The Bass Strait Central Zone Scallop Fishery (BSCZSF) is widely regarded as one of the best managed commercial fisheries in Australia.
Prior to 2009 the fishery was closed for a number of years to allow for stock rebuilding, to reduce fishing effort and to develop an approved Harvest Strategy. The fishery reopened for the 2009 season on a very conservative Total Allowable Catch and with boat numbers reduced from a high in the 1980s of 120 boats to only 18 boats.
The fishery now has a Federal government approved management plan and Scallop Harvest Strategy along with rotational harvesting practises which ensure that growing stocks are protected for the future.
All vessels in the fishery are equipped with satellite based vessel monitoring systems and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, researchers and industry work closely together to ensure the sustainability of the fishery and to maximise the economic returns.
Last year AFMA and industry negotiated with two organisations that intended to conduct seismic surveys in Bass Strait.
One company to their credit agreed to relocate seismic transect lines away from the Eastern Protected Scallop Area to ensure scallop stocks were not impacted.
Another organisation based in Victoria arrogantly ignored repeated requests to keep away from the two major protected scallop areas and earlier this year conducted a two month intensive 2D seismic program over a wide area of Bass Strait.
When the scallop harvesting season got underway around mid June this year it was immediately apparent that the very valuable scallop stocks had been impacted and were dying or newly dead at a time when they should be in peak condition.
The Western and Eastern Protected Scallop Areas have been devastated apparently by the seismic activity resulting in at least 70% of dead scallops in both beds and the remaining resource in a very weak condition and most likely to die in the next few months.
Climate change is not believed to be a reason for the mortality as water temperatures have been normal all year and routine testing of scallops has revealed no sign of disease.
The estimated loss of around 24000 tonnes of scallops with a retail value in excess of $70M will have a significant effect on the regional economies of both Victoria and Tasmania.
It is believed intense and repeated seismic air gun booms may have caused scallops to take flight with repeated startle responses exhausting them to the point of delayed mortality.
A number of age classes are affected so age does not appear to be a factor and other shellfish including oysters, razor clams, dog cockles, mussels and doughboy scallops in the same areas have also died.
The impact of seismic on scallop spat and juvenile scallops is not known but it is expected that it has resulted in total mortality.
Significantly in the last week it has been confirmed that known scallop stocks in Bass Strait north east of Flinders Island that were not in the path of seismic activity are in excellent condition just as we would normally expect at this time of the year.
Following a meeting yesterday of concerned scallop fishermen from both Victoria and Tasmania, fishermen have decided on the following course of action –
* To seek legal advice on compensation for the destruction of the fishery and for the loss of 24000 tonnes of scallops valued at around $70M along with future potential earnings,
* To seek to establish a collaborative research project with the Tasmanian Aquaculture and Fisheries Institute, Curtin University and other experts to study and measure the effects of seismic on unrestrained wild scallops and other shellfish, and
* To communicate with Federal Ministers and the Premiers of Victoria and Tasmania seeking to immediately stop all seismic activity in Bass Strait and coastal Victoria and Tasmania until means of mitigating the impact of seismic activity on scallop stocks and the benthic community have been developed.
Map of where the seismic surveys have been carried out most recently….