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Maintain or modify — alternative views of managing critical fisheries habitat — how much can we lose?

Poiner, I.R., Conacher, C.A. and Loneragan, N.R. (1993) Maintain or modify — alternative views of managing critical fisheries habitat — how much can we lose? In: Sustainable Fisheries through Sustaining Fish Habitat, Australian Society of Fish Biology, Workshop, 12 - 13 August, Victor Harbor, South Australia

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Recently fisheries management in Australia has shifted to emphasise management of resources within the principles of ecologically sustainable development. This has resulted in management to sustain fish stocks, maximise economic efficiency when harvesting those stocks, and a trend towards granting property rights to the fishers. To achieve the goal of management to sustain fish stocks, a major focus of fisheries agencies has been to preserve the critical habitats upon which the long-term productivity of the fisheries depends. For penaeid prawns this has meant that seagrass (tiger prawns), and mangroves (banana prawns) have achieved special status to fishers, fisheries biologists, managers and legislators. Is this justified? Is this the appropriate management strategy to preserve critical fisheries habitat? We examine these questions using two case studies: cyclones, seagrasses and tiger prawns in the Gulf of Carpentaria and king prawns in the Peel-Harvey estuarine system in Western Australia.

It is clear that a greater understanding of the key processes operating in the coastal zone is a critical requirement for fisheries management. It is not enough to just map, monitor and maintain subsets of these systems based on coarse distribution and abundance studies of prawn populations. With increasing pressure on the coastal zone from competing interest groups, fisheries managers need a greater understanding of the factors which determine the carrying capacity of nursery habitats for juvenile penaeid prawns, and the factors which limit the distribution of key fisheries habitats within coastal ecosystems. Fisheries scientists and managers need to develop the knowledge base and management procedures for the implementation of ecosystem management.

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