes a year, oyster culture is dominated by the Sydney rock oyster. Oyster farming is carried out in all estuaries between Coffs Harbour and Pambula, but the greatest production is concentrated on the mid-north and central coasts, with Port Stephens and Wallis Lake producing over 30% each.
Otherwise, prawn farming produces approximately 240 tonnes for market, and silver perch production has become the most valuable freshwater aquaculture fish product at 200 tonnes.
Fish and Seafood Marketing and Exports
The main fish and seafood exports from NSW in 2007-08 were:
Much of the catch is bought by licensed receivers at the ports of landing, with the remainder being consigned to Sydney Fish Markets, whose annual turnover of fish in 2007-08 was 13,200 tonnes, compared with the total catch landed in NSW for the same year of 25,000 tonnes. However, the Sydney Fish Market also markets fish and seafood produced in other states.
There are six recreational fishery resources: freshwater, estuary, diving, sportfish, charter boat, and game-fish.
Licences are required by the estimated one million anglers in NSW and licence fees go into a trust dedicated to improving recreational fishing. Freshwater recreational species are trout in the highlands and Murray cod and golden perch in the big rivers. Estuary fishing is by far the biggest resource where popular species are bream, flathead, luderick and tailor. Game fishing occurs in deeper waters off shore and the important species targeted are marlin, tuna and sharks.
Recreational fishing in NSW is managed by bag and size limits, restrictions on the type of gear (no fish traps or nets), closed areas and seasons and protected species. In 2002, 30 areas within estuaries were designated as recreational fishing havens where commercial fishing is prohibited.
Exploitation Status of
As a result of increased monitoring since 2001, there has been a steady decrease in the number of key species which are considered to have an uncertain or undefined exploitation status. Most of these additional assessments have determined species to be fully fished (and, in some cases, moderately or lightly fished). Three species are considered to be overfished (gemfish, eastern sea garfish and mulloway), and a regulatory recovery program has now been implemented. Six species are considered to be growth overfished including eastern king prawn, redfish, school prawn, silver trevally, snapper and yellowtail kingfish. Growth overfishing does not necessarily indicate that fishing is unsustainable, rather that harvesting is economically inefficient and that management involves greater risks and costs of monitoring. For many key species that are considered “undefined”, there exists significant reporting issues that will be difficult to resolve without independent observer programs.
Tony Moody, Industry and Investment NSW