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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 ecological sustainability as well as the value of fishing concessions which ultimately affects the value and viability of Australia’s fishing industry.

Our international compliance activities ensure that Australia’s fish stocks and the marine environment are not adversely affected by illegal foreign fishing.


Criteria source: The performance indicators below are recorded in AFMA's chapter in the Agriculture, Water and the Environment 2019-20 Portfolio Budget Statements p. 248 and in AFMA's Corporate Plan for 2019-22 p. 13.

Performance criteria





Percentage of treatment targets for all priority domestic risks met




Percentage of apprehended illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) vessels and suspected illegal entry vessels delivered to AFMA’s vessel disposal facilities were disposed of




Percentage of briefs of evidence relating to foreign offenders submitted to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions within 7–10 days from their arrival in Australia



Methods for measuring performance:

Data is based on actions documented in compliance and enforcement activities.

As detailed below, AFMA's National Compliance Operations and Enforcement Policy includes subprograms that each have specific aims and outcomes. In 2019-20, 25 of the 32 (78.1 per cent) performance targets were met, whilst 30 of the 32 (94 per cent) were met or above the threshold target.

All apprehended foreign illegal fishing vessels delivered to AFMA’s vessel disposal facilities were successfully disposed of and all briefs of evidence relating to foreign matters were submitted within the targeted timeframes (100 per cent).


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 (AFZ).

In order to achieve the policy objective the risk based 2019-20 National Compliance and Enforcement Program consisted of four main components:

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

Communication and Education Program:

As part of our strategy to promote voluntary compliance our fisheries officers conducted infield education sessions and pre-season briefings in a variety of ports to inform Commonwealth 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. These included reminders to keep Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) units switched on over the Christmas and New Year period; pre-season briefings and TED measuring provided to Northern Prawn fishers in preparation for the Banana and Tiger Prawn season commencement; Torres Strait Fishery licence reminder requirements; and, participation with other organisations in joint at-sea patrols. Fishers were also reminded that during COVID-19 AFMA was continuing to monitor fishing operations.

Four of the six Communication and Education performance targets were met in 2019-20 with the remaining two performance targets within acceptable thresholds.

General Deterrence Program:

AFMA fisheries officers visited 143 Commonwealth ports, conducted 289 boat inspections and 88 fish receiver inspections (total of 377 inspections). Of the 289 boat inspections conducted, 83 were desktop inspections.

Due to travel restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 lockdown, the number of inspections decreased by 28 percent compared to the 356 boat and 146 fish receiver premises inspections conducted in 2018-19. High levels of compliance were observed with 92 per cent of inspections not requiring any further action. This was just below the program target rate for voluntary compliance of 95 per cent.

During 2019-20, 165 investigations were commenced, 157 matters were closed and 34 matters are still open and require further investigation, a total of 26 matters were rolled over from the 2018-19 financial period. Of the 157 matters that were closed they resulted in 21 warnings and 17 cautions issues, three Commonwealth Fisheries Infringement Notices issued, one court conviction and 115 matters required no further action.

Eight of the nine performance targets for the general deterrence program were met in 2019-20 the remaining one was within threshold tolerance.

Targeted Risk Program:

During 2019-20 AFMA continued focussing on the Torres Strait Fishery, quota evasion, failing to report interactions and retention of protected and prohibited species and bycatch mishandling.

Torres Strait Fishery

In the Torres Strait Fishery fisheries officers participated in 14 joint ‘at-sea’ patrols, alongside agencies such as Australian Border Force and Queensland Water Police.

AFMA officers conducted 39 boat inspections, 33 fish receiver premises inspections and also visited 27 ports/freight hubs. AFMA officers participated in two stakeholder/community meetings to deliver information sessions on compliance related matters. Officers also participated in two infield training exercises with the Torres Strait Rangers, focussing on fishery compliance matters and the importance of timely and concise reporting of relevant matters to AFMA.

One on one education and awareness sessions with fishermen and fish receivers was undertaken at every opportunity to encourage voluntary compliance in the Torres Strait Fisheries. Whilst compliance rates were generally high a number of matters resulted in formal warnings being issued or further investigation conducted. The Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions currently have carriage of eight briefs of evidence referred by AFMA for suspected breaches of the Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984, two of which were carried over from 2018-19.

All five of the Torres Strait Fishery performance targets were met or exceeded in 2019-20.

Quota evasion

Quota evasion is the deliberate misreporting, or non-reporting, of the volume and/or species of catch caught in Commonwealth waters. All Commonwealth fishers are required to accurately report their catch to AFMA through Catch Disposal Records (CDRs).

In 2019-20 the National Compliance Strategy Section continued with the covert surveillance program(s) to provide an indicative measure on the level of quota evasion.

Two of the three quota evasion performance targets were met in 2019-20 and one performance target was within threshold tolerance.

Failure to report interaction/retention of protected or prohibited species

During 2019-20, there were 19 incidents of non-reporting of Threatened, Endangered and Protected species interactions detected, six of which required further investigation. The 19 matters detected in 2019-20 is a significant drop from the 35 matters detected in 2018-19, 37 matters detected in 2017-18 and the 49 matters in 2016-17. Each of the 2019-20 matters were dealt with by way of education, warnings or referred to another agency for further action. AFMA will continue to re-assess its strategies to improve reporting rates in 2020-21.

Two of the three failure to report interaction/retention of protected or prohibited species performance targets were met 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 24 reports of alleged bycatch mishandling during 2019-20, 12 of which required further investigation. The overall instances of bycatch mishandling reports during the 2019-20 averaged 2.0 reports per month which is slightly above the 2018-19 average of 1.25 but still well down on the 4.2 per month which was occurring prior to additional rules being implemented and targeted education campaigns being launched in October 2016.

Bycatch mishandling incidents were principally dealt with by way of education sessions, cautions and warnings.

Both bycatch mishandling performance measures were met during 2019-20.

Maintenance Programs:

Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) and e-Monitoring (EM)

Due to service provider issues, VMS on a large proportion of the Commonwealth fleet (approximately 80 per cent) was rendered inoperable during August and September 2019. Outside of this period, VMS compliance rates remained high with an average of 96.2 per cent of all Commonwealth vessels reporting to AFMA via their VMS at any one time, which is slightly below the target of 98 per cent. The main reasons for non-compliance were fishers not seeking approval to turn units off when vessels are undergoing maintenance or had temporarily ceased fishing.

The VMS performance target was not met but was within threshold tolerances during 2019-20.


There were also eight incidents of non-compliance with e-monitoring requirements. This is marginally above the target of less than five per year. The majority of events related to improper system maintenance by operators, in particular the cleaning of cameras. These resulted two cautions and one warning being issued and five operators being educated on their obligations.

The E-Monitoring performance target was not met during 2019-20.

Quota Reconciliation

A total of 13 fishers failed to reconcile their over catches by the due date; which is up from the 2018-19 with six instances, but significantly down from 2017-18 with 29 instances and 2016-17 with 30 instances. AFMA worked with the 13 fishers to resolve most of the matters, with all but one being issued with an official caution whilst one matter is still under investigation.

The quota reconciliation performance target was met, with an average of 1.1 per month.

Closure Monitoring

There were two detected closure breaches during 2019-20. Both operators were given cautions and no further action was taken.

The closure monitoring performance target was met during 2019-20 with the target of less than five.

AFMA domestic prosecutions for 2019-20

During 2019-20, AFMA domestic compliance team finalised two matters in May 2020 for suspected breaches of section 95(1)(g) of the Fisheries Management Act 1991 resulting in one conviction being recorded with fines of $1,800 and forfeiture of $20,703 and the second matter resulted in the withdrawal of the charges.

AFMA Fisheries Officer monitors unload of catch Photo courtesy AFMA
AFMA Fisheries Officer monitors unload of catch Photo courtesy AFMA
International Compliance

In 2020, AFMA developed and adopted an International Compliance and Engagement Programme 2020-22 (ICEP) that outlines AFMA’s approach to effectively deter illegal foreign fishing in Commonwealth fisheries and waters where Australia has an interest. Australia’s efforts have been very successful in curtailing IUU activities within the Australian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and in waters where it has an interest. However there is a need to remain vigilant as IUU fishing is dynamic and Australia’s healthy fish stocks are attractive to those seeking to derive a benefit. As such, responses to IUU fishing require ongoing and persistent effort and collaboration across multiple sectors.

In order to achieve the objective the ICEP consists of five key areas:

  • Communications
  • Enforcement operations
  • Capability development and supplementation
  • Strategic engagement
  • Targeted threat response.

Our approach to IUU 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 (RFMOs) 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 other countries in developing regional strategies for combatting IUU fishing. Our engagement with RFMOs and other international bodies 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 AFZ.

AFMA’s participation in the work of these regional fisheries 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 IUU fishing. COVID-19 has created particular challenges for compliance operations in 2020, but AFMA has remained active and innovative, ensuring our international obligations continue to be met.

Australian Fishing Zone (AFZ)

AFMA supports Australia’s civil maritime security programme through the provision of specialist fisheries advice both in the Maritime Border Command in Canberra and on‑board Australian Border Force and Royal Australian Navy patrol platforms. Our efforts focus on high risk areas for incursions by illegal fishers and deterring fishers operating in close proximity to the AFZ from conducting illegal fishing operations. During 2019–20, a total of four Indonesian illegal foreign fishing vessels were apprehended across Australia’s northern waters. This number continues the downward trend with a total of five apprehensions in the 2018-19 financial year, 14 apprehensions in the 2017–18 financial year and 15 in 2016–17.

In total, 22 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 fines totalling over $34,360. All boats were confiscated by Australian authorities. Two were destroyed at AFMA’s contracted vessel disposal facilities and two were destroyed at sea. One ongoing matter involving an Indonesian fishing vessel apprehended in February 2018 was finalised with the owners forfeiting $110,000.

AFMA continued to work closely with Maritime Border Command, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and Parks Australia as part of a whole-of-government program to manage the retrieval and disposal of abandoned, lost and discarded fishing gear in Australia’s northern waters. During the 2019-20 financial year, 26 pieces of equipment, mostly Fish Aggregating Devices, were retrieved and disposed of. This compares to 25 for the previous financial year.

AFMA inspected four foreign fishing vessels that entered an Australian port during 2019-20. We continue to monitor and respond to developments regarding IUU fishing in the Southern Ocean. All IUU vessels listed by the Commission for Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) 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. Disruption activities were undertaken in relation to one unlisted vessel with information being disseminated internationally to assist in closing down ports and the opportunity to unload catch and resupply.

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 EEZs and Territorial Seas in the Southern Ocean. AFMA officers embarked on one patrol on the French Naval Ship L’Astrolabe, during 2019–20.

Multilateral Patrols/Operations

AFMA participates in both bilateral and multilateral coordinated patrols and operations. These patrols and operations seek to prevent and deter IUU fishing in the AFZ and in the high seas, as well as in northern waters and the Southern Ocean.

AFMA participated in and hosted Operation Nasse, an annual multilateral maritime surveillance operation involving France, New Zealand, the United States of America and Australia. Operation Nasse works to detect and deter IUU fishing and identify fishers not complying with international fisheries obligations in the high seas of the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.

AFMA also supported four Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) multilateral operations across the Pacific which involved deploying AFMA officers to provide training and on-water technical and capacity support, as well as sharing expertise in the coordination of aerial surveillance and patrol assets. When COVID-19 restrictions impeded international travel AFMA continued to support these types of operations through virtual engagement with the FFA Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre and through fishing vessel profiling and aerial surveillance support.

Capacity Building

AFMA continues to deliver one of its functions under the Fisheries Administration Act 1991 to provide technical expertise in fisheries management to partners, including other countries. AFMA officers provide theoretical training and capacity building to support regional efforts to address IUU fishing, and also in support of broader Australian Government initiatives, such as the Defence-led Pacific Maritime Security Program and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) Pacific Strategy. As part of a DFAT funded programme, AFMA officers supported the delivery (through the University of South Pacific) of the Certificate IV in Fisheries Compliance and Enforcement to Pacific Island participants. AFMA officers also provided theoretical training to partner countries’ officers through participation in cooperative enforcement activities coordinated by the FFA Secretariat.

Feature Story: Operation Nasse 2019

For the past five years, Australia, France, New Zealand and the United States of America have cooperated on monitoring, control and surveillance fisheries operations in the high seas areas of the south west Pacific Ocean. The objective is to monitor compliance with the Conservation and Management Measures (CMMs) of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC). These multilateral operations provide a unique opportunity for fisheries officers to gather information on how WCPFC CMMs work in practice as well as enabling vessel operators to seek advice and information on WCPFC CMMs.

Over time, fisheries officers have seen an increase in the presence and use of turtle and seabird mitigation devices demonstrating a commitment and willingness by the fishing crews’ and flag States to comply with WCPFC CMMs. In addition to other verification tools such as observers and electronic monitoring, high seas boarding and inspection activities also ensure that requirements relating to vessel level reporting are met. In particular, the reporting of reliable and accurate catch and effort data will remain a focus of these operations because this information is critical to support WCPFC decision making and to measure compliance with vessel level reporting obligations.

During this operation a total 19 fishing vessels were boarded and inspected and a further six were subject to radio interrogation. Thirteen suspected breaches across nine vessels were detected and reported to the flag States of the fishing vessels for further investigation.

This operation highlights the value of multilateral cooperation and the outcomes enhance regional approaches to sustainably manage fisheries resources, critical to both Australia and our Pacific neighbours.

Multilateral Operation Operation Nasse – an AFMA officer inspects a tori line (used to scare seabirds away from baited hooks) during fishing on board a foreign flagged longliner Photo courtesy AFMA
Multilateral Operation Operation Nasse – an AFMA officer inspects a tori line (used to scare seabirds away from baited hooks) during fishing on board a foreign flagged longliner Photo courtesy AFMA