Assessment of the sustainability of Victorian abalone resources

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Many of the world's abalone fisheries have collapsed and in the past 25 years global abalone production has almost halved. Australia now produces 55% of the world's wild abalone and its abalone fisheries are close to, or above, their limits for sustainable yield. Although recruitment over-fishing has generally been singled out as the principal cause of collapse, other factors related to changes in environmental patterns and ecosystem dynamics are also implicated. It is in this context that the central question of this thesis about the sustainability of Victorian abalone populations is posed. The answer to this question would be obvious with the hindsight that follows a collapse, but for a predominantly healthy fishery this is a different proposition. This thesis presents one of the few comprehensive frameworks for abalone resources assessment and sustainable management worldwide. The key elements in the overall governance of the fishery are explored through a compilation of formally published papers and publicly available assessment documents. Topics for these works range from fishery independent abundance surveys, through fishery assessment modelling, biological performance indicators and management strategies to reporting outcomes for ecological sustainability objectives under state and federal legislation. This is done in a mostly quantitative framework that incorporates explicit linkages between assessment and management decision-making processes. Our assessments indicate that the Victorian blacklip resource has been largely sustainable during the past 40 years. The management history of the fishery suggests that this owes much to prudent introduction of a broad range of input and output controls at the behest of industry. However, recent instances of localised depletion, a large but unquantified illegal catch and model predictions of declining mature biomass suggest that there is no room for complacency. In contrast to blacklip, greenlip abalone resources are in need of restorative action and the future existence of a commercial greenlip fishery in Victoria is problematic. It is vitally important that we continue to refine our management, attempt to understand its limitations, address the difficult ecological issues and avail ourselves of emerging technologies that enable greater efficiency and precision in the scale of assessment and management. Finally, having an effective assessment and management framework is insufficient on its own to demonstrate the sustainability of Victorian abalone resources. To properly satisfy legislation for resource sustainability there is a need to document and report the outcomes against specific assessment criteria audited by an independent body on a regular basis. Continued approval to export Victorian abalone overseas is contingent on meeting this requirement.
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