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Australia’s fisheries and aquaculture scientists punch above their weight

Australian researchers in fisheries and aquaculture punch above their weight when it comes to research publications, according to a submission by chief scientist Ian Chubb to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Agriculture, Resources, Fisheries and Forestry on 11 June.

Chubb and his team found that Australia’s fisheries and aquaculture researchers accounted for 370 research publications in 2010, or 8 per cent of global scientific publications in that field, and the impact “ranks them above world standard”.

The report entitled ‘The Role of Science for Fisheries and Aquaculture’ also found that Australia has 531 full time equivalent staff in fisheries and aquaculture research. Most are employed in State and Territory, as well as Commonwealth agencies, with only 19 per cent employed at the nation’s universities. The university-based scientists, however, are “successful in attracting more than their proportional share (based on FTE) of research income from national competitive grants schemes”, Chubb concluded.

But the chief scientist’s report also warned of declining funding. Citing figures from Rural Development Services Australia, Chubb said that during the period 2004/05 to 2008/09 the total investment in scientific research within fisheries and aquaculture, excluding investment in legislative requirements, had declined by 7 per cent in real terms.

Falling enrollments of PhD students also means that “research capacity presently existing in the fisheries and aquaculture research work force cannot be sustained,” the report said. It is in the national interest that “the looming capacity deficit” be addressed, the chief scientist concluded his findings.