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PC News - November 2016

Regulation of Australia’s marine fisheries and aquaculture

A Commission draft report argues that better management of Australia’s fisheries is essential to ensure their sustainability and value.

Australia’s marine environment is a significant asset. There are around 165 commercial wild catch fisheries, which generate around $1.5 billion in revenue each year. Recreational fishing is a much-loved pastime for millions of Australians.

Coastal Indigenous communities have long been users and custodians of Australia’s marine environment. And Australia’s marine resources provide non-extractive value, such as for the tourism sector.

Effective regulation helps to ensure that fisheries are sustainable and provide maximum value to the community. There is a range of tools in regulators’ and fishery managers’ ‘tackle boxes’ that can be used to achieve fishery policy goals (see figure 1).

An ongoing challenge is ensuring controls over fishing are effective and proportionate given evolving knowledge about the marine environment, and shifts in the level and nature of fishing activity due to factors such as population growth, changes in market drivers, and improvements in technology making it easier to ‘land’ catch.

The Australian Government asked the Productivity Commission to conduct an inquiry into ways to increase productivity and cut unnecessary and costly regulation in Australia’s fisheries and aquaculture.

The inquiry is considering whether there are opportunities to improve fisheries regulations without compromising fishery policy and environmental objectives, including through regulatory simplification, streamlining and ensuring consistency of arrangements across multiple jurisdictions; alternative, more efficient regulatory models; the practices of the various regulators; and removing unnecessary restrictions on competition. The Commission’s draft report was released in August 2016.

The draft report finds that Australia’s marine fisheries are performing well relative to the rest of the world in terms of sustainability. But the community is not getting the best value out of them.

  • Most commercial fisheries are subject to overly prescriptive controls, which stifle innovation and the adoption of more cost-effective fishing practices.
  • Most governments do not regularly monitor recreational and Indigenous customary fishing activity.

So decisions on where and how much recreational and customary fishers can fish (as well as the provision of services to these groups) are not being informed by evidence on the collective impact of fishers on stocks or the value of access to different fishing groups.

Determining allocations between fishers

Arrangements for determining access to fisheries when there is competition between the commercial, recreational and/or customary sectors was among the most dominant issues raised by inquiry participants.

The basis for determining who can access fisheries when there is competition is sometimes opaque or of questionable efficiency. Changes to access arrangements should ensure that any reallocation decision in favour of one group at the expense of another increases the overall value gained from the fishery – whether these benefits are economic, social and/or cultural.

Governments should give priority to collecting better information on recreational and Indigenous customary fishing to support decision making.

Figure 1: Fisheries Controls

  • Figure 1: Fisheries Controls

Recreational fishing

The rising sophistication and affordability of scanning technology and vessels has increased recreational fishers’ ability to fish further offshore and more intensively. The limited information available indicates that the recreational catch of some species is rivalling or exceeding commercial catch.

For example, in Tasmania, the recreational harvest of flathead has been estimated as almost six times the commercial take. And recreational take is putting pressure on some key species, such as southern bluefin tuna.

The impact of recreational fishing is likely to grow with population growth and the utilisation of new, more effective, fishing technologies.

Better counting of the recreational fish take is needed to meet the needs of future generations of fishers and environmental goals, ensure controls over activity are not overly stringent, and that services for fishers are evidence-based.

The Commission’s draft report argues that a well-designed licensing system is a key step for better managing and developing recreational fisheries. Licensing provides:

  • a basis for monitoring effort and allocating access to fishery resources
  • a means to better target information, services and facilities for recreational fishers
  • a sampling frame for periodic surveys of catch, gear used, and the value derived from fishing to help ensure that regulations are well-targeted over time
  • a means to impose special access conditions where warranted, for example, in relation to high value, at-risk species.

The emphasis should be on a low-cost licence with high coverage rates to support better management, and not revenue raising per se.

Improving commercial sector prospects

The commercial fishing sector’s output, value and employment has been in decline for more than a decade. This trend reflects constraints on activity due to past overfishing, but also outmoded fishery management policies, including the use of input controls as the predominant method of constraining catch.

This has suppressed productivity improvement and slowed structural adjustment.

Use of individual transferrable quota systems for the management of commercial fisheries (or marketbased input controls where this is not technically feasible) will help improve productivity in and prospects for the sector.

In addition, moves to rationalise or streamline cross-jurisdictional fisheries and clarify regulatory standards for protected species will help to reduce costs and risks for the sector.


The Commission considered the impact of regulations on industry growth since its 2004 study, Assessing Environmental Regulatory Arrangements for Aquaculture .

Regulations have, for the most part, not changed over the past 10 years, but this has not impeded the sector’s growth. Australia’s aquaculture production has been second only to Norway in value growth terms.

However, the aquaculture industry faces some challenges in securing significant future growth, including finding access to suitable sites given increasing competition for access to coastal land and waters, environmental concerns and access to infrastructure.

The creation of aquaculture development zones in Tasmania and South Australia has been helpful in identifying specific locations and reducing the red tape associated with gaining approvals. They warrant consideration by jurisdictions where there are commercially viable prospects for aquaculture development.

Summary of the Commission’s key draft recommendations

  • Institute harvest and allocation strategies

    Harvest strategy policies should be developed with regard to the National Guidelines. Allocation policies should seek to promote the best use of fishery resources and provide certainty in relation to the processes involved in determining resource shares.

    Regulation should not impede innovation and best practice in commercial fishing

    Commercial fisheries should move (as a default position) to transferable quota systems. Commercial fishing regulations should be reviewed regularly to ensure they remain ‘fit for purpose’ against clearly articulated policy objectives. And government should take into account any impacts of proposed planning and land/marine use developments on the commercial fishing sector.

    Reform of shared fisheries a priority

    Governments should make the reform of cross-jurisdictional fisheries a collective priority. Immediate priorities for reform include rationalising or streamlining arrangements for the management of southern bluefin tuna, the east coast biological snapper stock and stocks managed in the Commonwealth/New South Wales trawl fisheries.

    Accurate and timely information to improve management of the recreational sector

    Within the next three years governments should institute licensing systems (with minimal exemptions) for recreational fishing. To support the better targeting and design of fishing controls, governments should undertake regular surveys of actual effort and catch.

    Better incorporate Indigenous customary fishing into fisheries management

    Customary fishing by Indigenous Australians should be recognised as a sector in its own right in fisheries management regimes. Customary allocations and management controls should be developed in consultation with Indigenous communities. The Indigenous fishing sector should be afforded a priority share of resources in fisheries where catch or effort is limited.

    Scope to improve protected species management

    Governments should expand the use of explicit mortality limits for fisheries that have a high risk of interaction with threatened, endangered and protected species. Information on interactions with such species should be made publicly available, which will help to inform the adjustment of limits and strengthen accountability for meeting them.

    No mandatory country of origin labelling on seafood sold for immediate consumption

    Any country of origin labelling for seafood sold for immediate consumption should be based on a voluntary arrangement, as there is no public policy reason for further regulating in this area. The Australian Fish Names standard should also continue to be used on a voluntary basis.

Marine Fisheries and Aquaculture

  • Read the Draft Report released August 2016
  • The Inquiry Report is due to be provided to the Australian Government in December 2016.

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