Rock Lobster Crisis - Sea Urchin's Unchecked

Over the last three editions of the Tasmanian Conservationist our marine campaigner Jon Bryan has outlined the crisis that exists in the rock lobster fishery and the resulting environmental crisis this has caused, in particular on the east coast of Tasmania. Reduction in numbers of large rock lobster due mainly to over fishing has removed one of the key natural controls on the Centrostephanus sea urchin. With nothing left to control them, these sea urchins have proliferated along most of the east coast removing vital algae species and reducing once bio-diverse rocky reef habitats to barren wastelands.

Earlier this year, Jon Bryan produced the first high-quality video showing the wastelands produced by Centrostephanus and the first presentation was given in Minister for Primary Industries and Water Bryan Green’s office in October. Being able to clearly show the aftermath sea urchins have in an area appears to have an impact on the minister. At the briefing he gave in-principle support to Jon’s suggestion for a roundtable discussion involving all stakeholders (conservationists, scientists, recreational and commercial fishers) to discuss possible solutions to this problem.

We were further heartened by comments made in Parliament that indicated the minister is taking this problem very seriously and will not rely on the normal fisheries review processes to deal with this fisheries and environmental crisis. His comments in parliament however focused on the sea urchins as the problem without referring to the role that fishing had in causing the problem.

As these pests are very difficult to manage and impossible to eradicate, it is clear to me that our response to managing the centrostephanus incursion requires a multifaceted approach.  I am in the process of establishing a forum which I will chair in the new year, bringing together the key fisheries and conservation stakeholders with a view to developing a long-term strategy to manage the impacts of centrostephanus. The forum will provide an opportunity to discuss the scientific research, and allow each key industry participant to contribute and coordinate their own input into managing the sea urchin.  The forum will also help bring together the many threads of work that are already underway. 

Hansard, Tasmanian Parliament, November 2010

On 30 November, Jon Bryan joined with Professor Craig Johnson, Director of the University of Tasmania’s Marine and Antarctic Futures Institute, to give a presentation in Parliament House to Tasmanian Greens and Tasmanian Liberal Party MPs and staff regarding the proliferation of Centrostephanus sea urchin and the links to over-fishing of large rock lobsters.

While none of those present were going to commit to specific action on the spot we believe this was a real eye-opener for all of them and no one was willing to dismiss the seriousness of the problem for both the marine environment and the rock lobster fishery. We have great hope of bipartisan support for action on this issue.

Similar presentations have recently been given to recreational and commercial fisheries management organisations and we believe the momentum is building for serious action to be taken regarding this major environmental and fisheries crisis.

We look forward to the Minister’s invitation to the forum in the new year.

Peter McGlone