Ecological risk assessment of trawling

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is managed as a multiple-use area. It is important that activities conducted are ecologically sustainable to ensure the Reef’s long-term protection.

In 2009, a need was identified to better understand the impacts of the East Coast Otter Trawl Fishery, and identify any sustainability concerns. Therefore, a comprehensive and robust risk assessment of this fishery in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park has been completed.

The ecological risk assessment has been a collaborative project between the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), Fisheries Queensland, and Queensland Seafood Industry Association (QSIA) with input from fishers, managers, scientists and others.

Positive steps have been, and are being, taken by trawl fishers to reduce the risks from trawling to the species, seabed communities and habitats of the Great Barrier Reef Region. For example, mandatory use of turtle excluder devices throughout the otter trawl fishery for the last decade has greatly reduced the incidental catch of loggerhead turtles and other large animals such as sharks.

The assessment has updated understanding of the risks from trawling in the Great Barrier Reef. This understanding allows focused efforts to reduce risks where necessary.

Key findings from the assessment include:

  • Risks from trawling have reduced in the Great Barrier Reef Region since the introduction of a fishery management plan in 1999 and subsequent management actions.
  • Marine Park zoning has been important in reducing risks from trawling.
  • Commercial fishers have been proactive in seeking and using better fishing practices to reduce trawling impacts.
  • Current risk levels from trawling activities in the Region are generally low. Under current practices and based on 2009 effort levels the overall ecological risks from trawling to harvested species and to the broader environmental values and integrity are low.
  • Some specific risks from trawling remain. High risks were identified for 11 species of skates and rays and two species of sea snakes and a poorly known upper continental slope habitat in the southern Great Barrier Reef Region.
  • Trawl fishing effort is a key driver of ecological risk. Risks may increase if fishing effort levels increase.

Where to from here?

Managers and fishers will continue to work together in partnership to prioritise and address the remaining risks. Many of the identified risks could potentially be further reduced through targeted improvements in areas such as effort management and bycatch reduction.

The Ecological Risk Assessment of the East Coast Otter Trawl Fishery in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park consists of:

  • Summary report: Provides a condensed overview and the key findings of the ecological risk assessment.
  • Technical report: Presents the key steps in undertaking the ecological risk assessment of the fishery and includes discussion and implications of the findings.
  • Data report: Supporting volume containing datasheets from the assessment.