Fifty years of sustained production from the Australian abalone fisheries
Mayfield, S and Mundy, C and Gorfine, H and Hart, AM and Worthington, D, Fifty years of sustained production from the Australian abalone fisheries, Reviews in Fisheries Science, 20, (4) pp. 220-250. ISSN 1064-1262 (2012) [Refereed Article]
The sustained production of abalone from the five state-managed (Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales, and Western Australia) Australian abalone fisheries has contrasted with many of those elsewhere that exhibited rapid and sustained declines in production. Australian abalone fisheries are significant at local, regional, state, national, and international scales. Key attributes are (1) harvesting, processing, and reinvestment of profits occur away from major metropolitan centers; (2) they are among the most valuable wild-catch species in all states; (3) the combined Australian abalone harvest in 2011 (>4,500 t) had a landed value of ∼AU$200M and represented 15% of the Australian total wild-catch production; and (4) this level of production made these fisheries the dominant contributor (60%) to global wild-catch abalone production. Unlike many other abalone fisheries, total catches were controlled by limited entry, quotas, size limits, and geographic boundaries, overseen by stringent compliance regimes, early in their history. Subsequently, state-based research programs, explicitly tasked with providing scientific advice to support management decisions, undertook assessments to match harvests with stock productivity. This information upon which to base management decisions contributed to long-term (>20 years) stable harvests and enabled relationships among stakeholders to develop around consideration of the information and advice for management. In general, rights-holders developed stewardship for the resource, and this has led to numerous important outcomes, including evolving resource co-management and a nationally representative industry entity, the Abalone Council of Australia. The Abalone Council of Australia, state-based industry entities, and ongoing relationships among rights-holders, fishery managers, and researchers play vital roles in addressing and overcoming current and impending challenges for these fisheries. These difficulties include (1) urban encroachment into coastal regions (the so-called "sea change" phenomenon); (2) a growing interest in access to the abalone resource, reflecting the increasing, culturally diverse Australian population; (3) the ever-present threat of illegal fishing; (4) recent total allowable commercial catch reductions, particularly in Victoria and New South Wales, to facilitate stock rebuilding; (5) changing market conditions; (6) declining profitability from increasing operational costs and appreciation of the Australian dollar; and (7) environmental changes, such as prolonged drought and warmer seas associated with shifts in climate. Overall, this review demonstrates that abalone can be harvested sustainably over extended periods, despite aspects of their demography that suggest higher vulnerability to overexploitation, providing the management systems that control harvesting activities and external impacts that encompass several key underpinning elements. This review also identifies likely challenges to sustained production and shows that the future of these stocks and fisheries will require proactive strategies to mitigate current threats to sustainability and to maintain economically viable productivity.