WESTERN Australia’s rock lobster fishery – the world’s first Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified fishery – is now the first fishery in the world to be certified as sustainable for a third time, following an independent assessment against the MSC’s standard for sustainable and well-managed fisheries.
Australia’s most valuable single species fishery, worth an estimated $200M per year, the Western Australian rock lobster fishery was first certified back in 2000 and was recertified in 2006. This recertification has again demonstrated – through the rigorous assessment process conducted by Scientific Certification Systems (SCS) – that the rock lobster stocks being targeted are healthy, fishing practices have minimal impact on the marine eco-system and overall the fishery is well managed.
As a result, products from this fishery can continue to bear the blue MSC ecolabel, which assures customers they are from a sustainable and well managed fishery.
Western rock lobsters are found in temperate to subtropical waters off the west coast of Western Australia, stretching from North West Cape in the north through to south of Cape Leeuwin, but are found with greater abundance off the mid-west coast between Geraldton and Perth.
The certification covers the 250 lobster vessels operating in the fishery, which were responsible for catching 5,500mt of western rock lobster in 2010/2011, using baited pots and traps.
The fishery has strict requirements in place including seasonal closures, minimum size requirements and a ban on catching breeding females. Data on the fishery has been kept since the 1960s and enables fisheries scientists to predict catches accurately and ensure that controls are adequate to keep the fishery operating at sustainable levels. Commercial fishers, processors and the Western Australian government work closely together to preserve the fishery’s future.
Products from this fishery are sold to markets in Australia, Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong, China, the USA and Europe.
As a result of the previous actions undertaken as part of its first recertification back in 2006, the fishery has continued to improve upon its environmental performance and management.
These improvements included the decision to move from an input (effort control) to an output (catch quota) management system, which controls the amount of catch fishers are able to take during the commercial season. This decision was made in close consultation with the Department of Fisheries Western Australia because of below-average reproduction rates in the fishery in recent years, and has meant a significant reduction in the volume of lobster taken from the fishery – a reduction of almost half from the 2005/06 catch – to ensure the sustainability of the rock lobster stocks.
A consequence of the introduction of these quota management measures has been a significant reduction in the number of pots being used in the fishery, which in turn has significantly reduced the fishery’s impact on the surrounding ecosystem. The fishery has also introduced Sea Lion Exclusion Devices (SLEDS) to minimise the mortality of sea lions and banned the use of bait bands that can entangle marine animals.
Certification has also significantly improved consultation procedures and communications between the fishery and industry, government and other affected stakeholders, and has helped direct the fishery’s investment in research.
As part of the current certification requirements, a number of further conditions (or required management actions) have been specified to ensure the fishery achieves global best practice across all aspects of its performance.
These conditions relate to the setting of well-defined harvest control rules, the use of data in setting these control rules and the collection of data on the spatial extent of the fishery. These conditions have been agreed by the fishery, and will be met by the second annual audit in November 2013.
Nic Sofoulis, Executive Officer of the Western Rock Lobster Council, says: “There has been a significant improvement in the consultation process as a result of MSC certification with fishers having a significant input and ownership of the changes the industry recently experienced. As a consequence fishers have a better understanding of the sustainability issues. Having a third party accreditation gives the fishers confidence that their fishery will survive and prosper for future generations.”
“Being independently certified to the MSC standard greatly enhances the fishery’s sustainability credentials, as the assessment process is highly rigorous, is transparent, incorporates opportunity for stakeholder input and is subject to peer review. This gives the fishery a great deal of credibility when communicating with government, industry and ENGOs.”