Commonwealth fisheries remain in excellent shape with the ABARES Fishery Status Reports 2020 showing that for the eighth 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 continued operational disruptions and value-chain collapse across a number of fisheries in the latter half of the financial year due to 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 of AFMA’s management (Part 3 of the Annual Report). Highlights of our activities and impacts under each of our corporate goals include:
Guided by our core policy and legislative requirements, AFMA focussed on updating and implementing harvest strategies consistent with the Commonwealth Harvest Strategy Policy and setting total allowable commercial catches for our fisheries. To support this work, we continued to implement our ecological risk management framework with a large number of fisheries updating their risk assessments and refining responses for high-risk species.
During the reporting period the Commission considered and approved the new harvest strategy for swordfish in the Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery (ETBF) and a new Harvest Control Rule for red-leg banana prawns in the Northern Prawn Fishery (NPF). The revised and updated harvest control rules will increase confidence in the sustainability targets set for Commonwealth fisheries. The Commission also utilised an extensive program of updated stock assessments and application of the harvest strategy policy to a range of species in the Southern Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery (SESSF) when setting allowable catches for multiple species in that fishery.
The agency worked during this period to update several core fishery ecological risk assessments for two of three sub-fisheries in the NPF, sectors of the SESSF and the Southern Bluefin Tuna Fishery (SBTF). The outputs of these assessments will focus management actions for high-risk species and improve the ecological sustainability of Commonwealth fisheries. The completion of these assessments is a fundamental component of the agency’s risk management framework and informs the agency’s decision making.
We maintained our focus and work on rebuilding overfished stocks with the orange roughy, upper slope dogfish and blue warehou rebuilding strategies reviewed. The AFMA Research Committee also approved funding for a project to monitor recovery of upper slope dogfish species. This work supports our sustainability goals by developing and implementing fishery specific harvest control rules that ensure sustainable fishing to allow the rebuilding of overfished stocks.
Maximise the net economic returns
AFMA continued to pursue its economic objective through implementing the requirements of the Commonwealth Harvest Strategy Policy that requires AFMA to maximise net economic returns (NER) to the Australian community from the management of a fishery. We achieved this by specifying an appropriate catch or effort target for each of the key commercial stocks taken in that fishery, where feasible; and implementing management measures that incentivise cost minimisation and revenue maximisation for the commercial sector.
To support the work developing fishery specific harvest strategies to meet this objective, the agency identified the need to improve communications on how AFMA meets and measures its net economic returns objective. Work has commenced on a detailed fisheries management paper Net Economic Returns – Interpretation and Performance Management to improve the understanding and performance evaluation of AFMA’s economic objective.
Developing this paper, including consultation with stakeholders, will be a key focus of the coming period. Through this process, we aim to identify the most appropriate economic indicators and information needs to help us track our performance against the economic objective. Developing a common understanding of the approach with our stakeholders will be a primary consideration.
AFMA has dedicated teams that monitor and investigate non-compliance by Australian fishers, whether they are licensed or not to participate in a specific fishery. The Domestic Compliance and Enforcement Program sets out AFMA’s risk based, intelligence led compliance program targeting key threats to the sustainability of Commonwealth fisheries.
The International Compliance and Enforcement Program (ICEP) sets out Australia’s multifaceted approach to responding to non-compliance by vessels from other countries that fish adjacent to Australia and those operating without authorisation inside Australian waters. Actions include:
understanding the drivers in order to formulate an appropriate response, applying effective enforcement actions including the confiscation of fish, fishing equipment and boats
working cooperatively and collaboratively with regional partners in strengthening global frameworks
exchanging information and delivering targeted programs to support implementation of international fisheries instruments
improving regional legislative and governance arrangements.
During 2020-21, AFMA responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by ensuring that fisheries officers implemented additional protocols and methods to minimise the risk of exposure while ensuring that outcomes were achieved in relation to the management of key fisheries risks being targeted. An analysis is outlined in Part 2 of the report.
Effective, Cost Efficient and Transparent Management and Regulator Arrangements
Over the past year, there have been a number of key initiatives undertaken across the agency to drive effective, cost efficient and excellent service delivery. AFMA’s first business led and business focused Data Strategy articulates the principles and priorities for the transparent and efficient investment in AFMA’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT), ensuring that the investment drives and supports the delivery of AFMA’s core business needs. For example, the Data Strategy seeks to better integrate AFMA’s data sets to enable business intelligence and analytics thereby strengthening evidence-based decision making.
Two other programs directly link to the Data Strategy:
Establishment of a Business Intelligence and Analytics team within the Fisheries Management Branch. Along with taking carriage of all data queries and reporting, the team will provide AFMA with specific business intelligence and analytics skills and capability. The team will support more complex, and in time, predictive analytics to support new and emerging issues facing our fisheries.
Move to electronic logbooks – significant behind the scenes work undertaken to enable all fisheries to move to electronic logbooks in due course and have this data imported into AFMA’s Agency Data Capture (ADC) platform. Moving from paper to electronic reporting provides data in near-real time, supporting the collection of complete and more accurate data that helps to increase the confidence in its efficacy. Linked to this has been the initial development of eCDRs in the Torres Strait and Commonwealth fisheries. Moving our existing data collection methods to the ADC platform, for example moving to eObserver, is ongoing work and is foundational to the realisation of the Data Strategy. All of these initiatives reduce administration time and regulatory burden on fishers.
Over the past year AFMA has also undertaken a thorough review of electronic monitoring (EM), including considering all aspects of the program. The objective of the review is to ensure that the program remains fit for purpose, is cost-effective, and is supporting other AFMA policies such as co-management, the Harvest Strategy, and protected species policies. The review included internal and external stakeholder engagement, consideration of how we are currently using the technology, the costs and benefits associated with EM, changes to the technology including related to artificial intelligence and machine learning, the changing expectations of the market and consumers, and how AFMA can leverage from the technology. Based on this review, AFMA will move to a standards- based EM program with internal review of the EM footage.