Friday, 6 October 2017

Plenty of fish in the sea? Not necessarily, as history shows

October 4, 2017 by Anna Clark, The Conversation

Australia has had tens of thousands of years of fisheries exploitation. That history reveals a staggering natural bounty, which has been alarmingly fragile without proper management. The current debate over the federal government's new draft marine park plans is the latest chapter of this story.

Early accounts described what we can only read today as some sort of fishing Eden. The sea floor off the west coast of Tasmania was carpeted red with crayfish. Extraordinary schools of Australian salmon swelled the beaches of southern Australia—from Albany right around to Port Macquarie. Mountains of mullet migrated annually up the east coast of the continent.
Colonial writers described huge hauls of fish, caught using nets they had brought over on the First Fleet. One catch in 1788 was so large, wrote David Collins, the colony's newly minted Judge-Advocate, that it actually broke the net. Collins speculated that if the haul had been landed, the entire catch could "have served the settlement [of over 1000] for a day".

Like colonial fishers on the coast, inland explorers such as John Oxley were struck by the paradox of Australia's natural world. The land seemed barren and unsuited for pastoralism, he observed in 1817, yet the water teemed with life. In less than an hour, one of his party "caught 18 large fish, one of which was a curiosity from its immense size and the beauty of its colours," wrote Oxley. "It weighed entire 70 pounds [31kg]."

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