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10 February 2009

Better protection for gemfish and school shark in eastern waters

The eastern Australian population of gemfish (eastern gemfish) and school shark have been placed in the conservation dependent category on the national threatened species list.

Environment Minister Peter Garrett and Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Tony Burke last week announced the inclusion of the two species on the list at the recommendation of the Threatened Species Scientific Committee.

The listing will not prohibit the fish from being caught in low levels as bycatch, but fishing must be conducted in accordance with the management plans developed by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA).

AFMA has developed comprehensive strategies to rebuild stocks, in line with the Commonwealth Harvest Strategy Policy.

Gemfish

Gemfish. Image courtesy of the NORFANZ partners - the Australian Government's Marine Division and CSIRO and New Zealand's Ministry of Fisheries and NIWA.

Mr Garrett said the two species were eligible for the category as they had undergone severe population declines in the past but were currently subject to robust fisheries management measures designed to rebuild their stocks.

“The eastern gemfish and the school shark have both previously suffered severe declines in their populations. The committee has evaluated the current fisheries management strategies for these species and found they are sufficient to prevent further decline of the species and support their recovery,” Mr Garrett said.

“While it's encouraging that the management measures in recent years have helped to stop their decline, with populations still very low, their inclusion on the list is warranted.

“I would like to acknowledge the cooperation of the fishing industry in the development of the management plans and look forward to its ongoing support.”

Neither eastern gemfish nor school shark are targeted by commercial fishers, but are taken incidentally while fishing for other species.

Mr Burke said that the listing of these species showed that the Government was serious about fisheries sustainability. “The Australian Government will continue to work with the fishing industry to ensure that families can enjoy fresh, locally caught fish,” Mr Burke said.

“Commercial fishers around Australia recognise the need to maintain fish stocks and have adopted new technology to help reduce unwanted bycatch.

“Fishers have implemented a number of measures over the years to reduce incidental catch and it is pleasing to note that initial evidence suggests the eastern gemfish is recovering under existing management arrangements.

“Importantly the public can still buy gemfish and school shark from the fish markets or fish shop, particularly since western stocks of gemfish are not considered to be under threat.”

Leatherback turtle listed as endangered

The world's largest sea turtle will receive a greater level of protection under Australian environment legislation, Environment Minister Peter Garrett has announced.

Leatherback turtle

Leatherback turtle. Image courtesy of the Queensland Environmental Protection Agency.

Mr Garrett said the leatherback turtle would be added to the national threatened species list, along with a host of other ecological communities and species including nine snail species, four shrubs, three orchids, and Bornemissza's stag beetle. He said the leatherback turtle had been uplisted from vulnerable to endangered.

“The uplisting of the leatherback turtle to the endangered category is mainly due to the ongoing threats the turtle faces from unsustainable harvesting of egg and meat and pressures from commercial fishing outside Australian waters,” Mr Garrett said.

“Leatherback adults average around 1.6 metres in length and weigh from around 250 to 700 kilograms and are found in tropical and temperate waters around Australia off the south Queensland and New South Wales coasts and off Western Australia's coast, south of Geraldton.”

Mr Garrett said the Australian Government was currently reviewing the Recovery Plan for Marine Turtles in Australia, and where appropriate, the revised plan would include more stringent measures to reflect the changes to the turtle's conservation status.

The conservation advice for all listings can be found on the department's web site at: www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/index.html

Mermaid wreck heritage protected

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Peter Garrett has declared a protected zone around the wreck of the historic HM Colonial Schooner Mermaid recently discovered off Flora Reef in Queensland.

Divers on the Mermaid.

Divers Jenni Mullen (Silentworld Foundation) and Warren Delaney (Maritime Archaeological Association of Queensland), members of the Australian National Maritime Museum expedition, record details of HMCS Mermaid's kedge anchor. Image courtesy of Xanthe Rivett.

The Minister made the announcement during a visit to the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney, the home of the maritime archaeological team that discovered the wreck on 5 January 2009.

“The Mermaid was built in 1816 and is an important part of our Australian story the ship became famous when it was used by Lieutenant Phillip Parker King RN in the 1820s to survey parts of the Australian coastline,” Mr Garrett said.

“Lieutenant King circumnavigated the Australian mainland in the HMC Mermaid, conducting the first reliable survey of the Great Barrier Reef Inner Route and eventually opening this passage to commercial traffic.

“The Mermaid was wrecked on 13 June 1829 and was later sighted by HMS Crocodile in 1830 on a reef six nautical miles east of Frankland Reefs in the northern Great Barrier Reef.

“The original description of the wreck's location formed the basis for the search area which led to the wreck's remarkable discovery on the southern side of Flora Reef almost 180 years later.

“Although much of the small survey ship has long disintegrated into the ocean floor, a small kedging anchor, anchor chain, compass components and iron barrel rings continue mark the presence of this great ship.

“The protected zone put in place under the Australian Government's Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976, will control access at this site so that it can continue to be a part of Australia's heritage.

“The Historic Shipwrecks Act protects Australia's historic shipwrecks and is administered by the Australian Government in cooperation with the States and Territories. The Act gives legal protection to the shipwreck and its relics from damage, disturbance or removal.”

Nationally significant shipwreck relics are also protected under the Australian Government's Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986.

Mr Garrett also announced that the Australian Government was reviewing vital legislation governing objects of significant cultural heritage importance, including artefacts and relics of shipwrecks.

“The Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986 and attendant regulations are being reviewed for the first time in 13 years,” he said.

“In consultation with the public, we'll be finding out how effectively the Act has been operating.

“An important aspect of the review is that it will consider the operation of the National Cultural Heritage Account, which assists public institutions to buy nationally significant items they could not otherwise afford.

“The Act and Regulations mean significant items deemed to be of cultural and artistic significance cannot be exported without a permit.

“And the valuable work of the National Cultural Heritage Account means the Australian public's exposure to these artefacts and artworks here at home can be ensured.

“The review invites public submissions until 6 March 2009, to ensure consideration of a wide range of views.

“It is vital we preserve Australia's historic shipwrecks and their artefacts, as they are often the only windows to understanding important aspects of our vast maritime heritage. Currently there are over 7000 shipwrecks that are protected under the Historic Shipwrecks Act including the prestigious HMAS Sydney II and German raider HSK Kormoran off the coast of Western Australia.”

New monitoring program for Ningaloo's corals and fish

Ningaloo Marine Park's coral and fish will be monitored by a new program being set up this month.

Pink anemone fish at Ningaloo.

Pink anemone fish at Ningaloo Marine Park. Image courtesy of Tourism Western Australia.

Researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and the Western Australian Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) have left Perth to trial the program as part of work being carried out for the Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI).

Team leader Dr Martial Depczynski from AIMS said scientific consensus from around the world was that coral reefs were threatened by a number of different sources and phenomena, including climate change, and that tight monitoring programs were vital to their management.

“I am pleased that a recruitment monitoring program is now being established for coral reef fishes and corals at Ningaloo, which is one of the most beautiful natural resources in Australia,” he said.

Each year, researchers will be able to monitor fish and coral influxes into Ningaloo Marine Park's reefs by looking at baby fish and coral recruits at a number of sites.

Dr Depczynski said the team would establish long-term monitoring sites inside and outside the marine park's sanctuary zones and have the ability to annually measure changes in the size, timing and reproduction rates of coral and fish.

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