Posted on 01 June 2010
South Australia’s Spencer Gulf prawn fishery will undergo the world’s most rigorous environmental assessment for fisheries in the hope of becoming the first sustainable prawn fishery in Australia.
If successful, it will give consumers the chance to buy Australian prawns bearing the Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) logo - an environmentally friendly alternative to all other prawns available on the market.
“The Spencer Gulf prawn fishery is already a real industry leader when it comes to sustainability, not just in Australia but globally,” said Alfred Schumm WWF’s Global Smart Fishing Initiative Leader.
“All over the world we’ve seen overfishing and poor regulation lead to the collapse of fish stocks and the industries that rely on them. The fishermen working in the Spencer Gulf know that to have a viable industry in the future, they need to be environmentally sustainable now.”
The Spencer Gulf prawn fishing industry has already taken difficult but voluntary steps to improve its environmental credentials. Measures such as at-sea research into stock levels; compliance to make sure skippers are adhering to best practice; co-management between industry, researchers and regulators and voluntary area closures have enabled this fishery to sustain its operations over several decades.
As a result, fishing vessel numbers have remained constant at 39 since 1979, while other fisheries have seen operators forced to leave the industry due to untenable practices.
“The industry’s proactive stance on sustainability has meant catch levels have remained stable. It’s highly likely there will be a viable industry for decades to come, one which will continue to provide jobs and a healthy ecosystem,” said Mr Schumm.
The Spencer Gulf fishery has the world’s largest known population of western king prawns and is worth over AUD $40 million annually to local fishermen.
Karen Hollamby from the Spencer Gulf & West Coast Prawn Fisherman’s Association Inc said the local industry would continue to improve its environmental performance.
“It’s great to be undergoing a process where an independent third party may also recognise our commitment. The Association will continue to strive for improvements in the fishery that enhance environmental performance and also attract better returns for fishers.”
The assessment for MSC certification may take up to 12 months while an independent assessment team analyses every element of the fishery - including gear types, impacts of operations on the ecosystem and the health of prawn stocks - in order to score the fishery against the MSC standard.
Australia & New Zealand Marine Stewardship Council Manager Patrick Caleo said he was pleased by recent moves towards MSC and expected to see strong demand for sustainable seafood.
“I hope this encourages other fisheries interested in demonstrating their sustainability using a credible, science-based third-party assessment to come forward and seek MSC certification.”
WWF-Australia’s Peter Trott said the conservation organisation was working with the local industry and helping to fund the fishery’s assessment for MSC certification, as an example to the entire fishing industry.
“We really welcome the chance to establish the Spencer Gulf fishery as a blueprint for sustainability. MSC assessment will also mean the industry can continue to improve its environmental credentials.”