Category Archives: Management

The Future of Commercial Fishing in Port Phillip Bay

23rd June 2017

By Ross Winstanley*

The Victorian Government’s proposed restrictions on commercial fishing in Port Phillip Bay from 2022 will leave the remaining fishermen hamstrung.

At best, these restrictions reflect the Government’s indifference to the future viability of commercial fishing in the Bay.  In my opinion, at worst, they reflect a subterfuge aimed at quietly eliminating all commercial fishing from the Bay.

Whether I’m right or wrong, there are real doubts about the viability of the post-2022 net-free commercial fishery.

Just eight commercial fishermen will remain after 35 fishermen have been removed through the Government’s buy-out program.  However, under the conditions to operate from 2022, the remaining eight face significant hurdles to stay economically viable.

The uncertainties facing the eight include:

  • will an operation based on a 400-hook longline, handlines, fish traps and octopus traps be economically viable?
  • will rigid documentation, prior- and post-landing reporting and PrimeSafe requirements hamstring these businesses and stifle private sales?
  • is the Andrews Government committed to promoting a viable commercial fishery beyond 2022 or have they left fishermen to sink or swim?

Victorian consumers face their own uncertainty: after more than a century of enjoying access to hundreds of tonnes of fresh, high quality and sustainable supplies of a wide range of species from the Bay annually, how long will that continue?

What’s the Government’s intention?

Surely, a government intent on providing for a viable commercial fishery would have carried out modelling to assess the impact of banning all forms of net fishing?  There is no evidence that this Government has examined detailed catch-by-method and marketing records to assess the potential viability of businesses operating under the proposed regime.  Instead, the Government has avoided making any public commitment to maintaining a viable full-time commercial fishery in the Bay.

Under the deal to operate from April 2022, the only certainty is the entitlement to take 11 tonnes of snapper and unspecified catches of other species by using a 400-hook longline.

Fish traps, handlines and octopus traps may also be used to take other species including whiting, flathead, salmon, calamary, octopus, cuttlefish and crabs.  These methods are unproven in terms of supporting viable full-time businesses in the absence of net fishing.

The existing quota-management reporting regime and regular compliance monitoring are likely to continue to apply to snapper: anglers will expect nothing less.  Will this become the norm for all species?  And if so, what are the cost recovery implications for the eight remaining fishermen?

Some fishermen will look to maximise returns for each landed kilogram through private marketing.  This will include direct-to-the-public sales for which Primesafe requirements and detailed documentation of every fish sold already pose an administrative challenge.


The big question is: will the dollars stack up?  The greatest area of certainty before each fishermen is his 11 tonne quota of snapper.  So, much of their viability post-2022 will hinge on gross incomes from snapper.

Some of these fishermen doubt they will be able to hook 11 tonnes of snapper consistently every year.  In the 10 years to 2016, Fisheries Victoria’s monthly commercial fishing catch records include hundreds of reports of snapper longline catches including 21 reports of 10 or 11 tonnes in a year.  So, an annual catch of 11 tonnes is certainly possible, but will it be achievable consistently?  Time will tell.

The second question is: how many of the eight fishermen will succeed in catching 11 tonnes of snapper by hooking?  As catch records show, while about 70% of the total annual catch from the Bay has been taken on longlines in recent years, longlining is a highly specialised activity.  Will those who have only longlined part time or relied on nets be able to adapt successfully?

The third question is: what gross income will 11 tonnes of snapper yield?  Most fishermen believe that catching 11 tonnes will depend entirely on longlining during November and December each year.  Until now, commercial snapper catches have peaked during this period but have extended into all other months due to year-round haul seine and winter mesh net catches of pinkies.  Focusing eight boats on longlining snapper over this two-month period, aiming to take 88 tonnes, is likely to lead to depressed prices.  On top of increasing levels of snapper from elsewhere (eg New Zealand), when South Australia’s snapper season opens in mid-December each year, increased volumes of snapper will further depress local prices.

In 2014/15, for snapper landed throughout the year the average landed price in Victoria was $9.40/kg.  At that price 11 tonnes would yield $103,400.

To some extent, future returns from snapper will depend on each fisherman’s marketing efforts: last year, the average prices paid varied from $8/kg sold on Melbourne markets to $13 sold to private markets.

Irrespective of the average price for snapper, the viability of a post-2022 business will also depend on overall quantities, catch rates and prices achievable for other valued species over the year.

Fisheries Victoria’s records of gummy shark landings from the Bay, by all methods, suggest that an individual is unlikely to catch one tonne (worth about $10,000) by hooking.

Handline fishing

In the 10 years to 2016, of Fisheries Victoria’s reports of whiting catches by handlining, there were only five reports of catches of one tonne or more in a year.  At $22/kg, one tonne was worth $22,000 in 2014/15.

In the same period, there were five reports of calamary catches of one tonne or more by jigging, worth at least $13,000 at the $13/kg average price in 2014/15.

For each species, annual catches of one tonne per fisherman should be feasible in future.

Fish trapping

Fishing regulations allow each Bay operator to use six fish traps measuring 2m x 1m x 1.5 m.  However, there are few, if any, recent records of commercial landings so the potential returns in terms of species, daily catch rates and seasonal financial returns are unknown.  In addition, the onset of fish trapping will produce a range of reactions among anglers.  These are likely to include vandalism and interference with traps, raising compliance issues, and possibly re-igniting conflicts between fishing groups.

A couple of fishermen have had experience trapping octopus in the Bay for bait.  Competing with octopus, at low prices, taken by Lakes Entrance Danish seiners and other ocean fisheries, this option offers limited income potential.

Can this fishery remain viable?

Before rejecting the Government’s 2015 buy-out offers, few, if any, of the eight fishermen completed a thorough business plan, based on their own records and knowing the restrictions ahead.  What persuaded them to continue as hook and trap fishermen?  In fact, most were life-long fishermen who struggled to see any alternative and chose to stay with the lifestyle that they know and love.  Some have accepted the likelihood that they will end up fishing on a part-time or low nett “semi-retirement” income basis.  It is hard to see another generation of younger entrants replacing these eight when they retire.  Is this what the Government had in mind for a “viable” commercial fishery?

Given the high level of compliance monitoring, the question of how the Government’s cost recovery policy will be applied across eight operations is not a trivial one and should be clarified long before 2022.

In the post-netting fishery, the operator of a “standard” plate-aluminium boat with one crew will be looking to gross at least $200,000 to maintain a reasonable personal income.  At present, for a basic trailer-boat operation the annual fixed costs are about $30,000 and payment to one crew is about 25% of the landed value.  Taking these costs into account, at $9.40/kg, 11 tonnes of longlined snapper will return about $48,000 to cover operating costs, maintenance, gear replacements and skipper’s income.

It is possible that such a fisherman may choose to avoid crew costs by fishing single-handed and accepting the associated risks, perhaps aiming for a more modest gross annual business income of about $150,000.  A net return from snapper longlining of $73,000 will be insufficient to cover his operating costs, maintenance and reasonable personal income.

When other species are factored in, a best-case post-2022 fishing operation will be hard pressed to gross $150,000 (see table).  The low incidence of individual reported catches of one tonne of whiting and calamary indicate that very few fishermen have the experience – and maybe the proficiency – to achieve such results each year.

Indicative catches and gross returns for a post-2022 operation1

Fishing gear Species Annual catch
(tonnes) 2
$/kg 3
earnings ($)
longline snapper 11 9 99,000
handline whiting 1 22 22,000
jig calamary 1 13 13,000
Trap & byproduct mixed species 2 5 10,000
Total 15   144,000

1 assumes all 8 fishermen are proficient in all methods
2 based on commercial catch returns data
3  based on Commercial Fish Production Information Bulletin 2015 statistics

From what has been outlined above, the prospects of maintaining a viable business and standard of living are highly doubtful at any scale of operation under the permitted future conditions.

This brings to mind the conclusion reached by the 2006 survey commissioned by the Bracks Labor Government, “Economic Valuation of the Use of Key Victorian Fisheries Resources”:

“… it is not possible to de-construct the commercial fishery into its parts and at the same time write about its overall profitability.  Each of the 91 [bay and inlet] commercial fishers requires access to a mix of species and the removal or reduction of access to any particular species – even if it is only taken in commercial quantities for a matter of weeks – would decrease, and in some cases may even destroy, the profitability of the commercial fishery.  The result would be no commercially caught fish being available.

This telling conclusion confirms the highly questionable future of commercial fishing in Port Phillip Bay under the conditions proposed by the Andrews Government.  It supports my fear that the Government’s real intention is to see commercial fishing in Port Phillip Bay die out completely.

*  Ross Winstanley is a fisheries consultant and a current member of the statutory Victorian Fisheries Advisory Council & Recreational Fishing Roundtable Forum.  He has been the chair of Fisheries Victoria’s fisheries assessment workshops and is a former Director of Victorian DPI’s Marine & Freshwater Research Institute, Snobs Creek fish hatchery and Queenscliff Institutes

Trawl management levies released

19th April 2017

AFMA has just released their draft cost recovered levy proposal for 2017.  The latest levies will be recovered under a new cost recovery policy called the AFMA Cost Recovery Implementation Statement 2017 (CRIS2017).

AFMA propose to recover $2.8m from industry in 2017 which includes $62,000 from fee-for-service activities such as the cost of processing paper log books that are invoiced to industry (supported by the Association) on a user-pays basis.  The remainder is split between quota owners and vessel owners.  In 2017 each vessel, and the quota that supports it, will pay about $60,000 toward the management of the fishery.

The $2.8m proposed by AFMA represents about 7% of the fishery’s turnover.  The 2017 draft budget is $600,000 less than the $3.4m charged in 2016 and will provide some welcome relief to industry.  This is due mostly to:

1.  $726,000 less being spent on research because there is no fishery independent survey and no scheduled orange roughy survey. Only orange roughy quota holders pay for this survey because it is such a distinct part of the fishery.  The investment in roughy research was an industry initiative that re-opened a failed fishery and is viewed by the Association as an excellent investment.

2.  The new CRIS also provides 25% Government funding of research which better represents the broader use of fisheries science by the Australian public over time and further reduces the research cost.  Previously only some fisheries received this Government funding and the Association is pleased that the new CRIS has addressed this anomaly.

3.  Data collection and management, (the handling of log book data), reduced by $58,000 because of a move to eLogs (electronic logbooks). eLogs improve reporting and will soon allow fishers to better record discards as well as reducing levied cost because catch data does not require manual re-entry.

These savings were offset by increases in fisheries management (3%) and licencing (9%).  Also, for the first time ever industry will pay for “policy” with the trawl sector paying $109,000.  Industry will work with AFMA to understand the the different policy roles the Department of Agriculture and Water Resource (DAFF) and AFMA play given that DAFF historically set Government fisheries policy.

Pleasingly, AFMA will likely under-spend  2016’s budget and this will be credited to 2017 levies.  AFMA and SETFIA will work on understanding “what went right” in 2016 and try to duplicate this in 2017.

Understanding this year’s budget has been made difficult by the change in cost reporting from 12 cost centers to four (plus policy).  The Association will continue to lobby AFMA for improved transparency.

In April 2014 SETFIA reported on a commitment made by AFMA’s CEO Dr James Findlay to keeping levied costs from 2010 onward at the 2009 level indexed for inflation.  Across all AFMA managed fisheries AFMA continue to meet this commitment.

However, SETFIA holds concerns for its smaller colleagues in the south-east with the Gillnet Hook and Trap (GHAT) sector levies increasing $10,000 to $2.4m.  The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Science (ABARES) state that the GHAT sector continues to make a loss.  This increase means that the sector now pays more than 10% of its total revenue in levies.  Similarly, quota holders in the Small Pelagic Fishery, which has very little catch, continue to pay $1.3m per annum in levies.

SETFIA remains committed to our belief that sustainable fishing practices protect our fishing future.  Levies can be an investment in protecting the resource, reducing fishing’s environmental impacts and maintaining and growing social licence – all of which reduce levied management cost.   The Association sees their $75,000 spend through AFMA’s by-catch team as such an excellent investment.  AFMA have recently awarded an internal certificate of recognition to the By-catch and Trawl Teams for helping to implement seabird bafflers across the trawl fleet and this award is supported by the Association.

May’s newsletter will report on the outcome of the roll-out of bird bafflers, devices designed to reduce interactions between seabirds and trawlers.




Budgeted trawl levies 2010/11 to 2017/18

How do Victorians want their fish?

14th March 2017

By Ross Winstanley*

In a previous article I advocated for the interests of domestic seafood consumers to be considered alongside those of recreational, commercial and indigenous fishers when resource allocation decisions are made. I used the current Victorian Government’s phase-out of commercial net fishing in Port Phillip Bay as an example of what’s happening around Australia in the closure of demonstrably-sustainable commercial fishing, in favour of recreational fishing, at real costs to consumers.

The earlier article elicited a number of responses, one of which pointed out that netting in the Bay supplies a very small part of Victoria’s seafood consumption. While that may be so, setting aside the 75% of imported canned, packaged and frozen products, the Bay net fishery has been, until now, a major source of Victoria’s fresh seafood, contributing around 600 tonnes of community-owned and highly-valued seafood and bait annually. In 2014/15, this net fishery provided 41% of the Victorian commercial landings of snapper, whiting and calamary.

how victorians want their fish 3













Closures of commercial fishing are quite legitimate decisions when made transparently after genuine community consultation and consideration of all interests. However, in the lead-up to the 2014 State election there was no evidence of such due process when both the Coalition Government and the Labor Opposition announced their intentions to close commercial net fishing in the Bay. There was no sign that the rights of Victorian seafood consumers and the impacts of closures on seafood supplies had been given any consideration. Nor was there any indication that 20 years of Victorian government stock assessments, showing commercial net fishing to be sustainable, had been recognised.

Aside from these stock assessments, just what information did both political parties have access to when formulating their policy decisions? In fact, they had two previous government-commissioned surveys of the Victorian community’s preferred ways of accessing their common property fish resources. If asked, Fisheries Victoria could have offered the results of the two community attitude surveys that dealt specifically with this question.

The first survey was commissioned under a Coalition government and conducted in 1997 by Roy Morgan Research. It asked individuals how they preferred to have access to snapper, whiting, bream, calamary, garfish and flounder: from recreational, commercial or other forms of fishing or through “non-consumptive” paths such as under-water observation and nature appreciation. For every species the results showed clear preferences for access through commercial fisheries: snapper 65%, whiting 70% and calamary 75%, for example.

The second survey was commissioned under a Labor government in 2005 and conducted by Quantum Market Research “to obtain information on community preferences for alternative types of access to, or benefits from, the use of five marine and estuarine fish species”. Victorians were surveyed in two waves, in March-April and August-September. In both waves there were clear community preferences for buying each species “from a fish shop, fish market, supermarket, take-away or restaurant.”

The following figure shows the community preference percentages for snapper, whiting, calamary and black bream in the 1997 and 2005 surveys. It shows that around twice as many Victorians want to access each of these popular “shared” species through Victorian commercial landings, compared to those preferring to access them through recreational fishing.  These findings are especially significant in terms of the Bay fishery which has been the major source of Victorian snapper (90%), whiting (55%) and calamary (55%) sold on the fresh fish market.

So, how did the Coalition Government and the Labor Opposition rationalise their policy positions in late 2014?  Then-premier Napthine stated that the removal of net fishing would be “a huge boost to 750,000 recreational fishers who will be guaranteed a better catch”. He went on to say that it would also be “a huge boost to the marine environment because there are real risks to the bay from the netting processes” – a claim that lacked any foundation in the light of major environmental studies, ongoing monitoring and a 70% reduction in commercial licence numbers since the early 1990s.

Opposition Leader Andrews linked Labor’s matching policy with the goal “to increase the number of recreational fishers to one million by 2020”. He explained that the netting closure was intended to increase fish stocks for recreational fishers and went on to say “We’re on the side of recreational fishers”.
Neither policy referred to impacts on Victorian consumers, nor was there any attempt made to justify either policy in terms of alternative sources of seafood.

Returning to the small cut in total seafood availability or the ~40% cut in Victorian commercial landings of snapper, whiting and calamary, the real significance of the decision to phase out netting was the way in which it was made. On the Coalition’s part, the policy was announced five days after the Minister responsible for fisheries had met with the statutory Fisheries Advisory Council where he neither referred to nor sought advice on this proposal. Both the Coalition and Labor policies were founded on the strategy of removing commercial netting in order to increase recreational fisher numbers and catches while fairly compensating commercial fishermen. Both policies seem to have been developed from discussions held solely with recreational and commercial fishing sector representatives. Neither process showed any attempt at transparency, community consultation or open consideration of the impacts on fresh seafood supplies.

In effect, both policies were sure to reduce sustainable supplies of popular local seafood, push consumer prices higher and increase reliance on interstate whiting and calamary and New Zealand snapper, and on offshore fisheries and imported seafood. The implied policy position was that, without having any say in the matter, consumers should be happy to switch to blue grenadier, mirror dory and basa fillets or pay a premium for snapper and whiting.

A 2002 Victorian Parliamentary inquiry into fisheries stated that “the largest group of stakeholders (apart from the community as a whole) are seafood consumers who rely on the commercial fishing industry for their access to Victorian seafood”. It went on to indicate that consumers make up 91 to 92% of the total community; today, that’s 5.5 million Victorian consumer-stakeholders. FRDC’s 2012 resource access and allocation study observed that consumers “drive the need for seafood production through an expectation of purchasing and consuming locally caught fish”.

Until governments start to actively include them as legitimate stakeholders in resource sharing, consumers will continue to lose access to locally caught fish from Australian inshore fisheries.

Ross Winstanley is a fisheries consultant and a current member of the statutory Victorian Fisheries Advisory Council & Recreational Fishing Roundtable Forum.  He has been the chair of Fisheries Victoria’s fisheries assessment workshops and is a former Director of Victorian DPI’s Marine & Freshwater Research Institute, Snobs Creek fish hatchery and Queenscliff Institutes




Are There Several Blue-eye Stocks?

9th March 2017

By Dr Alan Williams CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, Hobart

Grilled with garlic, oven baked, or lightly pan fried with a hint of lemon, blue-eye trevalla is one of Australia’s premium fish, and an iconic fish species for commercial fishers and seafood lovers alike!  Given its popularity, it’s then surprising to realise the extent of the knowledge gaps for blue-eye in Australian waters, and how these create uncertainty for its stock assessment.  Some of this uncertainty has been addressed in a just-completed project funded by FRDC, CSIRO and VicDPIE which has shed new light on the ecology and spatial distribution of Blue-eye stocks in Australian waters.

Surprisingly, the blue-eye’s early life history remains something of a mystery.  Whilst it turns up on fishing grounds aged about two years old and measuring about 40 cm in length, only four juveniles have ever been seen in Australia (these were dip-netted by a commercial fisher off eastern Tasmania).  A good outcome from the project is a more complete picture of the biology and ecology (including early life history) for Australian blue-eye – a process helped considerably by the input of knowledgeable commercial fishers and SETFIA, and input by colleagues in New Zealand.

baby blue eyeSurface dives in open ocean off NZ discovered juvenile blue-eye (~ 5 cm in length) under kelp floating at the surface.

Other key knowledge gaps for the blue-eye assessment were uncertainties about the species distribution and the possibility of there being different stocks.  It was known that blue-eye ranges widely across southern Australia, lives on offshore seamounts, and extends to sub-tropical latitudes on both east and west coasts, but without detailed spatial mapping it could only be managed as a single stock. This meant it was difficult to identify the most appropriate total allowable catch (TAC) and determine a long term level of sustainable catch.


Building on life-history information, the project then mapped patterns in three different characteristics of blue-eye to look for evidence of stock structure.  Each of the three analyses showed there was some separation of stocks within Australian waters: spatial differences in age and growth and in fish ear bone (otolith) chemistry of the adult life stage implied there was local and regional residency by adults. Dispersal in ocean currents indicated that a broader scale connectivity amongst regional populations was likely during early life.

blue eye stocks

LEFT: Stock areas are defined by boundaries (green lines) within the geographical limits of the blue-eye’s Australian distribution (red lines), and the narrow depth range occupied by adult Blue-eye Trevalla (depth contours)





By overlaying these spatial patterns, we identified four broad Blue-eye ‘stock areas’ (see the map below): West, South, East and Seamounts-Lord Howe. Each of these stock areas represents an interconnected ‘meta-population’, i.e. a group of discrete adult sub-populations resident on the continental slope and seamounts without extensive migration between them. Stock areas do not reflect truly separated biological stocks because there is some exchange between them during pelagic early life history, and some of the adult sub-populations act as larger ‘sinks’ than others, i.e. benefiting more from recruitment derived from ‘upstream’ spawning areas.

These patterns, together with spatial patterns in catch and effort which have also been mapped up in detail by the project, will help AFMA and fishers to develop additional management options for the blue-eye fishery.  In turn, new options may provide a greater confidence in the stock assessment leading, potentially, to a less risk-averse setting of the blue-eye trevalla TAC.

Full report.

Research Industry Video “Sustainable catch: Blue’eye Trevalla”.


Time to Recognise Seafood Consumers as Stakeholders

14th February 2017

By Ross Winstanley*

In July this year, the 8th World Recreational Fishing Conference in Victoria, BC, will feature the theme Allocation issues in fisheries: recreational, commercial, aboriginal, subsistence and artisanal. As part of that discussion, I’m proposing to introduce a proposition that I’ve put forward in co-management and seafood industry forums and, most recently, in a response to the Productivity Commission’s draft report on marine fisheries and aquaculture. It’s not an anti-recreational or pro-commercial fishing theme – it’s a case for governments to recognise the rights of domestic seafood consumers alongside these other interests when it comes to resource allocation decision processes.

As the outline of the WRFC8 session indicates, resource allocation is commonly considered in terms of various fishing interests. My basic proposition is that, as our fish stocks are a publically owned resource, domestic consumers of locally-caught seafood should be recognised as primary stakeholders in resource allocation processes. For any stock that is fished commercially to supply domestic markets, local consumers generally form the largest stakeholder group. Further, in terms of numbers, they roughly equate to “the community” – the owners of the resource. Why then are they not ranked in equal terms to recreational, commercial, aboriginal, subsistence and artisanal interests in relation to recognition of “rights” and a clear position in allocation policy processes?

Too often, governments are prepared to terminate demonstrably sustainable commercial fisheries in favour of recreational fishing when the overall community benefits from both sectors are perfectly sustainable. Too often, on-water conflicts between anglers and commercial fishermen are “resolved” by eliminating commercial fishing instead of seeking negotiated resolutions or drawing on the range of fisheries management tools. Too often, commercial fishers must accept publicly-funded compensation packages to quit sustainable fisheries. Sometimes, compensation packages are funded from recreational fishing licence revenue; this effectively reduces resource allocation to a commercial transaction between commercial and recreational fishers.

Why does this happen? The traditional contestants are usually well represented by vocal and effective advocacy groups who promote their interests, capturing media and political attention. Domestic consumers rarely have any direct representation and are totally unaware that their access to community-owned, i.e. their resource is being negotiated away through processes in which they have no part. In theory, consumers should be able to rely on their elected representatives to recognise and protect their interests. However, in practice governments respond to strident lobbying and consumers are quietly consigned to alternative seafood sources. Consumers are, thus, excluded from what may otherwise be quite legitimate decision processes.

Typical of what is happening in Australian inshore fisheries, the 2014 Victorian Government decision to remove a proven sustainable commercial net fishery in Port Phillip Bay is disenfranchising five million Victorian consumers in order to benefit perhaps 100,000 regular anglers who already enjoy enviable fishing. The political decision process took no account of 20 years of State-funded stock assessments all of which demonstrated that commercial and recreational fishing, combined, continue to be sustainable. No advice was sought from the statutory Fisheries Advisory Council, established to provide balanced advice on such policy issues.

no fresh fish today

The Victorian Government ignored Fisheries Victoria’s reporting that 27% of Victorians eat fish weekly and that most prefer to buy locally caught fish. At no time did the Government consider consumers’ interests in the fishery or consult with the broader community, nor did it explain why the community should not continue to enjoy the combined benefits from commercial and recreational fishing. All in all the Government seems to have abandoned one of the key objectives of the Fisheries Act 1995, namely “to promote sustainable commercial fishing ..for the benefit of present and future generations”.



Photo: SETFIA (inserted)

Commercial fishermen in Victoria’s two significant remaining inshore scalefish fisheries – in Corner Inlet and the Gippsland Lake – can expect the same sort of pressures to intensify as anglers push the government to eliminate all forms of commercial net fishing from these inlets, effectively ending these fisheries. Unless there’s a turnaround in government thinking, “present and future generations” of Victorian consumers face the real prospect of losing access to their local snapper, whiting, bream, calamari and other inshore fresh fish.

*  Ross Winstanley is a fisheries consultant and a current member of the statutory Victorian Fisheries Advisory Council & Recreational Fishing Roundtable Forum.  He has been the chair of Fisheries Victoria’s fisheries assessment workshops and is a former Director of Victorian DPI’s Marine & Freshwater Research Institute, Snobs Creek fish hatchery and Queenscliff Institutes


New Zealand Orange Roughy achieves MSC certification

14th December 2016

SETFIA congratulates New Zealand on the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification of three of its largest orange roughy fisheries, following a lengthy and rigorous assessment process. This achievement is a testament to the New Zealand seafood industry and the Department of Primary Industry’s heavy investment in rebuilding the orange roughy stocks over the last 20 years.

To get to this stage, New Zealand reduced catches and set conservative harvest levels, and invested in world leading scientific techniques to measure and assess stock sizes. This included working with Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIRO) over the last 18 years to continue the development of a multi-frequency Acoustic Optical System (AOS) that allows for the accurate and real time assessment of orange roughy stock sizes. This information is then used to set sustainable catch limits that ensure 95 per cent of the adults in the stocks are left in the water to continue to breed and to sustain and grow the population.

This development is particularly pertinent to the Australian South East Trawl Fishery (SETF) for various reasons. Commercial fishing of the eastern orange roughy stock recommenced almost two years ago, following a 10-year closure. The same CSIRO AOS technology used in New Zealand has also been applied to Australian orange roughy stocks off eastern Tasmania over the last 10 years to assess their status. This information is used to inform stock assessments and set sustainable total allowable catches.

The international gold standard sustainability tick of approval is the first of its kind globally for orange roughy fisheries. It is a great example of how investment in sound scientific innovation and strong fisheries management can lead to profitable and sustainable fisheries.

More on Orange Roughy:

The latest on the 2016 Acoustic Optical System Orange Roughy survey

Fact sheet on the re-opening of the eastern orange roughy zone in the SETF

New Zealand Orange Roughy gets top international sustainability tick

Underwater video of Orange Roughy at 800m on St Helen’s Hill off eastern Tasmania

2016 Roughy Survey Shows Continued Recovery

7th December 2016

Under contract to SETFIA, Tasmania’s CSIRO has completed another survey on two features known as St Patrick’s and St Helen’s off eastern Tasmania where roughy aggregate to spawn. St Helen’s Hill is typical of a roughy hill being a conical seamount rising from a depth of 1,100m to 600m.  This is the 5th acoustic survey in the Eastern Zone since 2006.

CSIRO use an acoustic optical system or AOS that they have designed in Hobart.  The AOS emits multiple frequency signals to accurately calculate the amount of fish present. The AOS is towed 200-300m above schools of aggregating roughy.  By using multiple frequencies it can distinguish between roughy and other gas bladdered fish.  AOS is particularly effective in assessing aggregations of deep-sea fish and has also been used in Australasia to assess blue grenadier (known as hoki in New Zealand).

The survey encountered the strongest and warmest surface currents to date with fish at St Patrick’s being very disrupted and not settling on the hill as it did in previous years.  As is normal the largest aggregations were found at St Helen’s hill.  The video below shows images of live orange roughy captured by the AOS on St Helen’s hill at 800m.

This year the survey team loaded the AOS onto a small vessel using a modified boat trailer before it was taken out to the trawler contracted to complete the survey.  This reduced costs to move CSIRO’s scientists and their equipment to the mainland where the survey vessel was domiciled.

The other change in the survey this year was that the cost of the survey will be charged directly to quota owners through their levies.   This meant that there was no need to catch and then sell fish to finance the survey which reduced sales risks to the project.

Results are still being analysed but populations appear to be stronger than in previous years and provide more data about the recovery of Australia’s orange roughy stocks.  A stock assessment will consider this data in 2017 the Commission will use to set a total allowable catch from the 2018/19 fishing year.

SETFIA online course for fishers

25th November 2016

SETFIA believes that training and development is of critical importance in achieving our strategic goals. The Association has run two courses called Implement and Monitor Environmentally Sustainable Work Practices (SFIEMS301A) and Manage and Control Fishing Operations (SFIFISH402c). 121 qualifications were issued to trawl fishermen and 160 fishers from other fisheries. Both courses were TAFE accredited and contribute to a Certificate III in Fishing Operations. The courses produced immediate results with significant increases in the quality of reporting and set the cultural groundwork for initiatives like the program to reduce seabird interactions, the transition to online logbooks and the
co-management of eastern pink ling and snapper.

SETFIA is currently offering two free on-line courses. Both are TAFE accredited and, like the previous units, contribute to the achievement of a Certificate III in Fishing Operations.

1. Understanding Marine Reserves (SFISHIP201C Comply with organisational and legislative requirements).

This course would be of benefit to all State and Commonwealth licensed fishermen fishing in or around the South East Marine Reserve Network. It covers:

– the South-East marine reserve network,

– the role of marine reserves and who manages them

the difference between marine reserves and other fishery closures

the different types of marine reserves

– Zoning (where vessels can fish)

– Class approval

– Compliance and penalties

2.  Act to Prevent Interaction with Protected Species (SFIEMS302B Act to Prevent Interaction with Protected Species).

This course is applicable for all senior crew, managers and office staff in the South East Trawl Fishery. It covers:

– Methods to protect and identify seabirds, fur seals, sharks and rays

– Rebuilding species and individual species management arrangements

– Reporting

– Relevant Acts

– Handling practices

– Social licence

Both on-line courses are free of charge because they are funded by AFMA and Parks Australia. If fishermen want to compete Understanding Marine Reserves and or Act to Prevent Interaction with Protected Species, they can contact:

Danait on 0427 138 167 or via email

Simon Boag 0428 141 591 or via email

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$100,000 Reason to Complete OnLine Learning

7th November 2016

SETFIA is offering all south east commercial fishermen the opportunity to undertake an online course on “Understanding Commonwealth Marine Reserves”.  The course is funded by Parks Australia and is specific to the South East Network of Protected Areas and it could potentially save you $100,000!

The Brisbane Times reported that two years ago, a commercial fisherman caught what might be the most expensive rock lobsters ever netted in Australia.   The fisherman will pay close to $100,000 for the three lobsters – when he could have sold each lobster for $200 at market.

The Federal Court found that he set his lobster traps in part of the South East Commonwealth Marine Reserve Network – a 388,000km2 protected marine area that stretches from the far south coast of New South Wales, around Tasmania and Victoria and west to Kangaroo Island off South Australia.  The video below introduces the South East network.

In April 2014, a surveillance aircraft photographed the fishing boat in a Commonwealth marine protected area off Hobart whose zoning did not allow potting.  Alarmed at being seen, the vessel steamed out of the protected area before returning a few hours later to haul its pots and was apprehended by Tasmania Police on the wharf.

The Australian Government pursued the fisherman through the courts in a two-year case that has racked up tens of thousands of dollars in legal costs.

Justice Robert Bromwich​ said he was going easy on the fisherman and imposed a “somewhat lenient” $28,000 fine.  After he pays the legal costs of the federal Environment Department and his own lawyers, the fisherman will be liable for close to $100,000.

The maximum civil penalty fine for a breach of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 is $90,000, Justice Bromwich said, and the fisherman was lucky he hadn’t been hit with criminal charges as well.

The SETFIA course on “Understanding Commonwealth Marine Reserves” is specific to the South East Network of Protected Areas.  It covers where the reserves are, which fishing methods are allowed in which reserves and the reasoning behind the reserves.  Notwithstanding the examples above, SETFIA believes that most fishermen want to do the right thing and that by increasing their knowledge fishermen and owners reduce their personal and company risk.  This is important because the penalties are severe. The course is TAFE accredited and is free of charge for eligible fishermen.  It can be completed anywhere with an internet connection; home, office or even from a fishing vessel.

Any fishermen wanting to undertake the short course should contact SETFIA at or by Facebook or Twitter.

Why is the East Australian Current Behaving so Badly?

18th October 2016

The East Australian Current (EAC) is a flow of water that is formed from the South Equatorial Current crossing the Coral Sea and reaching the eastern coast of Australia off Queensland. As the South Equatorial Current hits the Australian coast it divides forming the southward flow of the EAC. eacThe EAC is the largest ocean current close to the shores of Australia reaching a maximum velocity at about Coffs Harbour in NSW where its flow can reach a speed of 3 km per hour.

In the animated film Finding Nemo Marlin and Dory use the EAC as a superhighway travelling with fish and sea turtles to Sydney Harbour. The EAC is dominated by eddies which are circular currents of water that form whirlpools of up to 100km in diameter.

Their swirling motion is one of the forces that make nutrients found in cold, deep waters to come up to the surface of the ocean where phytoplankton (microscopic plants) feed on them.

Eddies do occur off the coast of Tasmania but a change in their behaviour over the last 24 years is concerning. These eddies are generated in the EAC and most of them do not go south of Bass Strait. When they do, they bring warm water with them and the bigger they are the more heat they can bring.


Scientists have noted a trend in eddies off Tasmania becoming larger, stronger and more frequent. Following the 1990s, eddy kinetic energy (EKE) increased gradually both north (red line in graph below) and south (blue line in graph below) of Bass Strait,  with a huge spike in eddy activity  off Tasmania (8 times the average EKE of the 1990s) in 2014 (see animation below). This trend is in agreement with climate modelling but there has been a dramatic increase over the last couple of years.

The presence of eddies south of Bass Strait is believed to be responsible for the atypically warm sea surface temperatures experienced off the east coast of Tasmania in 2015. If the eddy encountered off north east Tasmania in July this year is anything to go by (see image below), this heating trend is expected to continue into 2016.

A team of CSIRO scientists, AFMA observer and commercial fishermen from the South East Trawl Fishery came upon the eddy while conducting acoustic surveys of orange roughy off the north east coast of Tasmania in July 2016 as part of an ongoing monitoring program. eacIt was fast and hot and gave the team a bit of a hard time by making the deployment and retrieval of their sampling gear very challenging.

The eddy had current speeds of more than 2 knots and temperatures at its centre were more than 2 degrees warmer than the year round average between 100-400m depth and almost 1 degree warmer at 1200m depth. The eddy’s outer edge was close to the continental slope.

The implications of increased eddy activity on adult orange roughy spawning, orange roughy larvae, aquaculture, other fisheries and Tasmanian coastal waters in general are unknown. However, hot eddies warm up all the water around them and the bigger they are the deeper and wider their impact so if this trend continues there is no doubt that the Tasmanian offshore environment will change – the ‘how’ is anyone’s guess!

For up to date ocean information around Australia visit the IMOS Ocean Current website.