The FRDC, like many organisations across Australia, has had a mixed, stressful, but relatively successful year given the events that have developed. For the first half of the year, the outlook was positive across all fishing and aquaculture. In particular, the aquaculture sector continued to see good growth and investment. Recreational fishing remained a popular pastime, and FRDC’s Indigenous Reference Group was providing excellent input to a wide range of initiatives across Government.
In the second half of the year the story was quite different. Ocean heat waves, bush fires and the coronavirus pandemic placed huge pressures on both stakeholders and staff. Impacts ranged from direct financial constraints through to personal (physical and mental) and broader community issues.
Over the last six months both directors and staff spoke with people from across fishing and aquaculture to gauge how they were faring, looking for ways to assist. Unlike previous disasters, it was clear that no two people had the same story — even those in the same fishery or business.
However, despite the impacts the crisis brought out the best in many, with people reaching out to provide support and offer a helping hand to those in need. Likewise, there were rays of hope where companies changed direction and showed how perseverance and commitment even in dark times can still lead to good results. Recreational fishing is seeing a resurgence in participation in areas not COVID-19 locked down.
The following sections summarise the key issues the board addressed during the year. The letter of transmittal (beginning on page v) also forms part of the board’s report of operations and outlines some of the broader issues faced in the operating environment.
FRDC Chair changes
The Hon. Ron Boswell was reappointed to Chair the FRDC for a second three-year term in August 2019 by the then Minister for Agriculture Bridget Mackenzie. In January 2020, Ron announced he would step down as FRDC Chair. The FRDC and the fishing and aquaculture community thanked and acknowledged Ron for his exceptional commitment and contribution.
Following the resignation Professor Colin Buxton acted in the role until 10 March 2020 when Mr john Williams commenced the role of FRDC Chair.
A number of ministerial and portfolio changes occurred during the year following the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Environment and Energy merging to create the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE) on 1 February 2020.
Portfolios Ministers during the year were David Littleproud (Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management), Sussan Ley (Environment) and Assistant Minister Jonathon Duniam (Fisheries, Forestry and Regional Tourism).
The Hon. David Littleproud was appointed as Minister for Agriculture following the resignation of Senator Bridget Mackenzie who was Minister for Agriculture up to 2 February 2020.
Early 2020 the FRDC staff and board monitored the progression of COVID-19 and began planning how best to prepare for what might occur. by March 2020 it was clear significant changes would need to be implemented. The starting point was to ensure the welfare and safety of the staff and stakeholders. The FRDC reviewed and updated its policies regularly providing updates via the website.
From March to June the FRDC undertook a major engagement and communication program to provide stakeholders with updates (for example government assistance packages) and information to assist them. Central to this were two COVID-19 editions of FISH magazine and a new weekly e-newsletter.
Another key activity following the COVID-19 outbreak saw the FRDC contact all its researchers to gauge an understanding of the impacts that COVID-19 restrictions would have on them and their projects. The focus was to ensure their health and wellbeing. Where projects and activities, such as fieldwork, were impacted the FRDC varied projects to accommodate timeline changes.
The FRDC also delayed progressing new applications received and cancelled the April 2020 call for applications.
The FRDC’s new Research and Development Plan 2020–25
On 18 June 2020, the Assistant Minister Jonathon Duniam approved the FRDC’s Research and Development (R&D) Plan 2020–25.
The R&D Plan 2020–25 forms a central part of the strategic planning process that drives organisational focus and impact. The plan was informed by a series of reviews, research and extensive consultation. Consultation focused around scenario planning, which can be helpful when planning in an uncertain environment.
The new plan responds to a shared vision for fishing and aquaculture, aims to deliver impact in five outcome areas, supported through implementation of five cross-cutting enabling strategies. The FRDC’s new plan is ambitious, aiming to push boundaries and drive experimentation on new ways to take fishing and aquaculture into the future. The plan aligns with key national targets and global commitments, such as the shared industry and Australian Government target of building agriculture to $100 billion by 2030, and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Statutory Funding Agreement
The 10-year FRDC Statutory Funding Agreement was signed by the Minister for Agriculture on 5 April 2020. Individual funding agreements with RDCs outline what is expected of them. This includes expectations of performance and transparency, as well as accountability to levy payers, the government and the public. The funding agreements are renegotiated based on the performance of the RDC during the term of the funding agreement (usually four years).
Australian National Audit Office Probity Audit
The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) undertook a probity audit of the five statutory RDCs in 2019 which included AgriFutures Australia, Cotton RDC (CRDC), Fisheries RDC (FRDC), Grains RDC (GRDC) and Wine Australia. The objective of the audit was to assess the effectiveness of the rural RDC’s management of probity. The report was published on 18 December 2019.
In managing probity issues, key conclusions were the CRDC was largely effective and AgriFutures Australia, the FRDC and GRDC and Wine Australia were partially effective. The corporations’ probity arrangements in relation to governance, policies and internal controls were largely appropriate. The CRDC effectively complied with its applicable probity requirements, while the other four corporations partially complied with Wine Australia the least effective.
The FRDC board supported all recommendations. A subsequent audit found FRDC had exceeded the audit review requirements.
Review of the FRDC investment and partnership structures
The draft of the review undertaken by Forrest Hill into the FRDC’s partnership structures such as the Research Advisory Committees, Industry Partnership Agreements and subprograms was circulated to these partners for comment. The review found that there was broad support for the partner process with options put forward around improvements to collaboration, changes to assist in linkages, consolidation of some committees and better extension. The FRDC has implemented a staged approach to implementing improvements in its planning, prioritisation and assessment processes to address the stakeholder feedback.
Submissions: Inquiries and reviews
During the year the FRDC made numerous submissions to a range of inquiries and reviews. They included:
- House of Representatives: Inquiry into growing Australian agriculture to $100 billion by 2030,
- Senate: Inquiry into the impact of seismic testing on fisheries and the marine environment,
- Independent review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999,
- National Agriculture Workforce Strategy,
- Agriculture Levy Review legislation,
- Tasmanian Legislature Finfish Aquaculture,
- Sharing Australia’s Commonwealth fisheries resources,
- Independent review of agricultural and veterinary (AGVET) chemical regulatory framework.
National Carp Control Plan
Over the past three years, DAWE and the FRDC have invested in a world-first program to assess the feasibility of using Cyprinid herpesvirus 3 (the carp virus) as a biological control agent for introduced common carp in Australia, as part of the National Carp Control Plan. In January 2020, the FRDC delivered its assessment for consideration by government.
The FRDC’s National Carp Control Plan forms one of several important inputs that will inform a decision by Australian, state and territory governments on the carp virus. In addition to the FRDC’s work, a final decision on carp biocontrol will require further public consultation and regulatory approval.
National RD&E Seafood Industry Safety Initiative
The National RD&E Seafood Industry Safety Initiative was developed to deliver improved workplace health and safety in the Australian seafood industry through a cross stakeholder partnership that addresses gaps and/or inefficiencies that affect safety.
The scope of the activities for the initiative are focused on the commercial wild-harvest and commercial aquaculture sectors, with the overarching goal of working towards zero fatalities and reduction in workplace safety incidences.
A number of associated projects underpin and help deliver the initiative. key supporting activities include Sesafe which aims to provide a platform of safety education material and Seafood Industry Australia’s ‘Our Pledge’, that commits to “value our people, look after them and keep them safe”.
Collaboration was a priority area for the FRDC during the year. As an organisation, the majority of our investments are collaborative by nature. However, it is important to highlight the FRDC also works across primary industries with the rural RDCs to tackle larger common issues.
During the year this has included playing an active role in the Council of Rural Research and Development Corporations (CRRDC), which has coordinated efforts in response to the modernising RDC discussion coming out of the performance review of the rural innovation system. It has also led to the development of a new climate initiative which aims to fast track investment and response to the key areas associated with changing environmental conditions. The FRDC has worked with eight other RDCs to develop a new investment vehicle that aims to enhance collaborative RD&E to deliver transformational, cross-sectoral outcomes to the stakeholders of the agricultural value chain in Australia. A broader set of collaboration initiatives the FRDC has worked on is highlighted throughout the report and on pages 21–23.
EvokeAg was held on 18–19 February 2020 at the Royal Exhibition building in Melbourne. This year, the FRDC partnered with AgriFutures to sponsor the conference, taking the opportunity to run a panel session, which showcased areas of opportunity within the blue economy space. The FRDC showcased the key innovation activities — TekFish and blue-x — which provided an opportunity to bring innovators, investors and stakeholders together.
The FRDC’s partnership with FISH 2.0 culminated with eight Australian companies making the finals at the Global Innovators Forum held in Stanford, California on 4–5 November 2019.
The Global Forum confirmed that the sustainable seafood sector is now on firm footing with other agricultural and technology investment areas and is no longer on the fringe. The investor representation at the forum highlighted that sustainable seafood production and aquaculture was a key area for future investments. Australia’s participation in FISH 2.0 helped raise the profile for innovation and production in our region. It also highlighted to the world the many and diverse investment opportunities, not only in production but also the numerous innovations being developed.
Mapping community trust
The FRDC is part of the Community Trust in Rural Industries collaborative project, run by AgriFutures and funded by the CRRDC.
The project aims to explore what the issues are around community trust looking at risk, threat or opportunities that exist for building better trust with the community for primary production. year one results show rural industries are well trusted, but there remain areas where the community is uncertain about some issues. However, this finding presents opportunities for the relevant sectors to make improvements and address those issues.
The FRDC continued to develop and build international collaboration partnerships and opportunities to work on global issues. The FRDC is a member of the International Coalition of Fisheries Associations which is committed to science-based and fully participatory fishery conservation and management processes. The group meets at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) during the year to discuss key issues including the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fishing (2020 is the 25th anniversary of the code), Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), marine plastics and labour issues.
The FRDC had contributed to the development of a global seafood leadership program with the United States, United Kingdom and Canada, however the emergence of COVID-19 saw this program cancelled.
Significant events after 30 June 2020