The 2018-19 financial year has again seen AFMA deliver solidly against its objective to maximise net economic returns to the Australian community through the ecologically sustainable development of Commonwealth fisheries resources. The Gross Value of Production for Commonwealth fisheries is forecast steady at around $380 million and for the sixth consecutive year, no fish stocks managed solely by AFMA were subject to overfishing.
As part of this Annual Report, we have included an Annual Performance Statement (Part 2 of the Annual Report) in accordance with the requirements of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013, and we have reviewed fishery by fishery outcomes (Part 3 of the Annual Report) of AFMA’s management. Highlights of our activities and impacts under each of our corporate goals include:
The Commonwealth Fisheries Harvest Strategy Policy and the Commonwealth Fisheries Bycatch Policy, released in November 2018 form the cornerstone of the government's commitment to Australia's commercial fishing industry providing the framework for the evidence-based approach to setting sustainable harvest levels. The second edition of the policies, first introduced in 2007, have been updated following developments in fisheries science and fisheries management practice, as well as stakeholder consultations and technical reviews. The policies now give even greater guidance on managing for variability in our ocean environment, and more explicit consideration of recreational and Indigenous fishers. They also ensure consistency of management across Commonwealth fisheries to provide the industry with a more certain operating environment.
Operationally, a new bycatch reduction device, the ‘Tom's Fisheye', has been added to three other effective devices that have been tested by the Commonwealth Northern Prawn Fishery fleet, for use during the tiger prawn season in 2019. The ‘Tom's Fisheye' trials last year showed the device can reduce bycatch by up to 40 per cent compared to previous devices.
The ‘Tom's Fisheye' creates an area of low pressure in the trawl net as it is pulled through the water, increasing access to a gap in the net for fish to escape. There will be a choice for Northern Prawn Fishery trawl boat operators to use one of these effective devices from 2020, following further commercial testing in the fishery during this year's tiger prawn season. The Northern Prawn Fishery fishers, led by the Northern Prawn Fishery Industry Pty Ltd, continue to demonstrate commitment to reducing bycatch through design and trial of new equipment and technology. It is important that fishers can use an effective device that will suit different operating conditions.
The policy framework was also expanded with AFMA's finalisation of a position statement on How AFMA considers the social aspects of the ecologically sustainable development (ESD) principles in the management of Commonwealth Fisheries. This articulates and broadens AFMA's incorporation of ESD into fisheries management in line with our legislated objectives. We undertook consultations during the second half of 2018 with industry and public stakeholders on social aspects of ESD and drawing on this material the position statement was published in March 2019, along with proposed actions by us and responses to the broad themes identified by stakeholders through the consultation process.
AFMA also released a new policy paper, Fisheries Administration Paper 16 – Fisheries Research and Science Quality Assurance Policy (FMP 16). FMP 16 was developed to support a consistent approach to AFMA’s evidence-based decision making. It describes the approach and the contribution that our staff, committees and other bodies make towards gathering and using scientific results and information.
MAXIMISE THE NET ECONOMIC RETURNS
AFMA’s Economic Working Group has also been ramping up its work during 2018-19. The Economic Working Group provides expert advice on major fishery and cross fishery economic issues affecting Commonwealth fisheries management to support AFMA’s capacity to maximise net economic returns to the Australian community. Drawing on member expertise, the Economic Working Group has been considering amendments to current economic key performance indicators, a number of proposed new economic indicators by fishery and indicators for monitoring economic factors that are driving targeting behaviour of fishers, e.g. using revenue per unit effort, input prices, output prices and catch per unit effort. AFMA Management will work with Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences and fishery Management Advisory Groups/Research Advisory Groups on developing and reporting on relevant demand driven economic data that help illustrate economic factors which may influence fisher targeting behaviour.
AFMA’s release in October 2018 of the Authorisation of transhipping activities in Commonwealth fisheries (Transhipping Policy) and Guidelines for Authorising transhipping activities in Commonwealth fisheries (Transhipping Guidelines) aimed to improve consistency and transparency in the authorisation of transhipping in Commonwealth managed fisheries. Transhipping is where one fishing boat transfers its catch to another boat while at sea and the Policy and Guidelines apply to catch taken in the Australian Fishing Zone by boats nominated to a Commonwealth fishing concession and which is to be landed in an Australian port. Transhipping can maintain product quality by reducing the time between catching and processing of fish. Where there is a lack of onshore processing facilities, transhipping can reduce travel time, fuel consumption and therefore costs. In turn, this means that a fresher, higher quality product with a smaller environmental footprint (less carbon emissions) can be provided to the consumer, ensuring the best use of the resource and improving economic returns to the Australian community.
In preparing the transhipping documents, we undertook extensive consultation and considered comments and feedback received from a broad range of stakeholders including our fishery Management Advisory Committees, commercial fishing industry associations including the Commonwealth Fisheries Association, recreational fishing groups, conservation groups, the Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation and the general public. In deciding on this approach AFMA was aware that transhipping has a mixed reputation due to its association with international occurrences of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in some international fisheries. However, under AFMA's strict management arrangements, which include independent monitoring, catch documentation and a strict compliance program, these risks are mitigated.
Australia is a leader in global action against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, working with neighbouring countries and international allies to monitor the sustainability of Commonwealth fisheries. Working with the international community, and other Australian Government agencies, AFMA aims to ensure that those who try to profit from illegal fishing operations are caught and prosecuted.
At a national level we work closely with the Australian Border Force and Australian Defence Force to target and apprehend illegal foreign fishing vessels in Australian waters. Illegal operators face hefty fines and the confiscation and destruction of their boats when they are caught. Evidence shows that this vigilance has a strong deterrence affect. During 2018-19 a total of five illegal foreign fishing vessels were apprehended. This number continues the downward trend with a total of 14 apprehensions in 2017-18 and 15 in 2016-17. At a regional level, we work with Australia's neighbours to run surveillance operations in the Pacific, Indian and Southern Oceans to help combat IUU fishing in those parts of the world. Australia also works closely with our partner agencies in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Pacific Island countries in coordinating surveillance activity, training and joint operations.
During September 2018 for example, we hosted representatives from Australia’s Maritime Border Command, the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries, the United States Coast Guard, the French Ministere des Armees and the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) as part of Operation Nasse. The participating nations, all members of the Quadrilateral Defence Coordination Group, worked together to coordinate at sea inspections, aerial surveillance, and maritime intelligence sharing.
The operation successfully demonstrated our ability to coordinate aircraft and surface patrol boats from all four countries to monitor fishing operations and target IUU fishing on the high seas. On-water officers sought identities of fishers not complying with the Conservation and Management Measures adopted by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, an international agreement to which Australia is a signatory. The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission seeks to ensure the long-term conservation and sustainable use of highly migratory fish stocks like tuna and billfish in the Pacific Ocean. There were 34 fishing vessels inspected, with 27 suspected violations identified, which have been reported to the relevant flag States for further action. By helping to protect these shared resources from illegal fishing, joint operations like Operation Nasse contribute to the sustainability of valuable commercial and recreational fisheries that target tuna and billfish as they migrate through Australian waters.
In 2018-19 we also ran in-country public information campaigns in the Asia-Pacific region, targeting key ports in cooperation with Vietnamese and Papua New Guinean authorities to ensure fishers understand international maritime laws and boundaries and the consequences when they get caught illegally fishing in Australian waters. This concerted effort to combat IUU fishing, has seen the number of foreign fishing vessels operating illegally in Australian waters plummet from 367 in the 2005-06 financial year to five in the 2018-19 financial year.
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.
EFFECTIVE, COST EFFICIENT AND TRANSPARENT MANAGEMENT AND REGULATOR ARRANGEMENTS
Collaboration and cooperation with industry continued to be a key fundamental underpinning of our innovative fisheries management, with the making of a new co-management arrangement between AFMA and the South East Trawl Fishing Industry Association. This includes a new Seine and Trawl Advisory Group to provide expert advice to AFMA on operational aspects of the Commonwealth Trawl Sector. The Seine and Trawl Advisory Group will support decision making in a fishery that is Australia's main source of local fresh fish.
This co-management arrangement is another example of AFMA and industry working together for more efficient management of Commonwealth fisheries. A new agreement with the South East Trawl Fishing Industry Association formalises ongoing arrangements for the efficient management of eastern pink ling catches through voluntary catch restrictions, as well as funding for a project to develop prototype seal mitigation technology for commercial trawl vessels. We are always looking for ways to improve sustainability and minimise interactions with protected species in Commonwealth fisheries, so developing an effective seal mitigation device for trawl vessels is an important investment.
Since 2013 AFMA has allowed 28-day quota reconciliation arrangements. Continuous reconciliation spreads the demand for quota across the fishing year, and therefore reduces the incidences of market “rushes”. This helps to ensure the quota market operates as efficiently as possible, meaning operators are able to readily respond to changes in catches thereby allowing the industry to more fully utilise the total allowable catch. During 2018-19, there were only five reported instances where quota has not been reconciled within the 28 day period. This is significantly down from the previous two years with a reported 29 instances in 2017-18 and 30 instances in 2016-17. Even more encouraging, over the last six months of the reporting period, no operator failed to reconcile their quota.
In 2010 AFMA made a commitment to industry that it would keep cost recovery levels at or below the rate applied in 2005-06 once corrected for Consumer Price Index increases. Since making this undertaking in 2010, AFMA has out-performed the cumulative Consumer Price Index by some $42 million (as at 2018-19).
In early 2019, AFMA’s Canberra office began operating out of its new office space in the Majura Park Precinct of the Canberra Airport. To support new work practices, AFMA upgraded its Information and Communications Technology (ICT) environment to enable a mobile and collaborative workforce. The Technology and Digital Services team deployed a new operating environment with laptops provided to all staff and introduced Microsoft Teams (softphone solution) across all our offices. This allows staff to utilise all collaborative spaces in the office through Wi-Fi technology, whilst still remaining connected to the AFMA secure network. Adopting cloud base technology has also reduced our reliance on infrastructure support, reducing both costs and ICT risks.
The new workspace now supports more agile and collaborative work practices enabled through the provision of mobile technologies and flexible physical settings which in turn support a more cost efficient and productive workforce. The move to a new, flexible and mobile working environment allows AFMA to be on the front foot in continuing to deliver efficient, cost-effective and accountable management of Commonwealth fisheries resources.
Official opening of the AFMA Canberra OfficePhoto from left to right: John Andersen, General Manager Corporate Services; then Assistant Minister Senator the Hon Richard Colbeck; Anna Willock, then Acting Chief Executive Officer
During the reporting period the Australian National Audit Office carried out an audit to assess the effectiveness of coordination arrangements of Australian government entities operating in the Torres Strait. The final report was tabled on 29 May 2019. AFMA has extensive responsibilities in managing Commonwealth fisheries resources in the region and works to deliver on these in cooperation with a number of Commonwealth and state agencies.
AFMA considered the audit report recommendations and accepts that timely finalisation of Protected Zone Joint Authority annual reports and regular updating of the Authority's website will enable stakeholders to be better informed about fisheries management issues and actions. Together with other Protected Zone Joint Authority member agencies, we will also continue to work towards further integration and coordination of fisheries management in the Torres Strait.
AFMA's Corporate Plan 2019-22 was approved by the Assistant Minister for Forestry and Fisheries in June 2019.
Over the next four years AFMA will look to implement fisheries management in pursuit of sustainable and profitable Commonwealth fisheries by:
- simplifying regulations to reduce operational and cost burdens for industry
- managing ecological and compliance risks
- deterring illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing
- improving engagement with stakeholders in the responsible management of fisheries.
AFMA commissions and places a high importance on scientific and economic research and risk assessments. This reflects the importance of making evidence-based decisions. As part of our expanding application of ESD, we are also increasing consideration of the economic interests of recreational and Indigenous stakeholders, as well as commercial fishers, along with extending the impact of our domestic and international compliance efforts. AFMA will continue to progress the social aspects of ESD considering the proposed action and responses to the broad themes identified by stakeholders during the consultation process in March 2019.
We will integrate long-term and short-term economic, environmental, social and equity considerations, apply the precautionary principle and conserve biological diversity. In doing so, we will work with commercial, recreational and Indigenous fishers. We will develop management arrangements that seek to maximise economic yield for commercial fishers while accounting for recreational and Indigenous fishing interests in Commonwealth fisheries.
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.
It is worth noting that AFMA experienced significant change throughout 2018-19. The change in accommodation and workplace set-up, including embracing new technology, was a significant and prolonged process. AFMA approached it through detailed consultation and formal change management approaches. The transition was completed on time and under-budget. At the same time, AFMA lost its two most senior staff members in close proximity to each other in late 2019, resulting in a recruitment process for both positions that was not finalised until April 2019. These changes and others placed considerable additional pressure on the agency and its staff, and have had an undeniable impact on staff morale and workplace satisfaction. The agency is working to strengthen morale and will continue to focus on this issue in 2019-20 recognising the good work of AFMA staff done in the past.