Thursday, May 17, 2012

Gemfish Research Paper

Gemfish Research Paper

Gemfish resemble a silver coloured elongated perch with a projecting lower jaw and fanged teeth. They have two large dorsal fins and a sharp snout. Males and females are distinguishable by size. Females are larger, growing up to 116 centimetres, whereas males only reach 106. They are a carnivorous species feeding mainly on fish (Whiptails, Deepwater Cardinalfish) in addition to Royal Red Prawns and squid. The life expectancy of males is 11 years and that of females 16.

The species is a migrating one. The mature individuals make an annual migration up the eastern Australian coast and reach their spawning ground in the Mid North Coast around June or August. Due to this specific time and location of spawning the Eastern Gemfish population is vulnerable to environmental factors. Any change in the conditions in the period of migration could have severe negative effects (Species Profile and Threats Database).


Habitat and Distribution
Gemfish occur off the North- East coast of New Zeeland as well as off the western and southern coast of New Zeeland’s South Island. The other habitat location for the species are Australian temperate waters (South). There are two groups within the Australian population, the eastern and western stocks. The denomination Eastern Gemfish however refers to the eastern Australian population of Gemfish.

The habitat of the fish is the deep continental shelf, but the fish may also be found in mid-water. The main catch is made close to the sea floor. ( Larvae are found in shallow to very shallow waters

Conservation status
The Eastern Gemfish (Rexea solandri) is listed as conservation dependent under Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999. (

Threats and current status of the population
Commercial overfishing is the main threat for the species. Gemfish first experienced a decline in numbers in the 1970 and 80s due to winter overfishing of adult pre -spawning populations (West, 2008). As a result of this a decline in average size and reduced size of the population was noted. These effects brought about a restriction, and Eastern Gemfish became the first species subject to a total allowable catch (TAC) in 1988.

Currently the population is estimated to number 676 000 individuals (Little et al. 2008) with an expected increase in numbers. The estimated percentage of decline since the 1960s is 95%.

Although commercial overfishing is deemed to be the main cause for the vulnerable status of the species it has also been suggested that there may have been a “regime shift” in reproduction, which also contributed to the undermining effect.

Recovery Outline and Implications
Despite declining numbers of the species, there are important social and commercial aspects to be considered. Rexea solandri being of great fishing significance there needs to be a realistic plan considering all parts of the problem and its possible solutions. The advantage of the issue at hand is the fact that the main and almost single problem is commercial fishing. It has been identified, which makes it possible to examine the main aspects and tackle all sides of the issue. The additional concern of the vulnerability of the population during migration is to be considered as well. Specific actions and possible solutions are to be suggested in order to address the problem.

This is an outline of the management responses and actions which need to be taken as a result of the clear threats to the Eastern Gemfish population.

Awareness campaigns
Water quality
Maintaining 100 tons total allowable catch (TAC)
Introduction of sanctions and restrictions(e.g. limit take to 50 kg per trip)
Introduction of period restrictions
Enforce more friendly and selective methods to replace trawl, endeavour dog fish closures
Minimization of discards
Negotiation with the government of New South Wales to protect spawning grounds
Objectives of the recovery plan

The main goal of the recovery actions to be taken is to rebuild the population to 40% of pre-exploitation levels, or to recover the size of the population to 40% of its original size. Secondary goals which will aid in delivering the primary objective are to increase public awareness on water habitat and overfishing issues. Another part of the proposed action is to train and restructure the fishing industry toward more environmentally friendly practices, which will reduce discards, and gradually enforce more friendly methods of fishing as well as reduce discards. The third pole of the plan is the focus on migration vulnerability and spawning ground protection. This will include negotiations with the government of New South Wales and suggested action and best practice exchange.

Specific Actions
Awareness Campaigns
The goal of this step is to raise awareness about the sources of food and more specifically those of seafood and how their overexploitation impacts the environment. The additional aspect of the campaign will be to ensure that people become more familiar with the particular case of the Eastern Gemfish and how it fits into the whole cycle of life in the waters off the coast of Australia. The characteristics of the species make it most suitable to present it to the general public in the context of a food resource, but this does not mean that the biological significance of the species will be ignored. The campaign is to focus on the NGO channels of communication, but support is also expected from the government sector. The public is to be targeted via institutions such as schools, public libraries, etc.

Another point to be included in the awareness campaign is the crucial effect of water quality and cleanliness of the water environment on the species. This concerns industrial producers, the water transportation industry, and many other entities as well as the general public.

100 Tons TAC
The number - 100 tons total allowable catch has been determined as the minimum unavoidable amount to be fished if the industry needs are to be taken into account ( The maintenance of this roof is obviously going to require the enforcement of certain restrictions and the introduction of alternative practices, since the amount of fish caught in the 80s was around triple the target. This implies that overfishing is not necessarily product of excess demand, but rather of inefficient management of the resource.

Measures to be taken in order to maintain this balance include the introduction of new sanctions such as fines and revoking of fishing licenses upon violation. This will also require tighter control and monitoring on behalf of the water management authorities. Suitable guidelines outlining restrictions and sanctions need to be elaborated or amended where already existing.
As already mentioned a crucial factor for the recovery of the species is ensuring its safety during the migration and spawning period. To make a step toward realizing this, it would be necessary to introduce restrictions for the times of year in which fishing of the Gemfish is allowed.

Another action toward maintaining the catch at 100 tons would be the reduction of trawl fishing practices. Through education, restriction and enforcement of sanctions this practice can be minimized and other less harmful ones introduced. This would also reduce the amount of discard of juvenile fish and the harmful effect to the rest of the environment.

Minimisation of discards
In 2003, approximately 115tons of Gemfish were discarded (Eastern Gemfish Stock Rebuilding Strategy – August 2008). These were mostly juvenile fish. This is fatal to the numbers of the population and is certainly not consistent with the effort to increase them. The best way to counteract this problem would be to impose an appropriate mesh size for trawl fishing nets. The 90 mm double-braid codends retain around 50% of the young fish. Increasing the size of the nets would reduce the likelihood of discarding fish which are not yet fit for consumption.

Negotiation with the Government of New South Wales
This is a crucial part of the recovery process of the species. If there is to be continuity of the East Gemfish population there ought to be proper measures to protect the spawning ground of the fish. The environmental and more specifically the water department of the Government of NSW can address the issue most directly and bring into action a plan for ensuring the safety of the spawning ground.

Additional Effects and Considerations
The overall set of actions to be taken when working toward the goals of the recovery plan will aid in bettering not only the chances of the Eastern Gemfish population, but of the water environment as a whole. The introduction of more environmentally friendly fishing methods and restrictions will provide benefits to all species. In addition, the awareness campaign will bring about a better understanding of water issues and the harmful effects of overfishing.
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