Go to top of page

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


AFMA manages Commonwealth fisheries against the principles of ecological sustainable development on the basis that managing the impacts of fishing activities on the marine ecosystem and ensuring sustainable commercial harvesting leads to better economic and social outcomes.

To achieve this AFMA worked with Commonwealth agencies during 2019-20 on updated Commonwealth Fisheries Harvest Strategies and ecological risk assessments and implementing changes to our management arrangements to reflect these updated risks.


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. 234 and in AFMA's Corporate Plan for 2019-22 p. 8.

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




The accuracy of fisheries reporting on general bycatch quantity2each year (number of fisheries) improves




The total number of fisheries reporting decreasing volume of general bycatch quantity2each year (number of fisheries)




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



2Bycatch other than TEPs

Methods for measuring performance:

  1. Based on the agreed schedule of ecological risk assessments in the Guide to AFMA’s Ecological Risk Management June 2017.
  2. Based on Ecological Risk Assessments, noting that revised, more precautionary species reference points have identified more high risk species. The latest round of ecological risk assessment of AFMA fisheries has identified a total of 87 high risk species that Commonwealth fisheries are interacting with. Responses to these risk are either under development or already in place. It is expected that the number of species identified as high risk will decline in subsequent years, subject to any new/changes to ERA methodologies.
  3. Reporting of general bycatch by fishery in logbooks, e-monitoring and the observer program.
  4. Quarterly reports to the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.


AFMA uses an ecosystem-based approach to ensure that it takes account of fishing effects on the whole marine environment, rather than just target species. This applies 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 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.

The Ecological Risk Assessment for the effects of fishing (ERA framework) requires that each fishery sets out how it will address risks identified through the formal assessment process particularly those impacts that fishing has on commercial species, bycatch and TEPs. These actions are set out in each fishery’s management arrangements and responses and delivered through individual management plans, bycatch plans and protected species strategies. As part of AFMA’s revised ecological risk management framework ultimately every fishery will encapsulate these arrangements into fisheries management strategies: a ‘one stop shop’ for documentation and information about Commonwealth fisheries. This reflects our work with the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment 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 Commonwealth fishery to date and work is significantly progressed for two other fisheries.

Based on the updated Ecological Risk Assessment methodology six fisheries have been reassessed by CSIRO in conjunction with AFMA. Some of these reassessments resulted in changes in the species composition in “potential high risk species” identified. For example, the Southern Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery trawl sector no longer has any marine mammals identified as high risk to fishing and likewise the gillnet sector is no longer considered a high risk for fur seals or Australian Sea Lions.

Another five Ecological Risk Assessments are due to be completed during 2020–21. To support the ecological risk assessment methodology we held a number of meetings of the Ecological Risk Management Working Group. A key focus of the group over this period was assessing the outcomes of an international review of the methodology with a view to updating and improving AFMA ERA methodology where appropriate.

Reducing bycatch remains an important focus for AFMA, gross volumes of reported bycatch was lower in eight fisheries and exceeded the performance target. Twelve fisheries provided accurate information on the quantity of bycatch discarded, exceeding the target by four. These metrics will assist us in meeting the requirements of the recently introduced Commonwealth Bycatch Policy, particularly around cumulative impacts across fisheries.

AFMA introduced management arrangements in 2020 that require otter trawl operators in the Commonwealth Trawl Sector to retain biological material when fishing gear is in the water in high risk areas, unless they can demonstrate mitigation approaches that remove the risk to seabirds interacting with trawl warp wires. Industry has since developed a number of innovative solutions, including hydraulic mechanisms to pull warp wires under water, and discard chutes that allow for biological material to be discharged below the water surface. Industry is continuing to trial alternative mitigation approaches with the aim of gaining exemptions to the new rules. The number of fisheries with decreasing interaction rates with TEPs was six, exceeding the performance target.