This report also marks the fifth year of reporting against the FRDC’s RD&E Plan for 2015–20. This plan brought with it a number of key changes for the FRDC. In particular, it was the first time the FRDC set three overarching key priority areas to address (see pages 30–52 for detailed reports).
The first priority aimed to not only underpin the sustainability of Australia’s fisheries through good R&D investment but also increase awareness and inform community perceptions — a key metric for the priority. It is fair to say the FRDC exceeded expectations in these regards with community perceptions increasing from 24 per cent for the commercial fishing industry and 40 per cent for all fishing and aquaculture in the 2015 survey, up to 37 per cent for the commercial fishing industry and 47 per cent for all fishing and aquaculture in the 2019 survey. A significant body of work was done to achieve this including the release of three Status of Australian Fish Stocks reports which saw around 90 per cent of the fish caught in Australia assessed with a majority rated sustainable.
The second priority focused on improving the productivity and profitability of the seafood industry. This is a difficult area to assess at a micro level (every fisher or fishery), however at the macro level the gross value of production for commercial fishing and aquaculture increased from around $2.5 billion in 2014–15 up to $3.1 billion in 2018–19 before a marked reduction in 2019–20 (down to $2.6 billion) due to COVID-19. It is important to note, that had COVID not have happened the value of fishing and aquaculture was expected to increase to around $3.4 billion. Overall, most industry sectors improved their positions during the five-year RD&E Plan period. This combined with a better community perception is a good outcome for fishing and aquaculture.
The third priority focused on growing the value of aquaculture. Again, the results over the five years were very positive. key farming sectors such as Atlantic Salmon and barramundi both increased production and value. The aquaculture sector also saw important inflows of investment and expansion across all areas. The potential to expand new species was also positive, with the R&D for Profit project to develop yellowtail kingfish aquaculture seeing not only an increase in knowledge and fish health, but also new lease sites made available across Australia which could grow the production potential from 5000 to 60,000 tonnes. Additionally, towards the end of the RD&E Plan a focus on farming tropical oysters in the north and west of Australia took hold with significant investment and lease (water) space allocated. However, it was not all clear sailing for aquaculture with two serious disease outbreaks occurring — White Spot Disease in prawns and Pacific Oyster Mortality Syndrome. both of these required considerable effort from all stakeholders (management agencies, researchers and industry) which is now paying off with both prawns and oysters on the road to recovery and expansion.
The FRDC’s investment via its RD&E Plan 2015–20 delivered solid outcomes for all stakeholders. Initial benefit cost analysis from over 60 projects undertaken during the Plan’s five-year term had (in present value terms) a total investment of $58.38 million and generated estimated total benefits of $281.89 million which gave a weighted average benefit cost ratio of 4.83 to 1. More information on each of the priority areas is detailed in the body of this annual report.
I take this opportunity to acknowledge the strong support of my fellow directors in guiding the FRDC towards outcomes that will benefit people in fishing and aquaculture, as well as the broader Australian community.
Mr John Williams Chair
This annual report describes events in the fifth year of FRDC’s RD&E Plan 2015–20. Because it is the end of a strategic plan ‘cycle’, the graphics in this report intend to show both dawn and dusk (the beginning and end of a daily cycle), and the lunar cycle which affects the waters and tides where fishers of Australia harvest their catch.