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1. Management of Commonwealth fisheries consistent with principles of ecological sustainable development


AFMA pursues the Commonwealth Policy on sustainable fisheries to minimise fishing-related impacts in a manner consistent with the principles of ecologically sustainable development and with regard to the structure, productivity, function and biological diversity of the ecosystem.

To achieve this we worked with a range of Commonwealth agencies during 2018-19 on updating the Commonwealth Fisheries Harvest Strategy Policy and the Commonwealth Fisheries Bycatch Policy and their respective guidelines. Revised versions were released in November 2018 and we are now reviewing and implementing changes to our management arrangements to reflect these revised policies.


Criterion source: The performance indicators below are recorded in AFMA's chapter in the Agriculture and Water Resources 2018-19 Portfolio Budget Statements p. 248 and in AFMA's Corporate Plan for 2018-21 p. 7.

Performance criteria





Complete an Ecological Risk Assessment and Fisheries Management Strategy for each fishery every five years (number of fisheries)




The number of high risk rated species from Ecological Risk Assessments declines




Fisheries reporting on general bycatch quantity each year (number of fisheries)




Fisheries reporting decreasing volume of general bycatch each year (number of fisheries)




Number of fisheries with decreasing interaction rates with Threatened Endangered and Protected species




AFMA uses an ecosystem-based approach to ensure that it takes account of fishing impacts on the whole marine environment, rather than just target species. This results in a precautionary approach when assessing the risks posed by Commonwealth commercial fishing. Our fishery-specific ecological risk assessments evaluate a wide range of species that are at various levels of risks from the effects of fishing. Through this process, we assess risk in relation to over 2000 recorded species in Commonwealth waters. The majority (85 per cent) of the species on AFMA's “potential high risk species” list are there due to a lack of information about the biology of those species or catch information. In 2018-19, AFMA's focus on ecological risk assessment was broadened from species to incorporation of risks to habitats and communities; this will add even greater robustness to management measures.

The ecological risk framework requires that each fishery set out how they will address any impacts identified through the risk assessment process particularly those impacts that fishing has on commercial, bycatch and Threatened, Endangered and Protected species. Following the recent revitalisation process of our ecological risk assessment process these actions are to be set out in fishery management strategies; a ‘one stop shop' for documentation and information about Commonwealth fisheries. This reflects our work with the Department of Agriculture when implementing the revised Commonwealth Harvest Strategy and Commonwealth Bycatch policy and their respective supporting guidelines in November 2018. A fishery management strategy has been completed for one fishery to date.

Based on the updated Ecological Risk Assessment methodology five fisheries have been reassessed by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in conjunction with AFMA. Some of these reassessments resulted in a significant reduction in the number of “potential high risk species” identified. For example, in the Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery from seven to one species and in the Small Pelagic (Mid Water Trawl) Fishery from eight to zero species. The Heard Island and McDonald Islands Fishery continues to have no identified “high risk species”. These reductions are attributed to improved species information and data collection, as a result of, increased observer coverage and the introduction of electronic monitoring.

An additional four Ecological Risk Assessments are nearing completion, with another six scheduled to commence during 2019-20. To support the ecological risk assessment methodology we progressed work around taking into account habitat impacts in risk assessments and developing further strategic guidelines to manage the impacts of fishing on the broader marine environment, particularly for seabirds and marine mammals. We reviewed our dolphin mitigation strategies to ensure that impact on dolphins from fishing were minimised and implemented seabird bycatch operational guidelines in October 2018 to guide and encourage strategies to reduce and minimise seabird interaction and bycatch by Commonwealth fishers.

Five fisheries reported a reduction in gross bycatch caught between the two assessment periods and five fisheries reported a reduction in gross Threatened, Endangered and Protected species interactions between the two assessment periods[1.

We maintained our strong positon with no stocks managed solely by AFMA being subject to overfishing for the sixth year in a row. The target stock work is supported by new work in the area of social licence and exploring our obligations under revised legislation with respect to the Indigenous and recreational sectors. Implementing the new legislative requirement is advancing for the recreational fishing sector, with recreational members/expertise being actively sought for those fishery Management Advisory Committees and Resource Assessment Groups with an identified recreational fishing interest. A scoping project is currently under development to foster meaningful engagement with the Indigenous sector.

We have continued to invest in the application of science to decision making through development and finalisation of Fisheries Administrative Paper 16 – Research and Science Quality Assurance Policy approved by the AFMA Commission in October 2018. This policy supports AFMA's evidence based decision making and describes how staff, committees and other bodies contribute to AFMA decision making.

We are also working in collaboration with scientific and other organisations to account for the impacts of climate change on historical, current and future biomass of stocks to ensure that our management arrangements remain adaptable and sustainable to change.

In May 2019, AFMA finalised a statement of how we implement the social aspects of ecological sustainable development to help stakeholders better understand how we operate. The statement is on AFMA's website and encourages stakeholder feedback with a view to identifying possible future actions that will enable us to more comprehensively consider social aspects of applying the principles of ecologically sustainable development.


Reducing bycatch is a key focus for AFMA, and reporting of gross volumes of bycatch was lower in five fisheries and exceeded the performance target. Ten fisheries provided accurate information on the quantity of bycatch discarded, exceeding the target by five. These metrics will assist us in meeting the requirements of the recently introduced Commonwealth Bycatch Policy, particularly around cumulative impacts across fisheries. Key projects throughout the year which contributed to these results were:

  • The Northern Prawn Fishery significantly reduced small finfish bycatch through the implementation of covered fisheye Bycatch Reduction Devices, which were made mandatory during the 2018 tiger prawn season. This work has led to AFMA trialling similar Bycatch Reduction Devices in the Torres Strait Prawn Fishery this coming season which will hopefully lead to similar reductions in bycatch rates.
  • A review of the Small Pelagic Fishery and the gillnet fishery dolphin mitigation strategies strategy to ensure that trigger levels and settings were achieving the goal of minimal impact on dolphins in these fisheries, with initial data indicating success against that goal.

The number of fisheries with decreasing interaction rates with Threatened, Endangered and Protected species was five, and exceeded the performance target. A notable example was in the Small Pelagic Fishery where reported Threatened, Endangered and Protected species interactions reduced by 85 per cent this year, due in part to work with the midwater trawl sector regarding marine mammal bycatch reduction.

However, in the Commonwealth trawl sector interaction with seabirds increased by a reported 50 per cent, leading to new requirements (commencing in November 2019) to not discharge biological material while fishing gear is under tow, and to develop further seabird mitigation measures. This work was guided by our recently approved Seabird operational guidelines that provide an overarching framework for how fisheries can implement physical mitigation strategies to reduce and minimise seabird bycatch.

Feature Story: Climate change

In line with our overarching goal of managing fisheries consistent with the principles of ecological sustainable development AFMA is investing in and applying science to decision making on fish stocks, sub stocks, species (target and non-target) and the impact of fishing on the broader marine environment to investigate the effects of climate change on Commonwealth fisheries.

Australia's oceans are undergoing substantial change, including a number of rapidly changing hotspots. Understanding what that change means for fisheries production and management is paramount if the resources are to continue to be sustainably managed. AFMA, in collaboration with a variety of organisations, is working towards the adaptation of fisheries governance to predicted changes in the climate and oceanography through a series of projects which aim to add resilience to the management of Commonwealth fisheries.

Since 2018, AFMA has been involved in two Fisheries Research Development Corporation funded research projects to answer the following questions:

  1. How will climate change impact Australian fish stocks over the coming decades?
  2. Can our current Commonwealth fisheries regulatory system adapt to the projected impacts of climate change?

The first project, Decadal scale projection of changes in Australian fisheries stocks under climate change, was led by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and funded by the Fisheries Research Development Corporation, in which 16 scientists used large amounts of fisheries data to predict how fish species in our waters will respond to climate change over the coming decades.

The projected was completed in 2018 and its key findings included:

  • 70 per cent of key species Australia wide have moderate to high sensitivity in one climate change sensitivity determining factor (abundance, distribution and phenology).
  • 50 per cent of target species in AFMA managed fisheries are considered moderately to highly sensitive.
  • Pelagic fish are generally expected to be the least affected by climate change, whereas demersal and invertebrate species will be more affected.
  • Species distributions are also expected to shift as sea surface temperatures continue to rise.

The Adaptation of Commonwealth Fisheries to Climate Change project commenced in early 2018 with the formation of a steering group composed of diverse fishery, government and environmental stakeholders. The project builds on the key findings of the Decadal Projections project and aims to understand how Australian fisheries could adapt to the effects of climate change. We are collaborating with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, social science, economic and risk experts to assess the risk of climate change to the current management practices and identify ways that Commonwealth fisheries can adapt to those changes.

A first workshop was carried out in November 2018, workshop attendees were introduced to: climate change, impacts of climate change on fisheries and their implications on fishery management. Stakeholders helped develop pathways to understand the various ways in which climate change may impact a fishery and its management. These impact pathways are currently being used to develop a risk assessment methodology, which will be applied to two test case Commonwealth fisheries.

A second stakeholder workshop is tentatively planned for late September 2019 and its aim will be to get stakeholder engagement on two to three fisheries case studies. The completion of the project is expected in early 2020.


  1. The final quarter of the 2018-19 year has not been assessed.