Commonwealth fisheries are in excellent shape with the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) Fishery Status Reports 2020 showing that for the seventh consecutive year, all fish stocks solely managed by AFMA were not subject to overfishing. In addition, ABARES’ most recent fishery statistics indicate that the annual gross value of Commonwealth fisheries production (GVP), that is the landed value of product has been maintained at around $400 million despite operational disruptions and value-chain collapse across a number of fisheries in the latter half of the financial year due to bushfires and COVID-19. Our fisheries make a valuable contribution to the broader Australian community, such as through providing employment, supporting economic development in regional areas and generating export earnings.
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 PGPA Act 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:
Guided by relevant Commonwealth legislation and policies, AFMA works to ensure that the exploitation of fisheries resources is conducted in a manner consistent with the principles of ecologically sustainable development and the exercise of the precautionary principle. In this context, AFMA assesses the risk of fishing to the marine environment and prioritises our management responses to manage the effects of fishing on not only the target species, but also bycatch species, threatened, endangered or protected species and the broader marine ecosystem.
Sustainable and environmentally responsible fisheries is the key focus of the agency. Formal harvest strategies under the Australian Government's Commonwealth Harvest Strategy Policy are in place or being updated in all our major fisheries, and these are improving decision making and sustainability of Commonwealth fisheries. This shows that efficient fisheries depend on abundant fish stocks. These harvest strategies are currently being reviewed and, if necessary, refined to meet the needs of the updated Harvest Strategy Policy released in 2018.
While no fish stocks solely managed by AFMA is subject to overfishing, we continue our work to recover depleted stocks, but it is a long road in some cases. The further challenge of potential regime shifts and climate impacts may ultimately prevent some stocks recovering – even in the absence of fishing pressure – and we are seeking to improve knowledge of these issues and impacts to guide our management responses for all Commonwealth fisheries.
To that end, AFMA and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) have progressed a climate adaptation project to help address climate risks facing our fisheries. The aim of that project is to understand the risks climate change presents to Commonwealth fisheries so that the following questions can be answered:
- What changes does AFMA need to make to its regulatory system so that it can still effectively deliver its management objectives?
- What are the consequences of those changes for the fishing industry and other fishery stakeholders?
The project has developed a handbook for fishery stakeholders that sets out the steps required to understand the potential sensitivity of a fishery’s management to physical and ecological change, whether the fishery can easily and rapidly autonomously adapt to these changes or whether it will be a longer process that requires management plans and methods to be modified.
MAXIMISE THE NET ECONOMIC RETURNS
AFMA recognises that well-managed, sustainable fisheries with secure access rights for industry – allowing them to invest in the latest technology, best workforce practices and market development – provides the basis for maximising economic returns.
In July 2019, AFMA and the Northern Prawn Fishery Industry Pty Ltd (NPFI) implemented formal economic and biological indicators to monitor year-on-year performance of the Northern Prawn Fishery relative to fishing capacity. This will enable industry, and AFMA if needed, to recognise and respond to the need for structural adjustment in the Northern Prawn Fishery fleet to keep it delivering positive economic returns.
In March 2020 AFMA approved funding for the collection of economic data and development of a model for the Bass Strait Central Zone Scallop Fishery in order to estimate maximum economic yield under proposed revisions to the harvest strategy.
Also in March 2020, AFMA released a new draft Exploratory Fishing Policy for stakeholder and public consultation. An efficient Exploratory Fishing Policy will encourage fishers to explore and develop new fishing resources. The new draft simplifies the process of exploring new resources based on balancing risk and cost while using AFMA’s Ecological Risk Management framework. It is expected to encourage fisher-led exploration and development of Commonwealth resources through increased transparency and management of ongoing rights.
Working with the international community and other Australian Government agencies, AFMA continues 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 caught. Evidence continues to show that this vigilance has a strong deterrence affect. During 2019–20, a total of four Indonesian 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.
By maintaining targeted actions and visibility in the field, AFMA continues to encourage voluntary domestic compliance rather than having to take enforcement action against conscious non-compliance.
EFFECTIVE, COST EFFICIENT AND TRANSPARENT MANAGEMENT AND REGULATOR ARRANGEMENTS
We have progressed co-management arrangements in our fisheries to further develop collaborative approaches and the benefits for industry from greater stability and responsibility are becoming clear.
In 2019 AFMA and the NPFI entered a new multiyear contract for the provision of co-management services. The new contract continues to strengthen the co-management partnership, with NPFI taking on additional responsibilities for administering the NPF Fishery Surveys in collaboration with CSIRO. In 2020 AFMA formally delegated data disclosure authorisation to the NPFI Chief Executive Officer (CEO) to cover fisheries related data and manage data requests for industry data on behalf of the industry. This delegation marks a milestone for AFMA and is the first such delegation between AFMA and an industry association.
In 2019-20 AFMA successfully completed the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC) funded e-fish: An Integrated data capture and sharing project. The e-fish project was a widely successful collaboration across Australia’s fisheries management jurisdictions to understand the perspectives of multiple data user types in each Australian fisheries jurisdiction. Key insights gained from the project include how current data systems are structured, challenges in relation to data sharing and usage, and suggestions for improving how data can be integrated within and across fisheries agencies. The e-fish project created and tested a prototype ICT structure based on a set of design principles that is capable of linking, integrating and sharing fisher-reported data. These design principles, and the successful testing of the prototype, marks a significant step towards making the full value of fisheries data accessible in time to the Australian community and fisheries stakeholders.