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3. Compliance with Commonwealth fisheries laws and policies and relevant international fishing obligations and standards


Non-compliance with AFMA's management rules and regulations undermines the value of fishing concessions which ultimately affects the value and viability of Australia's fishing industry. Non-compliance can also lead to the closure of areas and/or fisheries as a result of significant environmental impacts such as depletion of fish stocks.

Reducing cost pressures on fishers through efficient and effective regulatory management and providing greater insights and accountability for stakeholders into our decisions are key aspects of delivering on this objective.


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. 12.

Performance criteria

2018-19 Target

2018-19 Actual

3.1 % of treatment targets for all priority domestic risks met



Performance measure measurement method: Data is based on actions documented in compliance and enforcement activities.

3.2 % of apprehended illegal, unreported and unregulated vessels and suspected illegal entry vessels delivered to AFMA were disposed of



Performance measure measurement method: Data is based on actions documented in compliance and enforcement activities.


In 2018-19, AFMA's performance targets for its domestic and foreign compliance operations were, in the main, generally met.

For domestic compliance, by maintaining targeted actions and visibility amongst operators in the field, AFMA continued to encourage voluntary compliance rather than having to always take enforcement action against conscious non-compliance. 20 of the 26 (76.9 per cent) of the self-imposed performance targets assessed were achieved, with a further four (15 per cent) close to target levels.

All apprehended foreign illegal fishing vessels delivered to AFMA were successfully disposed of.


National Compliance (domestic)

AFMA's National Compliance Operations and Enforcement Policy (the policy) aims to effectively deter illegal fishing in Commonwealth fisheries and the Australian Fishing Zone.

In order to achieve the policy objective the risk based 2018-19 National Compliance and Enforcement Program consisted of four main components:

  • Communication and Education
  • General Deterrence
  • Targeted Risk
  • Maintenance

As detailed below, the sub programs under each of the four component involved specific aims and outcomes.

Communication and Education Program:

  • AFMA fisheries officers conducted infield education sessions and pre­season briefings in a variety of ports to inform fishers on the principles of the compliance and enforcement program and potential consequences of being caught committing offences. Monthly compliance articles were also posted on AFMA's website and Facebook pages with messages being sent to fishers on a regular basis. Subject matter included reminders to Commonwealth and Torres Strait fishers to use approved Vessel Monitoring System units targeting of discard reporting by fisheries officers
  • reminders to keep Vessel Monitoring System units switched on over the Christmas and New Year period
  • the need to submit logbook data, cover over quota catches and renew licences on time
  • notifications that landed fish used for personal consumption need to be counted against quota.

All six of the Communication and Education performance targets were met in 2018-19.

General Deterrence Program:

Our fisheries officers undertook 231 port visits, 16 sea patrols to conduct 356 boat inspections (including 15 at-sea) and 146 fish receiver inspections. Nine aerial surveillance flights were also conducted. The number of inspections is a 63 per cent increase over the 308 inspections conducted in 2017-18 and can largely be attributed to the opening of an AFMA office at Lakes Entrance in Victoria and the transfer of responsibility for the domestic compliance function in the Torres Strait to AFMA. High levels of compliance were observed with 89.6 per cent of boat inspections not requiring any further action. This was on par with the program target rate for voluntary compliance of 90 per cent.

Seven of the nine performance targets for the general deterrence program were met in 2018-19. As a result of the need to retune priorities and address the changes in risk levels throughout the year, the two remaining performance measures were close to target levels.

Following the transfer of responsibility for the fisheries domestic compliance role in the Torres Strait Fishery from 1 July 2018 our fisheries officers participated in 15 joint ‘at-sea' patrols, alongside agencies such as Australian Border Force, Royal Australian Navy, Queensland Water Police and Torres Strait Rangers. Our fisheries officers also visited 11 ports/freight hubs and participated in 18 stakeholder/community meetings to deliver information sessions on compliance related issues.

Targeted Risk Program:

During 2018-19 our targeted risk program focused on quota evasion, failing to report interactions and retention of protected and prohibited species and bycatch mishandling.

Quota evasion

Quota evasion is the deliberate misreporting, or non-reporting, of the volume and species of catch caught in Commonwealth waters. All Commonwealth fishers are required to accurately report their catch to AFMA through the Catch Disposal Records. In 2018-19 the National Intelligence Unit and the General Duties Team developed and implemented covert surveillance programs to provide an indicative measure of the level of quota evasion. This also included a focussed operation on one particular sector of the industry to investigate potential quota evasion activities. As a result of this program we did not detect any activity that required us to take any compliance action. This work will assist in planning future actions to target resources on areas involving non-compliant activity. All three quota evasion performance targets were met in 2018-19.

Failure to report interaction/retention of protected or prohibited species

During 2018-19 two of the three performance targets to minimise the take or retention of prohibited or conservation dependent species were met. There were nine instances of non-reporting of Threatened, Endangered and Protected species interactions, which exceeded the target of less than three. The 30 matters detected in 2018-19, which required investigation, is significantly lower than the 45 matters detected in 2017-18 and the 50 matters in 2016-17. Each of the 2018-19 matters was dealt with by way of education, caution, warning or referred to another agency for further action. AFMA will continue to re-assess its strategies to improve reporting rates in 2019-20.

Bycatch mishandling

To assist in ensuring long term sustainable fisheries, we have continued with education and communication programs with industry to outline the risk of bycatch mishandling. There were 13 identified incidents in 2018-19, an average of just over one per month, which is considerably lower than the 29 identified incidents in 2017-18, an average of 2.6 per month, and well below the average rate of 4.2 per month which was occurring prior to the introduction of formal requirements in October 2016.

Bycatch mishandling incidents were principally dealt with by way of education sessions, cautions and warnings. Despite the continuing downward trend in the number of incidents, the target rate of less than 10 incidents per year was exceeded and continued work to reduce incident levels will be a focal area in 2019-20.

Maintenance Programs

Previously ‘treated' risks remained the focus of the maintenance programs. These included compliance with AFMA's satellite based Vessel Monitoring System or e-monitoring system requirements, quota reconciliation and minimising the incidence level of fishing in closed areas.

Vessel Monitoring System compliance rates remained high with an average of 96.9 per cent of all Commonwealth boats reporting to AFMA via their Vessel Monitoring System at any one time, which is slightly below the target of 98 per cent. Main reasons for non-compliance were operators not seeking approval to turn units off when vessels are undergoing maintenance or have temporarily ceased fishing. There were also two incidents of non-compliance with e-monitoring requirements. This was above the target rate of zero and both matters, which were minor in nature, were dealt with administratively.

A total of six fishers failed to reconcile their over catches by the due date which is significantly down from the previous two years with 30 and 29 instances occurring in 2016-17 and 2017-18 respectively. AFMA worked with the six fishers to resolve most of the matters, with all subsequently being issued with official cautions. There was one incident of a vessel suspected of breaching a fishing closure. This is only the second case in over two years and the matter is subject to investigation.

Two of the four maintenance program performance targets were met, with the remaining two close to target levels.

AFMA domestic prosecutions for 2018-19

During 2018-19, we finalised one prosecution matter relating to unlicensed fishing in the Torres Strait resulting in a conviction and $1500 in fines.


Our foreign compliance activities ensure that Australia's fish stocks and the marine environment, particularly to the immediate north and far south, are not adversely affected by illegal foreign fishing.

Our approach to illegal, unreported and unregulated foreign fishing is multifaceted comprising on-the-water surveillance and enforcement, regional cooperation, diplomatic representations, in-country education and capacity building and international cooperation through regional fisheries management organisations and other international agreements and arrangements.

We work closely with other Australian Government agencies in detecting and responding to incidents of illegal foreign fishing within Australian waters and in engaging with other countries in developing regional strategies for combatting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Our engagement with Regional Fisheries Management Organisations and other International fora ensures that Australia's fisheries management is consistent with actions taken regionally and internationally, particularly in relation to straddling or migratory stocks and in areas adjacent to the Australian Fishing Zone.

AFMA's participation in the work of these regional fishing bodies includes collaborating with other members to develop regional compliance and management measures and providing annual reports on the implementation of those measures. We also chair working groups, share information on fisheries management and compliance approaches, develop proposals and take action to deter illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.


AFMA supports the Maritime Border Command through the provision of specialist fisheries advice both in the Australian Border Operations Centre in Canberra and on-board Australian Border Force and Royal Australian Navy patrol boats. Our efforts focus on high risk areas for incursions by illegal fishers and deterring fishers operating in close proximity to the Australian Fishing Zone from conducting illegal fishing operations.

During 2018-19, a total of five illegal foreign fishing vessels were apprehended across Australia's northern waters. All vessels were Indonesian. This number continues the downward trend with a total of 14 apprehensions in the 2017-18 financial year and 15 in 2016-17.

In total, 41 foreign fishers were detained for illegal fishing in Australian waters, with five Indonesian nationals the subject of criminal prosecution in Australia. Those prosecuted received penalties including good behaviour bonds, monetary fines of up to $4000 per offence and terms of imprisonment.

All boats were confiscated by Australian authorities. Two were destroyed at AFMA's contracted vessel disposal facilities and three were destroyed at sea.


We also continue our program of capacity building working with our near neighbours to enhance regional responses to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

In 2018, AFMA worked closely with Vietnamese government officials in providing information to Vietnamese fishers on the risks associated with fishing illegally in a third parties waters. The joint Australia-Vietnam Public Information Campaign included workshops in Binh Chau Commune and on Ly Son Island in the Quang Ngai Province and included members of the local community and over 400 fishers. AFMA, with the Australian Embassy in Hanoi and the Vietnamese Directorate of Fisheries, provided information on maritime boundaries and international fisheries law as well as the possible consequences of fishing illegally included prosecution and seizure of their boat and fishing gear. The workshops were very well received and participants noted that they had a greater understanding of the risks associated with fishing illegally in Australian waters. The incidence of Vietnamese vessels fishing illegally in Australia and other Pacific island countries has fallen dramatically over the last two years, with indications that the Public Information Campaign workshops were a strong contributor.

We continued to utilise funding provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to deliver capacity building programs to Pacific Island countries, to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Enhancing the fisheries compliance capacity of our Pacific Island neighbours is important because sustainable fish stocks leads to regional economic stability and the foreign boats operating in the Pacific are fishing for the same highly migratory species that are also found in Australian waters. We delivered training courses through the University of South Pacific in Fiji, participated as a mentor on board Pacific patrols and supported in country work to operationalise the Niue Treaty Subsidiary Agreement. Together with the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency Secretariat and Australian Attorney-General's Department we also assisted in the development of standard operating procedures in Nauru and Palau to enhance enforcement and surveillance capacity in the Pacific.


We continue to engage in multilateral operations in the Pacific and Southeast Asia as part of our multifaceted compliance program. We have worked closely with our south east Asian neighbours as part of the Regional Plan of Action to Promote Responsible Fishing Practices including Combatting Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (RPOA-IUU) to identify priority areas for surveillance and response.

Australia continued to work with its Pacific neighbours in ensuring patrol and surveillance assets were deployed to areas of greatest threat. AFMA deployed officers, as both sea riders on patrol assets and watch keepers at the Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre in Honiara, during all four of the Forum Fisheries Agency led operations. During 2018-19, Australia and Tuvalu concluded a cooperative activity under the auspices of the Niue Treaty Subsidiary Agreement. The activity involved Tuvaluan officers undertaking fisheries surveillance activity whilst in an Australian area of interest. AFMA greatly appreciates working with our Pacific neighbours and partners in detecting and deterring potential illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

We also hosted the multilateral Operation Nasse, an operation involving the Ministry for Primary Industries, the United States Coast Guard, the French Ministere des Armees and the International Criminal Police Organization. The operation involved coordinating aircraft and surface platforms from all four countries to monitor fishing operations and target IUU fishing on the high seas in the Pacific Ocean. The operation demonstrated the benefits of cooperative efforts being undertaken to protect shared resources from illegal fishing which in turn contributed to the sustainability of valuable commercial and recreational fisheries that target tuna and billfish as they migrate through Australian waters.

Building on established relationships in the Pacific, AFMA collaborated with the French Marine Nationale and the United States Coast Guard on enforcement operations in the Pacific. These patrols also embarked Pacific Island officers to share experience and expertise, as well as extending the reach of those patrol vessels by allowing boarding and inspection in additional areas.


We continue to monitor developments regarding IUU fishing in the Southern Ocean. All IUU vessels listed by the Commission for Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources remain out of action as a result of effective regional cooperation involving relevant port States, flag States and States whose nationals that control and benefit from the activities of these vessels.

Australia continues to work with France in the Southern Ocean under the Australia-France Cooperative Agreement allowing for joint Australian and French patrols to enforce each other's fishing laws in the respective Exclusive Economic Zones and Territorial Seas in the Southern Ocean. AFMA officers embarked on four patrols on the French Naval Ships LAstrolabe, Floreal and Nivose during 2018-19.

Feature Story: Torres Strait and Northern Waters


Fishing is one of the most economically important activities in the Torres Strait Protected Zone.

From 1 July 2018 AFMA took responsibility for day-to-day management of compliance for the commercial Torres Strait Fisheries. Prior to 1 July 2018, Torres Strait Fisheries compliance was managed by the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

The initial 12 months have been very busy, challenging and rewarding for AFMA's fisheries officers operating in the Torres Strait and Northern Waters. The lion's share of compliance work is undertaken by a small number of our fisheries officers operating out of our Thursday Island office, and where additional resources are required, our Darwin office deployed staff to the region.

Our officers travelled throughout the Torres Strait conducting educational and awareness programs for newly licensed individuals and companies under the Fish Receiver System. Our officers participated in 18 Stakeholder/ Community meetings to increase education and awareness of compliance related issues and foster voluntary compliance with license conditions and the fisheries management plans. Some 17 media articles/Facebook posts/ and SMS messages targeted at license holders have also assisted in lifting the AFMA Operations Compliance profile in the Torres Strait.

More recently, AFMA's compliance activity has turned to monitoring compliance with the conditions of stakeholder permits and licenses, with several suspected breaches detected. Where appropriate these matters have been referred to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions for action.

In addition to the Fish Receiver System we have focused significant resources on monitoring compliance with Tropical Rock Lobster closures and the Tropical Rock Lobster Fishery Management Plan. Much of this work occurs at sea and our fisheries officers have participated in 15 “at sea” patrols within the Torres Strait Protected Zone and adjacent waters this year. Supporting agencies involved Australian Border Force, Royal Australian Navy, Queensland Water police and the Torres Strait Rangers, where a number of domestic compliance issues were attended to including pre-season stock piling of Tropical Rock Lobster, unlicensed fishing/receiving and breaching license conditions resulting in the seizure of catch and gear in some cases.

During the course of, and in addition to, the patrols undertaken this year 47 boats were inspected, 16 ports/freight hubs were visited and 21 fish receiver premises were inspected.

We have also managed to maintain strong links with counterpart agencies in Papua New Guinea. Both the National Fisheries Authority and the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary have worked closely with us on matters of joint interest through cross border operations and information sharing. National Fisheries Authority, with support from the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary have investigated five matters referred by AFMA in relation to illegal fishing and have seized one boat, four hookah compressors and equipment and around five large mesh nets used to illegally target dugong in the Torres Strait. All five matters have been referred to the Papua New Guinea courts for hearing.

We are looking forward to building our compliance presence and profile in the Torres Strait in the coming year and working with all stakeholders to protect the regions valuable marine resources.

Fishing is an important and historic industry for communities in the Torres Strait so ensuring these fisheries are sustainable and well managed now and into the future is crucial to the livelihood of generations of fishers and all community members of the Torres Strait.