Two small research areas that were closed to rock lobster fishing, so that researchers could investigate the Centrostephanus urchin barrens that threaten much of Tasmania's rocky reef systems, are at risk of being opened to fishing even while they remain vital to the fight against the destruction of reef habitat and important fisheries. Centrostephanus barrens currently represent the greatest threat to Tasmanian reefs and recreational abalone and rock lobster fishing.
The recent finding of a giant jellyfish on a beach south of Hobart (Howden, February 2014) highlights the exciting fact that there are still things in nature, and the ocean in particular, that we know little about. The jellyfish was measured 1.5m in diameter and it has been confirmed as the most rarely seen of the three species of lion’s mane jellyfish found in Tasmania. The lion's mane can grow to be one of the largest of all jellyfish. Although not deadly, the species will deliver a nasty sting and a cold pack should be used to reduce the pain.
In August 2012 the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Tony Burke, decided to list the ecological community ‘Giant kelp marine forests of south east Australia’, as endangered under the Environment Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The listing recognises the severe decline, up to 98% in the case of one population, in the area of sea floor covered by giant kelp forests off Tasmania, which has been a cause of concern among scientists and conservationists for more than a decade.1 The original nomination in 2009, by Humane Society International, specified giant kelp forests in Tasmanian waters, but the listing also covers the occurrence of the community off Victoria and South Australia.
The TCT stated today that the decision by the Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke that the proposed doubling of the area of fish farms in Macquarie Harbour did not significantly impact the endangered Maugean Skate and the Tasmanian World Heritage Area, and therefore did not require assessment, is incorrect and constitutes an abandonment of his responsibilities.
While the TCT is pleased with the expansion of the previously tiny marine reserves at Ninepin Point and Tinderbox in 2009, it is disappointing that, under the Labor–Green government, no new reserves have been created or proposed.
I wrote an article for the August 2010 Tasmanian Conservationist about the renewed push to bring a large freezer trawler into Australian waters, and the threats posed by this type of factory ship to fish stocks, other marine life and the marine ecosystem. This industry proposal is now well advanced and appears to have the support from the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA).
The annual CCAMLR Commission meeting finished in Hobart in early November – that’s the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, the international body with a conservation mandate for controlling relevant activities in the Southern Ocean, with its Secretariat based in Hobart. I had the privilege of representing Australian conservation organisations on the Australian government delegation, as I have done for the last few years.
The review process for the Tasmanian rock lobster fishery is nearing its final stages. Unfortunately it looks as if DPIPWE has learned nothing from the community consultation process, has ignored some obvious solutions to some obvious problems, and is overseeing the demise of this once iconic fishery.
A proposal by salmon farmer Tassal to increase the size of its Soldiers Point farm in the D'Entrecasteaux Channel renews concerns about the environmental impacts of fish farming, loss of access to publicly owned waterways and the planning process that regulates the Tasmanian aquaculture industry. A recent hearing of the Marine Farming Planning Review Panel highlighted these concerns.
Since 2000, the TCT (initially with the Marine & Coastal Community Network) has been running a series of projects focusing on the conservation of Tasmania's offshore islands. Most of these are weeding projects, removing African boxthorn from the Furneaux Group of Islands. Other weeds have also been tackled, in different regions of Tasmania, including sea spurge and Cape Leuwin wattle.
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.
The rock lobster fishery is one of the most lucrative and well-resourced and managed fisheries in Tasmania, and yet it is on the verge of calamity, and no one seems particularly keen to do anything about it.This is not the first time that the rock lobster fishery has been in crisis. In the 1990s a new quota system was introduced in an attempt to make the commercial fishery more sustainable and more economically viable. Until a few years ago this appeared to be working and the biomass was slowly increasing, despite the catch being set at an optimistically high level.