This report was prepared in close consultation with coral biologists
Drs Done and Veron from the Australian Institute of Marine Science and
Dr Willis of James Cook University. Additional unpublished information
about the fishery and its management was contributed by representatives
from Queensland Fisheries Service, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority,
Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, and three industry representatives.
Queensland's coral harvest fishery is small by international standards,
and is regulated by both input and output controls. Only 25% of the Total
Allowable Catch (TAC) of 200 tonnes is currently harvested, including
approximately 25 tonnes of live coral and 25 tonnes of rubble and "living
rock" (a reef substrate used in aquaria). Estimates of the total value
of the fishery are between AUS $0.5 million and AUS $1 million per year.
Photo: Vicki Harriott
The nature of the fishery in Queensland has changed over the last two
decades with 34 of 36 fishers currently reliant on the sale of live corals
for aquaria. Data indicate that about 60% by weight of live corals and
all the living rock and rubble component of the harvest are for the aquarium
coral market. Two abundant coral taxa are primarily targeted for the ornamental
coral trade, while the aquarium market targets small colonies of a wide
variety of hard coral and soft coral species, as well as the living rock
and rubble component of the harvest.
The small total harvest in the fishery for both live corals and living
rock does not represent a risk to the integrity of the reef system on
either a reef-wide or regional scale. The potential impacts of the coral
harvest fishery are localised and are many orders of magnitude smaller
than those resulting from impacts such as cyclones, coral bleaching and
predation by the crown-of-thorns starfish.
Photo: Vicki Harriott
In recent years, some inshore and mid-shelf reefs of the Great Barrier
Reef have been subjected to high levels of natural impact as a result
of coral bleaching or crown-of-thorns starfish predation. Harvesting of
corals on these reefs should be avoided to assist recovery of the coral
An extensive study in 1985 evaluated the ecological sustainability of
the ornamental coral fishery, and reported that it was sustainable because
the target corals grew rapidly and recruited well, and the fishery was
small and restricted to limited areas. The harvest of these species is
currently lower than it was at the time of the study in 1985.
The species targeted by the aquarium coral industry are generally small
colonies (<15cm diameter) of large-polyped species which survive well
in aquaria. Many of the target species are locally abundant but patchily
distributed. The favoured habitat type for most of these species is deep
(10 - 25m) turbid water. Relatively little detailed information about
distribution and life history is available for some of the target species.
The life history of most corals allows for broad dispersal of their reproductive
products providing for replenishment of populations from nearby reef areas.
Coral colonies also reproduce vegetatively, by budding or from the dispersal
Where there is uncertainty about appropriate and sustainable harvest
levels for particular species, an appropriate management regime should
- species-level analysis of take to provide detailed Catch Per Unit
Effort (CPUE) data;
- protecting a significant percentage of reefs within a region from
- collection of further information about distribution and ecology of
The current industry is supportive of further research on coral fisheries'
species and of more detailed and rigorous monitoring of catch.
The current management regime involves 50 small fixed leases (collection
authorities) that contain few corals suitable for the aquarium trade.
The fact that the current management regime is inappropriate for the fishery
is recognised by both fishers and fisheries managers.
Ecological sustainability and minimisation of impacts on coral communities
is favoured by spreading collection effort over wider areas, rather than
by concentrating the same effort in small areas.
The Total Allowable Catch (TAC) should be reduced to more closely reflect
the current much lower level of catch in the fishery, thus removing latent
effort from the fishery. Separate catch quotas should be set for the living
rock/rubble and live coral component of the fishery.
Roving licences, i.e. collection within the general use zones of the
Marine Park, are favoured by the industry but are opposed by the Great
Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) on the basis of the potential
to increase conflicts between users, difficulty in assessing compliance,
and increased difficulty in monitoring impacts.
Management of the fishery on a whole-reef basis with harvest permitted
on a percentage of general use reefs is likely to be acceptable to both
industry and management. It enhances ecological sustainability and reduces
impacts on reefs by spreading effort over a wider area than allowed under
the present management regime. It is consistent with the objectives of
GBRMPA's Representative Areas Program that aims to zone reefs on a whole-reef
basis. It provides for a large percentage of reefs to remain as replenishment
areas, and allows compliance monitoring and monitoring of environmental
Management of real or perceived conflicts with other reef users is a
significant issue for the fishery. Designation of collection areas must
minimise the risk of conflict. Re-designation of most collection sites
in deeper, turbid locations would benefit the industry and reduce conflicts
with the tourism industry, which seldom uses such areas.
Farming of corals (collection and growth of coral fragments) is encouraged
overseas to increase industry sustainability. Farming of corals from larvae
or fragments, while ecologically feasible, is probably not financially
viable in the current Australian market.
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