An ecological method for qualitative risk assessment and its use in the management of fisheries in New South Wales
Risk assessment has become a key part of formulating management plans for wild capture fisheries. For fisheries with little or no data, qualitative risk assessment methods are needed. This paper presents such a method. Risk is the likelihood of something happening that will cause a change in the ecosystem as a result of some behaviour or action (in this case, fishing). Using an analysis framework adapted from the Standards Australia/Standards New Zealand 4360 we used a three stage risk assessment that consisted of context (defining the undesirable event we want to avoid for any component of the ecosystem), identification (sources of risk from the activities of a fishery) and characterisation (levels of risk for each species or components of the ecosystem). For each component of an ecosystem (e.g., harvested species of fish, habitats, unwanted catch) different levels of the likelihood of an undesirable event resulting from fishing were determined using a qualitative risk matrix. The matrix combined two unrelated factors. The assessment also identified specific issues that were contributing to a component’s level of high risk. These issues were then addressed in the fishery management plan to lower these levels. The strengths of this qualitative method include its adaptability to a range of different ecosystem components within a fishery (e.g., target species, habitats, threatened species) and the applicability to a wide range of different fisheries. The steps involved and the decision criteria used to determine risk levels are transparent and logical, thus the method is open to scrutiny by stakeholders and is repeatable.
Our paper seeks to demonstrate that a logical, systematic method for qualitative risk assessment provides effective estimates of the likelihood of an undesirable event for input into management plans for any data-poor fishery. This qualitative assessment method provides an important tool for fishery managers and scientists in developing robust management plans where there are minimal data and knowledge about the fishery and its interactions with the ecosystem.