Australian marine science suffered from a lack of shared management with our northern neighbours, the Northern Territory’s leading government scientist told a forum at Charles Darwin University on Monday (Sept 25).
Professor Karen Edyvane told the forum that the waters of northern Australian were extremely close to other countries, but we had come to accept the lack of integrated international management of the ocean’s resources.
She said that the marine biodiversity of the northern oceans were shared by four countries that are closer to mainland Australia than Tasmania across Bass Strait, with a continental shelf that is as shallow as 50 metres in some places.
“These countries are incredibly close and the shared waters are rich in marine biodiversity and oil and gas resources,” she said. “Yet we’ve grown to accept that there are no integrated management programs.”
Professor Edyvane said that in the past the Northern Territory Government had no vision for the future of the marine life in its waters, leaving it up to federal authorities to develop management plans.
It was, however, increasingly a Northern Territory responsibility to manage issues such as illegal fishing, sustainability of fish stocks and the conservation of marine life.
Management had been held back until recently by a lack of direction, she said. “There has been a lack of policy and plans, no clear direction for the management of shared areas, and no clear framework for the future.”
Professor Edyvane, who is the principal scientist for the NT Department for Natural Resources, Environment and the Arts (NRETA) said the NT Government had recently begun to realise the need to “look over the horizon” beyond the three nautical mile zone and develop a vision for the future.
“But it is the lack of regional management by the countries that fish these waters that really stands out,” Professor Edyvane said.
She said over-fishing – exacerbated by illegal fishing by Indonesians - constituted one of the biggest problems for Australian authorities.
Research indicated that even if the current levels of fishing for red snapper, for example, remained the same, the stocks would collapse in another two years.
“Our fisheries are vastly overfished,” she said. “We need to how much is being caught, and we need to address huge information gaps in our knowledge of fish habitats.
“Illegal fishing as a fundamental characteristic of the NT coastline, so the problem is not just a federal one”
Professor Edyvane said she had even witnessed the establishment of permanent Indonesian fishing camps on Groote Eylandt, reinforcing the view that illegal fishing was now well-entrenched on the coastline.
She was speaking at a marine science forum on Monday (Sept 25) organised by the Arafura Timor Research Facility. Scientists outlined their research projects as part of a public information session.