Overview

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Chapter 1: Overview

H Patterson, L Georgeson, R Noriega, R Curtotti​, F Helidoniotis, J Larcombe, S Nicol and A Williams

The Australian Government’s approach to fisheries management includes maintaining fish stocks at ecologically sustainable levels and, within this context, maximising the net economic returns (NER) to the Australian community (DAFF 2007). It also considers the impact of fishing activities on non-target species and the long-term sustainability of the marine environment, as required by the Fisheries Management Act 1991 and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). This requires an understanding of the biological status of stocks, the economic status of fisheries and the state of marine environments that support fisheries.

Fishery status reports 2018 provides an independent assessment of the biological status of fish stocks and the economic status of fisheries managed, or jointly managed, by the Australian Government (Commonwealth fisheries) (Figure 1.1). It summarises the performance of these fisheries in 2017 and over time, against the requirements of fisheries legislation and policy. The reports assess all key commercial species from Australian Government–managed fisheries and examines the broader impact of fisheries on the environment, including on non-target species.

To complete these reports, ABARES uses data and information from agencies such as the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) and regional fisheries management organisations. The reports use information on catch and fishing effort, and other information for the most recent complete fishing season that is available, and the most recent stock assessments. Commonwealth fisheries operate with different fishing season dates, so the currency of catch data in the reports varies. To compare status from year to year, biological status and environmental status are presented for 2017. Economic status is presented for the 2016–17 financial year.

FIGURE 1.1: Relative catch levels of Australian Government–managed fisheries, 2017

[expand all]

1.1 Assessing biological status

Assessments of stock status provide an indication of whether the current size of a fish stock is above the level at which the stock is considered to be overfished (biomass status) and whether current levels of catch will allow the stock to remain in that state (fishing mortality status). Stock status is expressed in relation to the reference points prescribed by the Commonwealth Fisheries Harvest Strategy Policy (HSP; DAFF 2007).

Biomass (B) status relates to how many fish there are—specifically, whether the biomass in the year being assessed is above the level at which the risk to the stock is considered to be unacceptable. The HSP defines this level as the limit reference point, below which the stock is considered to be overfished.

Fishing mortality (F) status relates to the level of fishing pressure on a stock—specifically, whether fishing mortality in the year being assessed is likely to result in the stock becoming overfished, or prevent the stock from rebuilding from an overfished state. If fishing mortality exceeds either of these thresholds, a stock is considered to be subject to overfishing.

Stocks are included in the Fishery status reports if they meet one or more of the criteria below. Conversely, stocks may be removed from the reports if they do not meet at least one of these criteria:

  • a target or key commercial species in a fishery managed solely or jointly by the Australian Government
  • a species or stock managed under a total allowable catch (TAC)
  • a species or stock previously classified as ‘overfished’ that has not yet recovered to above the limit reference point.

In addition, stocks may be included if they meet one or more of the criteria below. Such stocks are assessed on a case-by-case basis:

  • a species previously included in the Fishery status reports as a single stock that has been reclassified as multiple stocks to align with species biology or management
  • a byproduct species of ecological and/or economic importance, if it meets one or more of the following criteria
    • for several consecutive years or fishing seasons, the total catch (landings and discards) of the byproduct species is approximately equal to, or greater than, that of any other stock currently targeted and/or assessed in that fishery or sector
    • the value of the total catch landed of the byproduct species is considered to be an important economic component of the fishery or sector
    • the byproduct species or stock is listed as being at high risk from fishing activity in the ecological risk assessment process for the fishery or sector.
Port Welshpool
AFMA

1.2 Biological status in 2017

Fishery status reports 2018 assesses 95 fish stocks across 22 fisheries (Figure 1.2); 65 stocks were assessed across 9 fisheries that are managed solely by AFMA on behalf of the Australian Government, and 30 stocks were assessed across 13 fisheries that are managed jointly with other Australian jurisdictions or other countries. One new stock is included in Fishery status reports 2018: the Antarctic toothfish (Dissostichus mawsoni) stock in the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources exploratory toothfish fishery in subarea 88.1, which was formally fished by an Australian vessel for the first time in 2017. This is a jointly managed stock because it occurs in the area covered by the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.

The status of the 95 fish stocks managed solely or jointly by the Australian Government in 2017 is summarised as follows:

  • The number of stocks classified as not subject to overfishing (Figure 1.3) decreased to 79 (81 in 2016), and the number of stocks classified as not overfished (Figure 1.4) remained at 69. Of these, 65 stocks were both not subject to overfishing and not overfished (65 in 2016).
  • The number of stocks classified as subject to overfishing (Figure 1.3) decreased to 2 (3 in 2016), and the number of stocks classified as overfished (Figure 1.4) decreased to 10 (11 in 2016). No stock was classified as both overfished and subject to overfishing (1 in 2016).
  • The number of stocks classified as uncertain with regard to fishing mortality increased to 14 (10 in 2016), and the number of stocks classified as uncertain with regard to biomass increased to 16 (14 in 2016). Of these, 6 stocks were uncertain with respect to both fishing mortality and biomass.

Fishery status reports 2018 shows a shift in the general trend of improvement in the biological status of fish stocks in Australian Government–managed fisheries seen in recent years (Figures 1.3 and 1.4). A number of stocks have changed status, for either biomass or fishing mortality, to uncertain. These changes largely reflect increased uncertainty for some stocks because of an extended period since the last assessment, or uncertain assessments or changes in catch. However, the 2018 reports are the fifth consecutive year that no stock in fisheries solely managed by the Australian Government have been classified as subject to overfishing.

Status outcomes are summarised separately for stocks in fisheries solely managed by the Australian Government and stocks in fisheries that are jointly managed. This allows an evaluation of the performance of fisheries management against the relevant legislation and policies, which may differ between these groups of fisheries.

FIGURE 1.2 Biological status of fish stocks in 2017, by fishery or sector
FIGURE 1.3 Fishing mortality status (number of stocks), 2004 to 2017
FIGURE 1.4 Biomass status (number of stocks), 2004 to 2017

Stocks that have changed status

Twelve stocks changed status in 2017. Status changes were largely due to increased uncertainly in status as a result of old stock assessments, uncertainty in catches or changes in catch, and improved and updated stock assessments. The status of four stocks in fisheries solely managed by the Australian Government changed in 2017 (Table 1.1). The level of uncertainty around fishing mortality status for red-legged banana prawn (Fenneropenaeus indicus) in the Northern Prawn Fishery (NPF) has increased. Although the most recent estimate of biomass (2018) was just above the limit reference point, resulting in a status change, the management currently in place is unable to constrain fishing effort, and it is uncertain whether current fishing mortality will result in the biomass declining below the limit reference point. In the Coral Sea Fishery, white teatfish is now classified as uncertain for both fishing mortality and biomass. This is because there is no current assessment of biomass, but, unlike in 2016, there was some catch of white teatfish. The basket stock of the Line and Trap Sector is also classified as uncertain for both fishing mortality and biomass because the species composition has changed, and the catch of flame snapper (Etelis coruscans) exceeded the estimated maximum sustainable yield for that species. In the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery (SESSF), the ‘other oreodories’ stock is now classified as uncertain for fishing mortality because catches in 2017 exceeded the recommended biological catch (RBC), and it is unknown whether this increased rate will deplete the population to below its biomass limit reference point.

Eight stocks in jointly managed fisheries changed status in 2017. Both bigeye tuna (Thunnus obesus) and swordfish (Xiphias gladius) in the Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery (ETBF) improved their status to not overfished and not subject to overfishing. These changes are due to improved stock assessments undertaken in 2017. Similarly, the southern bluefin tuna stock (Thunnus maccoyii) is now classified as not subject to overfishing, based on the outcomes of an updated stock assessment. Sandfish (Holothuria scabra) in the Torres Strait Bêche-de-mer Fishery is now classified as not subject to overfishing, because there were no reports of illegal fishing in 2017. Such illegal catches have created uncertainty in the fishing mortality status in previous years. However, the basket stock of other sea cucumbers in now considered uncertain for fishing mortality because the catch in 2017 included a species that has been reduced to low levels (deepwater redfish—Actinopyga echinites). It is unclear whether the level of catch in 2017 would impede effective recruitment and recovery of this species. Both stocks in the Torres Strait Prawn Fishery (Penaeus esculentus and Metapenaeus endeavouri) are now considered to be uncertain for both biomass and fishing mortality status because the most recent stock assessments were undertaken in 2006 and 2009, respectively, and are unlikely to be indicative of the current status of the stocks. Finally, the striped marlin (Kajikia audax) stock in the Western Tuna and Billfish Fishery (WTBF) is now uncertain for biomass status. This is because the biomass estimates for the multiple models used in 2017 ranged both above and below the limit reference point, and the current biomass is therefore unclear.


TABLE 1.1 Stocks with a changed status in 2017 and their status in 2016
Fishery Common name (scientific name)

2016

2017

Fishing
mortality

Biomass

Fishing
mortality

Biomass
Stocks in fisheries managed solely by the Australian Government
Coral Sea Fishery Line and Trap Sector (numerous finfish, shark and crustacean species) Not subject to overfishing Uncertain Uncertain Uncertain
Coral Sea Fishery White teatfish (Holothuria fuscogilva) Not subject to overfishing Uncertain Uncertain Uncertain
Northern Prawn Fishery Red-legged banana prawn (Fenneropenaeus indicus) Not subject to overfishing Uncertain Uncertain Not overfished
Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery: Commonwealth Trawl Sector Oreodory: other (Neocyttus rhomboidalis, Allocyttus niger, A. verrucosus) Not subject to overfishing Not overfished Uncertain Not overfished
Stocks in fisheries managed jointly by the Australian Government
Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery Bigeye tuna (Thunnus obesus) Subject to overfishing Overfished Not subject to overfishing Not overfished
Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery Swordfish (Xiphias gladius) Uncertain Not overfished Not subject to overfishing Not overfished
Southern Bluefin Tuna Fishery Southern bluefin tuna (Thunnus maccoyii) Uncertain Overfished Not subject to overfishing Overfished
Torres Strait Bêche-de-mer and Trochus fisheries Other sea cucumbers (up to 18 species) Not subject to overfishing Uncertain Uncertain Uncertain
Torres Strait Bêche-de-mer and Trochus fisheries Sandfish (Holothuria scabra) Uncertain Overfished Not subject to overfishing Overfished
Torres Strait Prawn Fishery Brown tiger prawn (Penaeus esculentus) Not subject to overfishing Not overfished Uncertain Uncertain
Torres Strait Prawn Fishery Blue endeavour prawn (Metapenaeus endeavouri) Not subject to overfishing Not overfished Uncertain Uncertain
Western Tuna and Billfish Fishery Striped marlin (Kajikia audax) Subject to overfishing Not overfished Subject to overfishing Uncertain

Stocks classified as subject to overfishing and/or overfished

Stocks classified as overfished and/or subject to overfishing in 2017 are largely the same as in 2016 (Tables 1.2 and 1.3). Table 1.2 summarises the status determinations and why the stocks were classified as overfished or subject to overfishing; the full details and evidence are provided in the relevant chapters. Briefly, seven stocks in fisheries managed solely by the Australian Government were classified as overfished in 2017 (Tables 1.2 and 1.3). These stocks occur in the SESSF and are subject to stock rebuilding strategies. Blue warehou (Seriolella brama), eastern gemfish (Rexea solandri), orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus), gulper sharks (Centrophorus spp.) and school shark (Galeorhinus galeus) are listed as conservation-dependent under the EPBC Act.

Six stocks in jointly managed fisheries were classified as either overfished or subject to overfishing in 2016. This was reduced to five stocks in 2017 because bigeye tuna in the ETBF is now classified as not overfished and not subject to overfishing (Table 1.2).

Assessing fishing mortality status for overfished stocks

It is becoming increasingly difficult to assess fishing mortality status for a number of overfished stocks: blue warehou, eastern gemfish and redfish (Centroberyx affinis). This is a result of a range of factors, including a lack of data, and uncertainty in the catch data and in the assessments. These species are subject to rebuilding strategies, which specify a biologically reasonable time frame for recovery to a biomass above the limit reference point. Although all overfished stocks have an RBC of zero, their rebuilding strategies include an incidental catch allowance to account for catches that are regarded as unavoidable when fishing for other species.

Catches that breach these allowances have been reported for each species since the implementation of their rebuilding strategies. Such breaches constitute overfishing for the purposes of status determination. There is also some level of discarding of these species, which can vary between years and can be difficult to estimate. Information on the level of discarding is often not available for the most recent season at the time of drafting of these reports. When the known retained catch of the species approaches the incidental catch allowance, it is often difficult to be certain that the total catch has not exceeded the allowance because of the uncertainties in discard estimates. This increases the uncertainty about the level of influence the incidental catch of the species (and potential overfishing) may have on its rebuilding time frame. Furthermore, the assessment models that are used to develop the catch allowances generally assume average conditions (for example, recruitment) for their projections. The purpose of these projections is not to track recovery on an annual basis but to predict an ‘on average’ expected rebuilding time frame. A failure to detect a trend in fishery data that resembles the trajectory of the projection is not necessarily evidence that the species is not responding but may reflect ‘non-average’ conditions. Moreover, some assessments are more than six years old, and the evidence for fishing mortality effects is inferred from indicators rather than estimation using an assessment model. These models also rarely include ecosystem effects, such as changes in trophic interactions, which may influence the effect that fishing mortality has on rebuilding time frames.

These realities can make it unclear whether incidental catch is hindering recovery of a stock and what time frame of recovery is biologically reasonable, and therefore whether a stock under a rebuilding plan is subject to overfishing. This is the case for blue warehou, eastern gemfish and redfish. It is becoming increasingly apparent that standard data collection and assessment protocols are unable to deliver a concise picture of fishing mortality status for these overfished stocks.

Status of Australian fish stocks reports

In December 2016, the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC) released Status of Australian fish stocks reports 2016, the third in the series. The reports provide a national assessment of the status of key wild-capture fish stocks that are managed by the Australian Government, the states and the Northern Territory. The reports were initiated in 2012 by the FRDC and ABARES. They are developed collaboratively by the FRDC, ABARES, CSIRO, and government fishery research agencies in all states and the Northern Territory. The 2016 reports provide assessments for 294 stocks across 83 key species (or species complexes). The reports consider the same biological information as the Fishery status reports, but interpret that information within a nationally agreed classification system (see Appendix). This national reporting framework is designed to improve the ability to compare the status of fish stocks across Australia.

Bermagui
Clayton McLoud, AFMA
TABLE 1.2 Stocks classified as overfished and/or subject to overfishing in 2017, and their status in 2016
Fishery Common name (scientific name) 2016 2017 Comments

Fishing
mortality

Biomass

Fishing
mortality

Biomass

Stocks in fisheries managed solely by the Australian Government
SESSF: CTS and SHS
Chapter 9
Blue warehou (Seriolella brama) Uncertain Overfished Uncertain Overfished Total removals are below the incidental catch allowance, but the level of fishing mortality that will allow the stock to rebuild is unknown. There is no evidence that the stock is rebuilding.
SESSF: CTS and SHS
Chapter 9
Gemfish, eastern zone (Rexea solandri) Uncertain Overfished Uncertain Overfished Biomass is below the limit reference point. Uncertainty remains around total fishing mortality and rebuilding to the limit reference point within the specified time frame.
SESSF: CTS and SHS
Chapter 9
Gulper sharks (Centrophorus harrissoni, C. moluccensis, C. zeehaani) Uncertain Overfished Uncertain Overfished Populations are likely to be highly depleted, and fishing mortality is uncertain despite low landed catch and protection through closures.
SESSF: CTS
Chapter 9
Orange roughy, southern zone (Hoplostethus atlanticus) Not subject to overfishing Overfished Not subject to overfishing Overfished Closure of most areas deeper than 700 m and negligible catches. No updated stock assessment.
SESSF: CTS
Chapter 9
Orange roughy, western zone (Hoplostethus atlanticus) Not subject to overfishing Overfished Not subject to overfishing Overfished Closure of most areas deeper than 700 m and negligible catches. No updated stock assessment.
SESSF: CTS
Chapter 9
Redfish (Centroberyx affinis) Uncertain Overfished Uncertain Overfished Biomass is below the limit reference point. Catch is above the RBC, and it is unclear whether total removals are above the level that will allow rebuilding.
SESSF: SGSHS
Chapter 12
School shark (Galeorhinus galeus) Uncertain Overfished Uncertain Overfished Uncertain if the fishing mortality rate in 2017–18 is below the level expected to allow recovery within the specified time frame. Biomass is likely to remain below 20% of unexploited levels.
Stocks in fisheries managed jointly by the Australian Government
South Tasman Rise Trawl Fishery
Chapter 28
Orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus) Not subject to overfishing Overfished Not subject to overfishing Overfished Fishery has been closed under domestic arrangements since 2007 as a result of stock depletion.
Torres Strait Bêche-de-mer Fishery
Chapter 19
Sandfish (Holothuria scabra) Uncertain Overfished Not subject to overfishing Overfished No catch in 2017. The most recent full survey (2009) indicated that the stock was overfished.
Southern Bluefin Tuna Fishery
Chapter 23
Southern bluefin tuna (Thunnus maccoyii) Uncertain Overfished Not subject to overfishing Overfished The estimate of spawning biomass is below 20% of unfished biomass. The global TAC, set in line with the management procedure, should allow rebuilding within the prescribed time frame.
WTBF
Chapter 24
Striped marlin (Kajikia audax) Subject to overfishing Not overfished Subject to overfishing Uncertain The most recent estimates of biomass from multiple models range above and below the default Commonwealth limit reference point. The current fishing mortality rate exceeds that required to produce MSY.
WTBF
Chapter 24
Yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares) Subject to overfishing Not overfished Subject to overfishing Not overfished The most recent estimate of spawning biomass is above the default Commonwealth limit reference point. The current fishing mortality rate is above that required to produce MSY.

Note: CTS Commonwealth Trawl Sector. MSY Maximum sustainable yield. RBC Recommended biological catch. SESSF Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery. SGSHS Shark Gillnet and Shark Hook sectors. SHS Scalefish Hook Sector. TAC Total allowable catch. WTBF Western Tuna and Billfish Fishery.

TABLE 1.3 Biological stock status of all stocks assessed in 2017, and their status since 2004 coloured version PDF [150 KB, 9 pages]

T​h​e Tableau dashboard may not meet accessibility requirements. For information about the contents of these dashboards contact ABARES.​​ ​

Notes: CCAMLR Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. SESSF Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery.
Individual stocks may have been classified as multispecies stocks in earlier years. The status determination process changed in 2004 — refer to Chapter 30 for more information.

Rough weather
Alex Inwood, AFMA

1.3 Economic status

Assessing economic status

The evaluation of economic status in the Fishery status reports assesses each fishery’s performance against the economic objective of the Fisheries Management Act 1991 to maximise NER to the Australian community, within the constraints of ecologically sustainable development. Economic status is expressed in relation to the target reference points prescribed by the HSP, which are set at more conservative levels than the limit reference points used to assess biological status. At the stock level, economic status indicates whether the biomass is at a level that is consistent with achieving the HSP target reference point—a biomass target consistent with achieving maximum economic yield (MEY) from the fishery. When biomass is below the target reference point and moving further away from it, rebuilding of the stock would be required to bring the biomass closer to the reference point. When biomass is above the target reference point, fishing down the stock to the reference point is required to maximise NER. At the fishery level, moving stocks towards their respective target reference points leads to an improvement in the economic status of the fishery and helps ensure that the economic objective of the Fisheries Management Act 1991 is met.

Determining whether economic status of a fishery is improving or deteriorating is constrained by data limitations and relies on interpretation of a number of economic indicators. For example, an increasing trend in fishery-level NER driven predominantly by an increasing trend in the economic productivity of a fishery provides a strong indicator that the economic status of the fishery is improving. However, an increasing trend in fishery-level NER caused predominantly by favourable movements in market prices for inputs and outputs is not conclusive evidence that the fishery is moving closer to its target, because changes in market prices change the position of the economic target reference point.

The ABARES financial and economic surveys are important for estimating NER and thereby assessing the economic performance of fisheries managed by the Australian Government. NER estimates provide a full account of the return to the community from managing fisheries because they include all revenues earned and costs incurred. These costs include economic costs (for example, wages, use of family labour in the business, economic depreciation), fishery management costs (including those components not cost recovered from industry) and the full cost of fuel—that is, inclusive of fuel tax credits gained by the fishery. As a result, NER are typically lower than aggregate fishery profitability derived through an accounting framework, which only considers explicit costs and revenues in deriving estimates of profits. To assess economic status, movements in NER are assessed alongside other economic indicators, including the extent to which stocks managed in the fishery have moved closer to their respective economic target reference points.

Direct estimates of NER are only available for key Commonwealth fisheries for which ABARES routinely assesses financial and economic performance by surveying industry. Where direct estimates of NER are not available, a range of indicators are used to assess the economic performance of fisheries, and to make inferences about trends in NER. Effects of management arrangements and performance of the fishery against the HSP’s MEY objective are also assessed. For jointly managed fisheries (to which the HSP does not apply), economic performance is evaluated against relevant management objectives. Table 1.4 summarises indicators of economic performance.

Economic status in 2016–17

Fishery status reports 2018 assesses the economic status of all fisheries managed solely and jointly by the Australian Government. These fisheries generated an estimated gross value of production (GVP) of $403 million in 2016–17, accounting for 23 per cent of wild-catch fisheries GVP in Australia ($1.75 billion).1 These fisheries also accounted for about 13.2 per cent of Australia’s total fisheries and aquaculture GVP in 2016–17.

The Commonwealth fisheries GVP is dominated by production from four major fisheries that together accounted for 65 per cent of total fisheries GVP. In 2016–17, the NPF was the most valuable single-method fishery, with a GVP of $118.1 million. The multisector SESSF was the second most valuable Commonwealth fishery, with a GVP of $82.4 million. The wild-catch sector of the Southern Bluefin Tuna Fishery (SBTF) and the ETBF also made substantial contributions to fisheries GVP in 2016–17, with values of $38.5 million and $35.7 million, respectively (Figure 1.5).

FIGURE 1.5 Gross value of production of fisheries managed solely or jointly by the Australian Government, 2006–07 to 2016–17

 

1 GVP figures are subject to revision, and consequently may differ in past and future publications.

TABLE 1.4 Indicators and summary of economic status of Commonwealth fisheries for 2016–17
Fishery Performance relative to MEY target NER trend Fishing right latency
in fishing season
2016–17 fishery GVP (% change from 2015–16 2016–17 management costs (% share of GVP) Primary management instrument Comments about economic status
Bass Strait Central Zone Scallop Fishery MEY target not specified Negative in 2009–10 and 2010–11 (–$1.1 million). Likely to be increasing in 2015–16 and 2016–17 Low uncaught TAC $6.00 million
(+30%)
$0.31 million
(5%)
ITQs and spatial management NER are likely to have improved since 2010–11, the last available survey year. Compared with 2010–11, GVP in 2016–17 was higher, fewer vessels were used in the fishery, and unit fuel prices and total management costs of the fishery were lower.
Coral Sea Fishery MEY target not specified Not available High uncaught TAC in the non-aquarium part of the fishery Confidential $0.18 million
(confidential)
Catch triggers and TACs Estimates of NER are not available. A lack of information about the mix of fish caught in the Aquarium Sector makes it difficult to draw conclusions about trends in NER for this sector. A high degree of latent effort in the non-aquarium part of the fishery suggests low NER.
Norfolk Island Fishery MEY target not specified Not available Offshore fishery closed to commercial fishing. Unknown in the inshore fishery Not available Not available Input controls Economic status is unknown.
Northern Prawn Fishery Tiger prawn stocks above BMEY target. MEY catch trigger in place for banana prawns but too early to determine its effect on NER Positive and increasing Low unused effort $118.12 million
(–5%)
$1.89 million
(2%)
Individual transferable gear units (headrope length) NER reached a high of $31.4 million in 2015–16, supported by a strong increase in tiger prawn catch, marking a fourth consecutive annual increase in NER. The strong performance in 2015–16 is forecast to be repeated in 2016–17, following a strong increase in banana prawn catch in 2016–17.
North West Slope Trawl Fishery MEY target not specified Not available High non-participation by licence holders Confidential $0.07 million
(confidential)
Limited entry and catch triggers Estimates of NER are not available, although the high degree of latent effort indicates that NER are likely to be low.
Small Pelagic

Fishery

MEY target not specified Not available High uncaught TAC, typically above 90%, but reduced latency in 2015–16 and 2016–17 fishing seasons Confidential $1.27 million
(confidential)
ITQs Estimates of NER are not available for 2016–17. A decrease in the level of catch in 2016–17 compared with the very high level in 2015–16 suggests that GVP is likely to have declined in 2016–17. Changes in NER are uncertain because of a lack of information about changes in cost structures of the fishery.
SESSF: Commonwealth Trawl and Scalefish Hook sectors a Of the four key species, three are above or close to BMEY targets. Some overfished stocks require rebuilding for improvement in economic status Positive High uncaught TAC for some species $47.01 million
(+10%)
$3.23 million for CTS
(7% of CTS GVP)
ITQs NER were positive in 2014–15 ($0.17 million), and projected to rise in 2015–16 ($3.48 million) and 2016–17 ($4.24 million). Persistent high level of undercaught TAC for many species suggests a potential to improve MEY-based target reference points.
SESSF: East Coast Deepwater Trawl Sector No fishing effort Not available High uncaught TAC
(100%)
Confidential $0.00 million
(confidential)
ITQs No fishing effort since 2013–14. Before 2013–14, high levels of latency indicated low NER.
SESSF: Great Australian Bight Trawl Sector Bight redfish and deepwater flathead above or close to BMEY target Not available but likely to be positive, and have increased High uncaught TAC $10.04 million
(+30%)
$0.36 million
(4%)
ITQs A decline in fishing effort and a moderate unit fuel price increase, together with strong growth in GVP in 2016–17, suggest an increase in NER compared with 2015–16.
SESSF: Shark Hook and Shark Gillnet sectors b Gummy shark stock close to, or above, target. Biomass of school shark requires rebuilding Negative in 2014–15; estimated to become positive in 2015–16 and 2016–17 Low uncaught TAC for key target species $25.29 million
(+13%)
$2.18 million for GHTS
(9% of GHTS GVP)
ITQs NER were –$3.9 million in 2014–15. Preliminary estimates for 2015–16 and 2016–17 indicate that NER are likely to become positive.
Southern Squid Jig Fishery MEY target not specified Not available High non-participation by licence holders Confidential $0.06 million
(confidential)
Individual transferable gear units (jig machines) Latent effort in the fishery remains high, and catch and effort declined from 2015 to 2016. This suggests that the economic incentive to fish and NER in the fishery are low.
Western Deepwater Trawl Fishery MEY target not specified Not available High non-participation by licence holders Confidential $0.04 million
(confidential)
Limited entry Limited fishing activity occurred in the fishery during the 2016–17 fishing season. Low number of active vessels in recent years indicates that NER have been low.
Torres Strait Finfish Fishery Not applicable c Not available Not applicable $1.20 million
(–1.27%)
Not available Non-tradeable quota Estimates of NER are not available.
Torres Strait Tropical Rock Lobster Fishery Not applicable c Not available Low uncaught TAC $12.91 million
(–9.6%)
Not available Limited entry, size limits, gear limits and bag limits NER movement in 2016–17 is uncertain. A decrease in effort in the fishery in 2016–17 suggests a reduction in fishing costs, but this occurred with a fall in GVP.
Torres Strait Prawn Fishery Not applicable c Not available High unused effort $3.96 million 
(–55%)
$0.21 million 
(5%, AFMA costs only)
Tradeable effort units (nights) High levels of latency indicate low NER for this fishery.
Torres Strait Bêche-de-mer and Trochus fisheries Not applicable c Not available High uncaught TAC Not available Not available TACs NER movement in the 2017 fishing season is uncertain. The catch of valuable species such as prickly redfish decreased significantly; however, there was a significant increase in the catch of other sea cucumber species.
Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery MEY target not adequately specified or applied Increasing trend; turned positive in 2010–11 Low uncaught quota for target species $35.67 million

(–27%)

$1.57 million
(4%)
ITQs NER for the fishery improved significantly in 2014–15, rising to $6.5 million. Preliminary estimates suggest that this improvement in economic performance will be sustained in 2015–16 and 2016–17.
Skipjack Tuna Fishery MEY target not specified No fishing High non-participation by licence holders No fishing $0.05 million
(no fishing)
Limited entry No Australian vessels fished in 2016 or 2017. Fishing is opportunistic, and highly dependent on availability and the domestic cannery market. Currently, no domestic cannery has active contracts for skipjack tuna.
Southern Bluefin Tuna Fishery MEY target not specified Not available Low uncaught TAC $38.54 million
(+7%)
$0.91 million
(2%)
ITQs NER are expected to be positive. The overfished status of the stock poses a risk to future NER. Economic status will improve as the stock is rebuilt under the management procedure.
Western Tuna and Billfish Fishery MEY target not specified Not available High uncaught TAC (more than 95% in 2015 and 2016 fishing seasons) Confidential $0.22 million
(confidential)
ITQs Participation rate was low and latency remained high in 2017, suggesting low potential NER.
Heard and McDonald Islands Fishery Not applicable c Not available but likely to be positive Low uncaught TAC Confidential $1.79 million
(confidential)
ITQs Estimates of NER are not available, but NER are likely to be positive. Higher NER are likely for 2016–17 because there was significantly higher catch. Also, the TACs for the target species were near fully caught.
Macquarie Island Toothfish Fishery Not applicable c Not available but likely to be positive Low uncaught TAC Confidential $0.34 million
(confidential)
ITQs Estimates of NER are not available, but NER are likely to be positive for the 2016–17 and 2017–18 fishing seasons because the TAC latency for Patagonian toothfish was low for both seasons.
CCAMLR exploratory toothfish fisheries Not applicable c Not available Low uncaught TAC Confidential Confidential Limited entry and TACs Estimates of NER are not available, and NER remain uncertain. Australian fishers participated in subarea 88.2 from the 2014–15 fishing season, in division 58.4.1 from the 2015–16 season and in subarea 88.1 in the 2016–17 fishing season.

a NER estimates and management costs are only available for the Commonwealth Trawl Sector and exclude the Scalefish Hook Sector. b NER estimates and management costs are only available for the GHTS, which includes Scalefish Hook Sector catches and gillnet scalefish catches. c These fisheries are jointly managed fisheries that are not managed under MEY objectives. Statistics are provided by financial year.

Notes: AFMA Australian Fisheries Management Authority. BMEY Biomass at maximum economic yield. CCAMLR Commission for the Conservation
of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. CTS Commonwealth Trawl Sector. GHTS Gillnet, Hook and Trap Sector. GVP Gross value of production.
ITQ Individual transferable quota. MEY Maximum economic yield. NER Net economic returns. SESSF Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark
Fishery. TAC Total allowable catch. The South Tasman Rise Trawl Fishery is not shown because it has been closed since 2007.

Fisheries managed solely by the Australian Government

ABARES undertakes regular economic surveys of the most valuable fisheries managed solely by the Australian Government: the Commonwealth Trawl Sector (CTS), and the Gillnet, Hook and Trap Sector (GHTS) of the SESSF; and the NPF. These fisheries are managed under MEY objectives. Together, they accounted for 94 per cent of the GVP of all Australian Government–managed fisheries in 2016–17.

The tiger prawn component of the NPF is explicitly managed to a MEY target, using a bio-economic model to set effort levels that are estimated to produce MEY. The banana prawn component of the NPF is separately managed through an MEY-based catch rate trigger for season closure. NER in the NPF increased to $31.4 million in 2015–16, and preliminary estimates indicate further improvement in 2016–17 as a result of a strong catching season for banana prawns (Bath, Curtotti & Mobsby 2018). The bio-economic modelling of the tiger prawn component of the fishery has allowed the fishery to improve its economic performance for this component of the fishery.

In the CTS and the GHTS, MEY is targeted through the application of proxies for biomass targets (BMEY) for individual stocks. For the most valuable species targeted in these two sectors, current biomass levels are generally estimated to be close to, or above, their respective BMEY targets, meaning that stock levels are not constraining profits. For the CTS, estimates of NER increased from $1.9 million in 2005–06 to $4.5 million in 2011–12. Since then, NER are estimated to have decreased substantially by 2013–14, to –$1.16 million, following a 29 per cent decrease in GVP generated in the fishery in that year, and then recovered to an estimated $4.24 million by 2016–17. In the GHTS, positive NER were maintained in the decade leading up to, and including, 2008–09. However, NER turned negative in 2009–10, declining to –$0.4 million, as spatial closures aimed at reducing marine mammal interactions and efforts to avoid (overfished) school shark affected the sector’s economic performance (Skirtun & Green 2015). Since then, NER have followed an increasing trend, with an estimated NER of $1.57 million in 2016–17.

In the Great Australian Bight Trawl Sector (GABTS), the development of a bio-economic model for the two key target species (deepwater flathead—Platycephalus conatus, and bight redfish—Centroberyx gerrardi) has improved the ability to target BMEY (Kompas et al. 2012). The most recent stock assessments for bight redfish and deepwater flathead suggest that fishery profitability is unlikely to be constrained by stock status.

Some fisheries that had been small in previous years expanded in 2015–16, including the Small Pelagic Fishery (SPF) and the Bass Strait Central Zone Scallop Fishery (BSCZSF). Both these fisheries underwent management changes that allowed growth in GVP. For the BSCZSF, surveys in recent years have shown substantially larger biomass levels that have allowed higher TACs and more areas to be opened to fishing under the rules of the harvest strategy. In the SPF, the use of a large factory freezer midwater trawl vessel allowed a larger catch in 2015–16, but catches were sharply down in 2016–17 as a result of the trawler no longer operating in the fishery. Changes in NER are uncertain, however, because of a lack of information about changes in the cost structures of the fishery.

Low catch-and-effort levels in the other fisheries (Coral Sea Fishery, East Coast Deepwater Trawl Sector, North West Slope Trawl Fishery, Southern Squid Jig Fishery and Western Deepwater Trawl Fishery) indicate low NER in 2016–17. For these fisheries, it is often difficult to assess economic status because of a lack of economic data.

Jointly managed fisheries

Of the fisheries jointly managed by the Australian Government, the major fisheries include the ETBF, the SBTF and the Torres Strait Tropical Rock Lobster Fishery (TSTRLF). Combined, these three fisheries generated a GVP of $87.1 million and accounted for 46 per cent of the GVP of all jointly managed fisheries in 2016–17. Individually, these fisheries generated GVPs of $35.7 million, $38.5 million (wild-caught southern bluefin tuna as input to tuna farms) and $12.9 million, respectively, in 2016–17.

Estimates of NER are not available for the SBTF. However, the fishery provides fish to South Australia’s southern bluefin tuna aquaculture industry (generating $115 million GVP at the farm gate in 2016–17). Although the stock’s current low biomass level poses a risk to the future flow of NER from the fishery, the current international management arrangements, which are designed to allow the stock to rebuild, would be expected to improve NER in the future.

Economic status in the ETBF has improved. Based on recent estimates, NER for the fishery improved significantly in 2014–15, rising to $6.5 million. Preliminary estimates suggest that this improvement in economic performance will be sustained in 2015–16 and 2016–17, driven by increased catch, higher prices of key species and a significant fall in the fuel price.

Torres Strait fisheries are managed in accordance with the Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984. This Act details a range of management priorities, including acknowledging and protecting the traditional way of life and livelihood of Traditional Inhabitants. As a result, these fisheries are not evaluated against the MEY objective of the HSP in these reports, and achieving the fishery’s economic potential needs to be considered alongside the social and cultural objectives of Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people. The TSTRLF was the most valuable commercial fishery in Torres Strait in 2015–16, followed by the Torres Strait Prawn Fishery.

Latency in fisheries

In many fisheries, the degree of latency—that is, the proportion of TAC left uncaught, or the level of non-participation by licence holders—is high (Table 1.4). High levels of latency indicate that the economic incentive to participate actively in the fishery is lacking and that the overall economic performance of the fishery is likely to be low. In general, input controls, such as allowable effort, and output controls, such as TACs, should be set in line with the aim of achieving MEY. If fishers collectively are fishing below the TAC, they are foregoing economically profitable opportunities, the MEY target has been set too high or there are practical difficulties preventing fishers catching to the MEY target.

For some fisheries, the degree of latency can be explained in terms of the type of fishery and the industry structure. For example, for some jointly managed fisheries where Australia maintains an economic interest, latency may be high because the negotiated TAC for Australian fishers is not set according to MEY criteria. For some fisheries managed solely by the Australian Government, the fleet structure of the fishery may not be well aligned with the MEY target, and hence the TAC remains uncaught at the end of the fishing season. For example, the adoption by the SPF of a factory trawler led to reduced latency in that fishery in the 2015–16 and 2016–17 fishing seasons.

However, for some fisheries, the reasons for persistently high latency remain unclear and warrant further investigation. For example, a number of species in the SESSF have increasingly been undercaught in terms of their TACs in recent seasons.

The MEY target can be set higher than the optimum level for a number of reasons, including that:

  • estimating MEY targets requires investments in data collection and modelling that are constrained by available resources; managers therefore frequently use proxy targets that may not be optimal for a given species or multispecies stock
  • market conditions, such as fish prices or input prices for fuel and labour, may have changed, making a model-derived MEY target and/or proxy inaccurate
  • a stock may be less abundant than anticipated, or located further afield, and thus more costly to catch
  • regulatory changes in gear or spatial restrictions may mean that it is no longer economically profitable to catch to the previous MEY target.

Practical considerations sometimes make it difficult to catch to the MEY target. For example, an undercaught species may be co-caught with a targeted high-value species that has been fished to quota. Targeting the undercaught species may be too costly or impractical within a season. Similarly, a reduction in quota for a target species will likely reduce the catch of co-caught species. MEY targets designed for multispecies fisheries would help to address this cause of undercatch. In addition, fishers may not be able to obtain quota for the undercaught species because of the costs involved in obtaining quota in a market with few transactions.

Fishing net
AFMA

1.4 Environmental status in 2017

The Fishery status reports examines the broader impact of fisheries on the environment, in response to the requirements of the Fisheries Management Act 1991 and the EPBC Act. The Australian Government aims to implement an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management as part of meeting the principles of ecologically sustainable development. This requires a holistic approach to management that considers fisheries’ interactions with, and impacts on, bycatch species (including protected species), marine habitats, communities and ecosystems.

Ecological risk assessment

A key component of AFMA’s ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management has been the application of an ecological risk management (ERM) framework that is designed to respond to the outcomes of the ecological risk assessment (ERA) process (Hobday et al. 2007). Fishery-specific ERM reports integrate the information from the ERAs and other management requirements, such as recovery plans and threat abatement plans, and detail AFMA’s management response. Fishery-specific actions with respect to bycatch and discarding are identified in fishery-specific bycatch and discarding workplans. The ecological risk assessment and management framework has been revised, and reviews for the ETBF and SPF have commenced.

Commonwealth Policy on Fisheries Bycatch

The Commonwealth Policy on Fisheries Bycatch 2000 (bycatch policy) was reviewed in 2012. The main objectives of the policy are to reduce bycatch, to improve protection of vulnerable species and to arrive at decisions on the acceptable extent of ecological impacts (DAFF 2013a). The review of the bycatch policy found that a revised policy would be best developed within a framework of policy instruments for fisheries management that address all relevant aspects of fisheries management and its effect on the marine environment.

Protected species interactions

During the normal course of fishing operations, fishers can interact with protected species listed under the EPBC Act. Legislation requires them to take all reasonable steps to minimise interactions and report any interactions that occur. AFMA reports interactions with protected species reported by fishers in logbooks to the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy each quarter. The species involved and the level of interactions vary between fisheries and sectors, as well as with gear, area and season. Although interactions with protected species are rare, they can still be a significant source of mortality for the affected populations.

Considerable progress has been made in some fisheries to implement measures to reduce interactions with protected species. Examples are:

  • compulsory use of turtle excluder devices in the NPF
  • implementation of a threat abatement plan for the incidental catch (or bycatch) of seabirds during pelagic longline fishing operations in the ETBF, the WTBF and the Macquarie Island Toothfish Fishery
  • use of seal excluder devices in the SPF and in the winter blue grenadier trawl fishery of the SESSF
  • gillnet fishing closures in the Shark Gillnet and Shark Hook sectors of the SESSF to avoid interactions with Australian sea lions.

Recently, there has been a focus on seabird interactions with trawl fisheries. Following sea trials in 2015 to assess the impact of two new devices designed to reduce seabird interactions, since 1 May 2017, all vessels in the CTS and GABTS fisheries must use one of the following mitigation devices: sprayers, bird bafflers or pinkies (large floats attached in front of trawl warps to scare birds away), with zero discharge of fish waste.

AFMA also introduced new dolphin mitigation strategies in the SPF and the GHTS of the SESSF that came into force on 10 May 2017. These strategies apply to all trawling operations in the SPF and the whole gillnet sector of the GHTS. They were developed in consultation with stakeholders and marine mammal experts.

Data collection

Limited availability of reliable data on interactions with protected species remains problematic in some fisheries. The rare nature of interactions with protected species creates a challenge for obtaining reliable estimates of interaction rates, particularly at lower levels of observer coverage. Reliable data are critical for determining the extent of interactions, evaluating the potential impact on populations (particularly for high-risk species) and demonstrating the effectiveness of management measures.

AFMA has continued to strengthen independent monitoring capabilities by introducing electronic monitoring (e-monitoring) programs in several fisheries and subfisheries to improve logbook reporting and for logbook verification of interactions with protected species. A preliminary comparison of catch-and-discard data for target and bycatch species, as well as wildlife interactions, recorded in logbooks before the introduction of e-monitoring and afterwards shows, in most cases, a marked change after the introduction of e-monitoring, suggesting that fishers are recording data in their logbooks more accurately than before (Larcombe, Noriega & Timmiss 2016).

E-monitoring became mandatory on 1 September 2014 for boats using automatic demersal longline gear, and on 1 July 2015 for gillnet boats that fish more than 50 days per year and manual demersal longline boats that fish more than 100 days per year. E-monitoring became mandatory in the ETBF and the WTBF on 1 July 2015 for pelagic longline boats that fish more than 30 days per year.

At a minimum, 10 per cent of the video footage is analysed at random, and a risk-based approach is used to audit more footage from boats that are suspected of misreporting. In the GHTS, all gillnet hauls are audited in the Australian sea lion management zones, to verify any bycatch of protected species. More information on e-monitoring can be found on the AFMA website.2

Footnotes

1 GVP figures are subject to revision and consequently may differ in past and future publications.

2 www.afma.gov.au/monitoring-enforcement/electronic-monitoring-program/

1.5 References

Bath, A, Curtotti, R, Mobsby, D, 2018 Economic indicators report for Commonwealth fisheries: financial and economic performance of the Northern Prawn Fishery 2018,ABARES, Canberra.

DAFF 2007, Commonwealth Fisheries Harvest Strategy: policy and guidelines, Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Canberra.

Hobday, A, Smith, A, Webb, H, Daley, R, Wayte, S, Bulman, C, Dowdney, J, Williams, A, Sporcic, M, Dambacher, J, Fuller, M & Walker, T 2007, Ecological risk assessment for effects of fishing: methodology, report R04/1072 for the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, Canberra.

Kompas, T, Che, N, Chu, L & Klaer, N 2012, Transition to MEY goals for the Great Australian Bight Trawl Fishery, report to the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, Australian Centre for Biosecurity and Environmental Economics, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University, Canberra.

Larcombe, JL, Noriega, R & Timmiss, T 2016, ‘Catch reporting under e-monitoring in the Australian Pacific longline fishery’, paper presented at the second session of the WCPFC E-reporting and E-monitoring intersessional working group, 1–2 August 2016, WCPFC-2016-ERandEMWG2-DP01, Bali, Indonesia.

Skirtun, M & Green, R 2015, Australian fisheries economic indicators report 2015: financial and economic performance of the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery, ABARES, Canberra

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Last reviewed:
26 Nov 2018