Minister delays protection for orange roughy for third time
Federal Environment Minister, Senator Ian Campbell, has for the third time delayed his decision over whether or not to list orange roughy as a threatened species as per a nomination from Humane Society International in 2003. The delays follow a well-worn strategy in the treatment of commercially fished species that qualify for threatened species protection.
Under the Act the Minister is only allowed to take the species conservation status into account and therefore if there are political reasons for not listing a species, a Minister must either find a clever excuse not to list the species that can be construed as being related to its conservation status, or he can keep postponing the decision infinitum. In his media release the Minister says his Threatened Species Scientific Committee has told him there are serious concerns regarding the long term conservation of the species.
Humane Society International nominated orange roughy for an endangered listing in 2003, after it was clear that the species was in trouble. Current biomass levels are at least under 20% of pre-exploitation levels and as low as 7% in some areas. For many years the Australian Fisheries Management Authority mismanaged the species, setting quotas that were far too high to constrain the catch and overfishing continued.
Orange roughy which aggregates along deep sea mountains can live for up to 150 years and has a low reproductive rate, which makes this fish very vulnerable to overfishing.
In a positive step the Commonwealth Government agreed to reduce the orange roughy quota to zero from next year in three of the four orange roughy fishing zones in the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery, but trawling of the fourth Cascade Plateau zone will continue.
HSI nominated orange roughy for protection as a threatened species in June 2003. According to statutory timelines a decision should have been due 15 months later in September 2004, just before the last election. In February 2004 the Minister gave the Threatened Species Scientific Committee an extension to provide him with advice on the listing until 2 July 2005. Then on 22 February 2005, he issued them with a further extension until 2 January 2006. Today, he has asked the Committee to further analyse the species conservation status and has not specified a new deadline.
Similar delays were experienced in the Minister’s decision making over the listing of southern bluefin tuna and in the end despite scientific evidence that southern bluefin tuna should have been listed as endangered, the Minister found an excuse not to list it. “HSI hopes he has run out of excuses not to list a commercial fish and orange roughy will eventually get the threatened species protection it deserves,” said HSI Wildlife and Habitats Program Manager, Nicola Beynon.
There have also been delays over the listing decisions of eastern gemfish, school shark, Harrison’s dog fish, endeavour dogfish and southern dogfish.