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Mythbusters

Myth: Fishing does not pose a threat to the environment.

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Fact: Fishing has a significant impact on our oceans because it literally removes the biomass from marine ecosystems. Excessive fishing that damages stocks is called overfishing. In addition to impacts on stocks, fishing can also impact other species and have knock-on effects on whole marine ecosystems. It is no wonder fishing pressure is recognised by the world's leading marine scientists as one of the biggest challenges to the health of our oceans.

Myth: If a species is overfished it doesn't mean it is threatened with extinction.

Fact: Some overfished species, such as Atlantic and Southern bluefin tunas and several species of Australia's deepwater sharks are threatened with extinction, either regionally or globally. Others, such as Atlantic cod, can be fished down to such low levels that they cease to play a meaningful role in the ecosystem. This is known as ecological extinction.

Myth: All Australian fisheries are sustainable and much better managed than in the rest of the world.

Fact: Recent research has shattered the illusion that Australia's fisheries have somehow escaped the worldwide trend of stressed and over-exploited oceans. One research team assessing the relative sustainability of the top seafood producing nations ranked Australia 31st out of the 53 nations considered. Australia fared better in another paper analysing countries' compliance with the United Nations' Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, placing in the top five. However, Australia still scored less than 60% compliance with the Code. We still have a long way to go until we can claim to have sustainable fisheries.

As some of our fisheries are managed by the Commonwealth Government and some managed by the states and territories, the quality of management varies around our oceans. For more information on the way Australian fisheries are managed, take a look at Australian Fisheries Management – A snapshot.

Myth: Australian fish stocks are healthy and not overfished.

Fact: The last few years have seen a promising general trend of fewer fish stocks being classified as overfished or subject to overfishing in Australia. However, almost one in six stocks in our Commonwealth fisheries continue to be overfished and, for some such as orange roughy, recovery will take decades, possibly even centuries.

Continued uncertainty in stock assessments for many species also needs to be addressed, particularly for high risk and vulnerable species groups such as sharks. The reality is that we are still fishing far too many stocks that we don't know enough about, let alone how this pressure is impacting the fish populations and the seas around them.

How do we bust through the myths?

We need to start viewing the oceans as something more than a food bowl. This shift in our thinking needs to be accompanied by a true 'ecosystem-based approach' to fisheries management.

This means managing fisheries as an integral part of the ecosystem, moving away from destructive fishing methods, stopping fishing vulnerable species and embracing networks of marine national parks as havens from fishing pressure.

Community attitude surveys show time and again that the public wants our oceans better protected. With enough public pressure we can help our marine ecosystems recover and sow the seeds for a truly sustainable fisheries future and truly healthy oceans.