This project aims to assess the vulnerability of and risks to habitats in Australian fisheries in the Australian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)/Australian Fishing Zone (AFZ) of the Southern Ocean to impacts by different demersal gears - trawl, longline and traps. The project which is a collaborative initiative between the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD), the Australian Fisheries Management ... Authority (AFMA), industry and research partners, and substantially funded by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, was developed in order to resolve outstanding questions relating to the potential impacts and sustainability of demersal fishing practices in the AFZ at Heard Island and the McDonald Islands (HIMI). It will also help resolve similar outstanding questions for other fisheries in the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) in which Australian industry participates and provide technology for use in other fisheries to address similar questions.
The proposed project will assess the degree to which demersal gears interact with and possibly damage benthic habitats. It will also assess the degree to which these habitats might be damaged within the AFZ in the HIMI region. The project is not intended to estimate rates of recovery of benthic habitats following damage by demersal gears. However, information from the literature on rates of recovery of different benthic species and habitats will be used to assess the risks of long-term sustainability of these habitats.
To develop deep sea camera technologies that can be easily deployed during fishing operations, to facilitate widespread observations of demersal fishing activities (trawl, longline and trap) and their interactions with benthic environments.
To assess the vulnerability of benthic communities in Sub-Antarctic (Australian AFZ) and high latitude areas of the Southern Ocean (Australian EEZ) to demersal fishing using trawls, long-lines or traps, using video and still camera technologies.
To assess the risk of demersal fishing to long-term sustainability of benthic communities in these areas, based on the assessment of vulnerability and information from the literature on potential recovery of benthic species and habitats.
To recommend mitigation strategies by avoidance or gear modification, where identified to be needed, and practical guidelines to minimise fishing impacts on benthic communities.
Field work for this project is well advanced. Sampling of benthic habitats was conducted off East Antarctica from the AA in the summer season of 2009/10. Sampling yielded biological samples and camera footage over a number of sites spread across a large section of the East Antarctic coast and across a range of benthic habitats, however sampling was limited by the extent of ice and number of ship days (10) allocated (the project was originally planned for 16 ship days and later in the summer, when ice was predicted to be less extensive). The camera units are currently deployed on commercial vessels fishing the sub-Antarctic. The close of the 2010 commercial fishing season in September 2010 will mark the conclusion of field activities for this project.