Category Archives: Management

Fishing industry providing shark samples for assessments

16th April 2019

Four years ago, AFMA installed cameras on gillnet vessels targeting sharks in the south-east fishery to monitor dolphin and sea-lion interactions.

However, a consequence of doing this was that human observers were removed from these vessels.  These observers collected data on interactions with dolphins and seals but also collected lengths and vertebrae, which are used to age sharks.  These “biological” samples are used to understand the growth and the recruitment of young sharks both of which are critical in the assessment of the gummy and school shark stock.

SSIA* has now been engaged by AFMA to collect these biological samples.  Gillnet and hook vessels take a sample of sharks when directed by randomly tagging some of the sharks caught on a trip.  Each tag has a unique number and when entered into the database by SIDaC samplers each shark can be traced back to the depth, fishing method, vessel and area in which it was caught.

Vessels then deliver these tagged sharks to port samplers who measure the length of the sharks and take a vertebra from about half the sharks.  The vertebrae are cleaned, frozen and then encased in resin before being sawed in half.  A fish ageing specialist can then read growth rings in the vertebrae much like growth rings in a tree.

A very similar program to sample pink ling and blue eye trevalla has being simultaneously rolled out for the auto line sector of the fishery.

SSIA have engaged Ross Bromley, an ex-AFMA manager, to co-ordinate this work.  The project would like to thank port samplers Jeff North, Atlantis Fisheries Consulting Group , Ross Bennett, AFMA staff at Lakes Entrance, Nick and Chris Pitliangas, Kyri Toumazos, Toni Clarke, the Lakes Entrance Fisherman’s Co Operative, Heath Rogers and Bob Shaw from Mure’s Fishing.  Thanks too to the crews supplying samples: the skippers and crew of the sample vessels Cape Everard, Morrie D, Christine Claire, Candice K, Jean Bryant, Diana, Lutarna, Peter Crombie.



If you are a gillnet or hook vessel operating in the fishery and would like to be involved in the project or would like to become involved in the sampling of gummy or school sharks, or ling and blue eye trevalla please email Ross here.

* The Southern Shark Industry Alliance (SSIA) represents the interests of operators and quota owners in the gillnet, hook and trap sector of the south-east fishery.


What’s to become of Victoria’s Gippsland Lakes commercial fishery?

15th August 2018

By Ross Winstanley*

Not content with their exclusive fishing access to every Victorian estuary, recreational fishers are now pushing for the closure of commercial fishing in the Gippsland Lakes.

From the 1960s through the 1980s, Victoria’s annual 800 tonne Gippsland Lakes commercial fishery produced 80% of Australia’s black bream landings, averaging about 250 tonnes.

Today, the Gippsland Lakes commercial fishery is under extreme pressure from recreational fishers and related business interests.  Flushed with the success of the 2014 campaign to end commercial net fishing in Port Phillip Bay, these interest groups are pressing the major political parties to bring an end to commercial fishing in the Lakes.

Success for this campaign would mean the end of another 10 perfectly sustainable family fishing businesses and the end of Victorian consumers’ access to black bream.

So, in the lead-up to Victoria’s November election, what positions will the major parties adopt regarding the future of fishing in the Gippsland Lakes?

Victoria’s 23-year record of fisheries and stock assessments have consistently shown the sustainability of the black bream and overall Gippsland Lakes fisheries.  Together with environmental assessments of the lakes system, these studies have tracked changes to fish habitats and fish stocks which have been matched with fisheries management changes.

Commercial fishermen have been proactive in initiating some important changes: in 1996 they observed the apparent total loss of juvenile bream throughout the lakes.  When surveys drew similar observations, the Government introduced emergency controls including tight monthly commercial catch limits and reduced recreational catch limits.  Many years earlier, the closure of commercial fishing on weekends and public holidays had a marked effect in easing competition with anglers.

The 1996 event brought about lasting changes: an increase in the legal minimum length for bream and the continuation of reductions in the numbers of commercial fishing licences.  Since 1995 alone, the number has been reduced from 21 to 10, mainly as a result of voluntary licence buy-outs.

As the numbers of licences have decreased, the level of commercial fish production has fallen accordingly.  In 1995/96 the total catch was 721 tonnes, including 130 tonnes of bream: in 2016/17 the total catch was 316 tonnes including 42 tonnes of bream.

The most recent estimate of the recreational catch from the lakes was 203 tonnes of bream in 2000/01.

Two comparative studies of the economic values of commercial and recreational fishing in Victoria’s bays and inlets showed no grounds for re-allocating fish resources between the sectors.

Current assessment
In 2017, the Victorian Fisheries Authority conducted detailed assessments of the State’s key marine stocks.  To lend additional rigour to the process, interstate fisheries managers and scientists participated in the assessments.  Drawing on detailed long-term commercial and recreational fisheries data sets, they found that the combined pressures from fisheries for black bream in the Gippsland Lakes are sustainable, as were the recreational-only fisheries in other eastern and western Victorian inlets.

Their conclusion was that “Appropriate management is in place.”

In contrast, none of the current anti-netting campaigns offer any evidence that commercial fishing is unsustainable or incompatible with angling.  Referring to the state of fish stocks and to angling success, statements such as “the decline is attributed to commercial fishing” offer no supporting evidence of declines from fishing or other causes.

Current political pressure
Since 1994, VRFish and local anglers have participated in at least seven Gippsland Lakes black bream and fishery assessments, all of which found fishing to be sustainable.  When presented with the evidence they agreed with the conclusions and the management implications.

Today, against this solid background of evidence-based policy and fisheries management come spirited appeals to end commercial fishing in the lakes.  Recreational fishing peak body, VRFish’s, key push to ‘save our Gippsland Lakes’ is a compulsory buy-out of all 10 licences as part of their ‘fish recovery plan.’  A petition asserts that ‘it’s time to end commercial netting of fish in the Gippsland Lakes’ to ensure ‘the sustainability of the Gippsland Region.’  The Futurefish Foundation web page simply urges “Ban netting in the Gippsland Lakes.”

VFA creel surveys show that angling success in the lakes is comparable to success in other East Gippsland inlets where anglers face no ‘competition’ from commercial fishing.  The evidence simply confirms what we know about recreational fishing everywhere: the majority of anglers catch very few fish.  Removing commercial fishing pressure – spread across 20 fish species – would not alter that reality.

The economic importance of recreational fishing to the Gippsland Region, including tourism, is widely acknowledged.  While the anti-netting campaigns claim that these benefits are threatened by commercial fishing, the VFA’s 2017 assessment shows that this is plainly untrue.  In fact, the full social and economic value from fisheries in the Gippsland Lakes can only continue if the viable commercial fishery is retained.  This has to be good news for government, seafood consumers and the wider Victorian community.

Market demand
Victorian seafood consumers’ keenness for bream can be seen in the prices they’re prepared to pay: about $30/kg which is more than they’ll pay for snapper.

Anyone who has read reports of fishing offences in Victoria might recall the prevalence of illegal gill-netting in rivers and streams around the bays, inlets and coastline.  Whether in the Werribee, Paterson or Tambo rivers, the main target for these activities is black bream.  This is a reflection of high prices and an unmet market demand for the species.

Speaking of markets, there’s more at stake here than 300 tonnes of fresh fish annually.  The Lakes Entrance Fishermens Co-op is a major source of Victorian and inter-state fish supplies.  The Co-op operates on very thin financial margins and closure of the lakes fishery would seriously threaten its continued viability.  As a popular direct outlet for fresh fish, the Co-op shop depends on the lakes fishery.  Without that fishery the shop would be likely to close as trawl-caught fish can be unavailable for weeks at a time during unfavourable seasonal conditions offshore.

Political response?
In 2014, the major political parties bowed to pressure from recreational fishing interests and committed to banning the commercial net fishery in Port Phillip Bay.  They did so without any consideration of the proven sustainability of that fishery.

Faced with similar pressures in 2018, what will the major parties do?  Will they seek balanced evidence-based policy advice from the VFA?  If so, what advice will they receive and how will they balance this against pressure from recreational fishing interests?

The outcomes will be revealed in the next couple of months.

Ross Winstanley is a keen angler, fishing writer and fisheries consultant.  For 30 years he worked with Fisheries Victoria in policy, management and research.

Danish Seine Fishermen Act to Protect Juvenile Flathead Stocks

21st June 2018

The harvest strategy in the South-East aims to maintain tiger flathead stocks at a pre-determined % of the pre-fishing, or virgin, biomass.   This is called the target reference point.  The flathead stock has been above this target for many years so fishermen have enjoyed quotas (total allowable catches or TACs) designed to slightly reduce flathead stocks down to that reference point.  However, the last flathead assessment showed that flathead is almost at that reference point so the quota has declined.

Less quota means less revenue so fishermen within the Association began to think about how to increase the per kg value of flathead.  One way is to catch larger flathead because larger flathead have a higher per kg price.  The market pays more for larger flathead because they are easier to fillet and they returns a higher yield of fillets as a % of whole weight.

Using larger mesh in the last section of the net called the codend increases the average size of flathead caught.

However, using larger mesh and not catching medium sized fish means less catch which means that fishermen must shoot their net more often, spend more time at sea and potentially increase their operating costs.  There are also costs to change to new fishing gear.

The debate was not an easy one but SETFIA members have resolved through a formal vote to increase Danish seine mesh size.  Two non-SETFIA member seiners were contacted and both supported the idea.

SETFIA has written to AFMA stating that they would like AFMA to increase the minimum mesh size in Danish Seine codends to 75mm by 1 May 2019 (the start of the new fishing season).

SETFIA has contacted fishing gear suppliers and advised them of the likely change so that they can adjust their supply.

Sustainable fishing practices protect our future.



Major changes in arrangements for commercial fishing in new Australian Marine Parks

21st June 2018

From July 1 2018, new Australian Marine Park management plans will come into effect, creating new rules for where fishing can occur in 44 marine parks around the country. Australian Marine Parks are located in Commonwealth waters, 3 to 200 nautical miles from the coastline, beyond state water boundaries.

Commercial fishing can occur in yellow and blue zones within these new Networks, in accordance with a class approval issued under each management plan. Class approvals set out the areas where commercial fishing can occur, the fishing methods that can be used, and the conditions that need to be followed while operating or transiting.

Parks Australia aims to contact all operators that fish in or near these new Australian Marine Parks, to inform them of the new requirements in advance of 1 July. This will include the final class approvals and factsheets for the Coral Sea Marine ParkTemperate East NetworkSouth-west NetworkNorth-west Network and North Network of Marine Parks. The factsheets will outline what you need to be aware of in order to comply and will include information on how to access electronic maps/files of all marine park boundaries. All documents will soon be available on the Parks Australia website:

Arrangements for commercial fishing within the South-east Marine Parks Network are not changing. The requirements in the existing class approval continue to apply.

If you would like more information please


phone 1800 069 352 or,


NSW Southern Trawl Fishery to join the South-East Trawl

18th May 2018

The NSW and Australian Governments have been working on merging the NSW managed Southern Fish Trawl and the Commonwealth managed South East Trawl fisheries. The NSW trawl fishery operates inside 3 nautical miles and the Commonwealth trawl fishery between 3 and 200 nautical miles.

The push for the merger has come because the two fisheries often target the same species with the same trawl method and operate side by side but do so under different rules and restrictions.  The 2016 Productivity Commission report investigated management inefficiencies between Commonwealth and State fisheries and recommended that these fisheries merge.

An agreement between NSW and the Commonwealth sets down how the two fisheries operate and share the resource.

NSW operators have limits on “Commonwealth quota” stocks like tiger flathead. This frustrates NSW operators because they are often forced to discard commercially valuable fish that have little chance of survival.

Commonwealth operators are frustrated because NSW catches are debited to Commonwealth quotas.  This ensures that the sustainable limit, set by the Commonwealth, is not exceeded but means that Commonwealth operators are the last in the line and only receive what NSW don’t catch (noting NSW vessels can only catch limited volumes).  Commonwealth fisheries are also frustrated that the NSW fishery does not contribute to the cost of assessing stocks.

Often fishers hold both NSW and Commonwealth endorsements but cannot operate inside and outside the 3-mile line on a single trip.  This too is inefficient.

All this because a line was placed at 3 nautical miles in NSW based how far a cannon ball could be fired in the 17th century.

The truth is that both sectors have an equally strong right to operate and there must be a better way to organise a fishery.

The NSW and Australian Governments formed the Southern Fish Trawl Working Group made up of fishers, associations and managers from both fisheries, they have agreed how the NSW Southern Fish Trawl could become part of the Commonwealth South East Trawl.  NSW released a consultation document that captured these proposals.  The proposal is that rather than debit NSW catches to Commonwealth quotas, that NSW operators should become Commonwealth operators working on a special permit allowing them inside “the line” (3 miles) and be issued around 246 tonnes of Commonwealth quota.  A separate NSW allocation panel would divide up this quota across the 23 NSW operators.

Under this system there is no change to the sustainable catch and no quota is taken from existing owners to give to new NSW entrants to the Commonwealth system – the catch is already coming off Commonwealth quotas.

The Committee also made recommendations that NSW vessels entering the Commonwealth fishery should operate seabird bafflers, VMS (satellite monitoring) and be subject to normal conditions such as ongoing efforts to reduce discards and by-catch.

SETFIA supports the transition under these terms and believes it offers the many benefits:

* fish trawling in south-east Australia will be managed by a single jurisdiction and many fish species will have a cap on how much can be caught each year;

*better data collection and improved understanding of stock status;

*one jurisdiction removes duplication and administrative burden;

*where the required concessions are held, fishers will be able to complete a single trip inside and outside NSW waters;

*security of access for NSW fishers will be increased

*no more trip limits and less discarded fish from NSW vessels.

The Association is frustrated at some recreational fishing groups who have led with headlines like, “the trawlers are coming”.  This is clearly not the case, there has been a trawl fishery inside NSW waters for more than 100 years.  What is being proposed is just a better outcome for the fishing industry and the Australian community.

ABARES report South-East trawler profitability up

20th April 2018

Latest financial and economic survey results from operators in the Commonwealth Trawl Sector (South East Trawl) shows that the profitability of vessels operating in the fishery improved in 2014-15.

Generating a gross value of fishery production of almost $43 million in 2015-16, the South East Trawl is the major supplier of locally caught finfish to Melbourne and Sydney fish markets.

The survey undertaken by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 financial year show that profit at full equity (a profit indicator that assumes all assets are fully owned by operators) increased for the average boat in the CTS from $131,000 in 2013–14 to nearly $154,000 in 2014–15. The improvement was primarily due to lower average costs on items like fuel.

The rise in average vessel performance is also reflected in an improvement in net economic returns (NERs) from the fishery in 2014-15.  ‘NER’ measures how well the fishery has performed as a whole and accounts for all revenue and costs of the fishery including all management costs, owner labour (even where there is no cash transaction) and capital employed in the fishery.  ABARES estimates that net economic returns continued to improve for the fishery in 2015-16 and 2016-17 reaching $4.2 million by 2016-17. Three years of consecutive growth in returns is great news for trawl operators, particularly as it comes following a three year period of decline.

ABARES is currently undertaking the next survey of Commonwealth Trawl Operators of the fishery covering the 2015-16 and 2016-17 financial years.

The latest survey results can be found at:

Seed bank protects food crop genetics

26th March 2018

Buried deep in the icy mountains of a remote island in Norway, is a seed storage facility that currently houses almost 1 million plant seeds from almost every country in the world.  Located 100 meters inside a mountain on the island of Spitsbergen, in the remote Arctic Svalbard archipelago, 1,300 kilometres from the North Pole its purpose is to be the ultimate insurance policy for the world’s food supply, offering options for future generations to overcome the challenges of climate change and population growth.  It will secure, for centuries, millions of seeds representing every important food crop variety available in the world today.

The location for the seed vault was chosen for various reasons; the area is geologically stable, has low humidity and is well above sea level so is unlikely to flood even if sea levels rise significantly.  A temperature of -18ºC is required for optimal storage of the seeds and the permafrost that the vault is built into provides a cost effective and fail safe method of keeping the seeds frozen naturally.  Although remote, Svalbard is still accessible on a commercial flight.

The vault has the maximum capacity to store 4.5 million varieties of crops which is equivalent to 2.5 billion seeds. It is currently the most diverse collection of food crop seeds in the world ranging from unique varieties of major African and Asian food staples such as maize, rice, wheat, cowpea, and sorghum to European and South American varieties of eggplant, lettuce, barley, and potato.

The global seed vault in Svalbard was established as the final backup to the 1,700 plus gene banks that exist around the world that hold crop seeds for safe keeping.

But in a cruel twist of fate it seems that the seed vault my not be the all-withstanding fortress it was meant to be. The climate is changing and the northern polar region is warming twice as fast as the global average – and the permafrost that is currently preserving the seeds is melting!  Last year’s record soaring temperatures in the Arctic caused melting and heavy rain that that flooded the start of the tunnel that leads to the vault.  If Arctic winter temperatures continue to rise, the so called ‘Doomsday Vault’ itself may be doomed.

There is a growing acceptance that the world’s food production will need to grow by 50-100% by 2050.  Seafood is the largest contributor to the planet’s protein.   Good fisheries management is the ‘vault’ that must protect our fish stocks.

Global Fishing Watch; interesting but of limited value in Australia

15th March 2018

Global Fishing Watch (GFW) is an online tool with which users can view the tracks of some of the world’s fishing fleets.  The system uses ‘AIS’ data to do this.  AIS stands for “automatic identification system”.  It is an important safety tool used to avoid collisions between ships at sea.  Essentially a tracking system it allows ships to see information on other ships in the vicinity such as; name, call sign and position on their navigation systems, assign a ship’s name to a radar blip and even plot the path of nearby vessels.

Global Fishing Watch has created and made available free to the public a platform that allows anyone to view AIS equipped fishing vessels at sea and to try to understand their behaviour. GFW state that this allows research and innovation in areas that support ocean sustainability, including fisheries policy and compliance, seafood sourcing, and ocean conservation. GFW explain that their purpose is to protect the world’s fisheries because they are an important source of protein for almost half of the people on the planet.

However, the platform has very little value in Australia for many reasons:

Australian fisheries are more tightly managed than most international fisheries.  Many international fisheries are managed by simply limiting the number of vessels or placing some other inefficiency on vessels to limit their catches.  Countries do this because it is easier and cheaper than detailed counts of unloaded fish.  In contrast Australia’s larger fisheries are not managed by vessel number, instead they are managed by quotas which at set at sustainable levels based on stock assessments.  Australia’s larger fisheries use observers and cameras to quantify discards and have tight controls on counting landed catch so fisheries managers have an exact understanding of how much fish is being caught and can limit catches as required.

GFW explains that it tracks 65,000 vessels including 75% of fishing vessels larger than 36m in length using AIS.  However, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) only requires vessels of more than 300 tonnes on international voyages to operate an AIS system.  The reality of the Australian fishery is that there are very few vessels over this size fishing and hardly any fishing vessels are large enough to operate AIS so don’t appear on GFW’s map.

When SETFIA viewed the GFW site in south east Australia in April there were only four vessels (all less than 36m) appearing on the map. However, the reality is that there were likely more than 100 fishing in the region.

AIS can be turned off by fishing vessels.  GFW cite several case studies where they allege that they discovered illegal activities in international fisheries after the AIS was turned off.  GFW label the turning off of AIS data as, “going dark”.  This is a stretch given the rules in Australia that do not require AIS on small vessels.

The Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA), who manage Australia’s deepwater fisheries, operate a system called the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS).  This pre-dates GFW’s map by more than a decade.  All Commonwealth vessels must have VMS on all of the time.  In comparison the GFW system only monitors some vessels some of the time and sometimes analyses some of this data.  AFMA’s VMS runs monthly reports that investigate all vessels to ensure that they have not fished in marine parks or fisheries closures.  VMS operating rates are monitored constantly and any vessel whose VMS fails must report their position manually and must not leave port again until the system is working.  VMS operating rates are in the high 90%s.

A recent article in alleges that one of SETFIA member Austral Fishery’s vessels had “gone dark” near a marine park.  eNGO Oceana allege that, “During the period from July 2015 through September 2016, the [Austral] vessel appeared to turn off its AIS before entering the protected area, and appeared to immediately turn it back on after exiting on 10 separate occasions”.

David Carter, Austral’s CEO explained that “We generally keep AIS operating when in transit but once we’re fishing, its standard practice to turn it off”.  The crew switch off the AIS because “there are other commercial fisherman down there and exposing our location would compromise our commercial catch,” he said.  Mr Carter explained that in addition to VMS which was being constantly monitored by AFMA during the voyage in question they  also had two independent observers on board.   The fishery in which Austral’s vessel operates is Marine Stewarship Council accredited.  Mr Carter hit back at Oceana stating, “Any suggestion of wrong doing is hugely inappropriate and deeply offensive,”

In an open letter about the allegation against Austral AFMA stated, “While the report puts forward the case that turning off AIS means the vessel may be taking part in illegal activities, this is absolutely not the case for the Corinthian Bay referred to in your article. AFMA has checked on all of the data for the Corinthian Bay and we hold no concerns for their movements in the period in question.”

GFW claim that their system allows researchers access to data. However, CSIRO have completed a more detailed analysis of the impacts of trawling in South-East Australia using VMS data and the size of the net and this is available to Australian researchers.

A chart of North-West Australia shows the striking contrast in the scale of international and Australian fisheries with many more fishing vessels sitting outside the line (Australia’s EEZ) shown in yellow.

Although GFW has limited value in Australia it is an amazingly interesting and functional site and can be browsed here.

Eastern Orange Roughy 2016 Survey and Biomass Report

23rd February 2018

CSIRO have released the report on the biomass of orange roughy in the eastern zone.  Read the executive summary and download the full report below.



Based on the 2016 acoustic surveys the biomass of spawning orange roughy on the grounds at 38 kHz and 120 kHz ranges from 24 000 (CV 0.12) to 29 600 (CV 0.22) tonnes for observation or process error analysis respectively. There has been a significant 2 fold increase in spawning biomass at St Helens Hill since 2013.

The 38 kHz timeEastern Orange Roughy Survey and Biomass Report 2016 series estimate of spawning biomass in 2016 is now higher than that recorded in 2010 and the long term trend is consistent with a recovery of fish to the spawning sites. The 38 kHz snapshot survey biomass estimate in 2016 of 29 600 tonnes (CV 0.22) extends the index of survey observations since 1990. The 120 kHz biomass estimates were approximately 10% less than the 38 kHz estimates and this relationship is consistent with previous observations (Ryan and Kloser 2016).

The difference between 38 kHz and 120 kHz biomass estimates indicates a source of bias in one or both data sets. Until the source of bias is found the average of the 38 kHz and 120 kHz estimates is recommended. The averaged over frequency combined ground estimate is 27 700 tonnes (CV 0.18) assuming process error dominant and 24 000 tonnes (CV 0.12) assuming observational error dominant.

It is important to note that we an error in the 38 kHz transducer calibration data supplied by the manufacturer and have adjusted this and the 2013 data by 18% accordingly.

Eastern Orange Roughy Survey and Biomass Report 2016

What has happened to fisheries co-management in Victoria?

23rd February 2018

By Ross Winstanley*

Since 1995, Victoria has see-sawed between structured co-management and “fit-for-purpose” arrangements, depending on the government of the day.  Coalition governments have twice introduced broad-based statutory co-management councils while Labor governments have twice turned to less-structured arrangements.

From the 1960s, Victoria was at the forefront of sharing responsibilities between government and the commercial and recreational fishing sectors.  In 1995, this led to the adoption of co-management as the cornerstone of fisheries management in the State.

During 2000 and 2001, the all-party Environment and Natural Resources Committee (ENRC) reviewed the effectiveness of the Fisheries Co-Management Council, concluding that “Co-management is a worthy concept and the Victorian model should be retained and improved.”

Then during the 2000s, fisheries ministers turned away from the co-management model which had become established in all other Australian jurisdictions; instead they adopted “fit-for-purpose” consultation.

Today, Victoria stands alone in having no statutory advisory body drawn from fishing and aquaculture interests, advising the Minister on strategic policy and management issues.  Further, it stands alone in having no standing body representing all recreational fishers to advise the Minister on recreational fisheries issues.

‘Co-management’ in the 70s and 80s

The Fisheries Act 1968 established the basis for commercial fishing sector partnerships in licensing and management decision-making.  Agreement between the government and industry led to appointments to the Fisheries Management Committee, Commercial Fisheries Licensing Panel and Licensing Appeals Tribunal.

In the area of recreational fishing, the Victorian Recreational Fishing Advisory Council provided formal advice to the Minister while wider consultation was conducted through the Amateur Fishermans Consultative Committee of Victoria.

The level of decision-making responsibility devolved to fishers was in the “consultative” middle-ground area of the spectrum of stakeholder engagement.  Government interactions with recreational fishers and the commercial sector were separated and other stakeholder interests were excluded.


1995 Fisheries Act

In 1994, Kennett Government Minister, Geoff Coleman, proposed:

  • a Statutory Authority to manage fisheries
  • an independent body to represent all recreational fishers
  • a Fisheries Advisory Council to advise on fisheries management
  • all-waters recreational fishing licence.

The Fisheries Act 1995 provided for the establishment of the Fisheries Co-Management Council (FCC, commenced 1996), recreational fishing peak body (VRFish, 1996) and the Recreational Fishing Licence (RFL, 1999).  The far-sighted proposals foreshadowed the Fisheries Advisory Council (FAC, 2015) and the Victorian Fisheries Authority (VFA, 2017).


Fisheries Co-Management Council

The 1995 Act specified the broad-based FCC comprising members drawn from commercial fishing and aquaculture industries, recreational fishing, traditional fishing, conservation, fisheries management and science.  It also provided for specific Fisheries Committees whose members were drawn from similar fields to advise the FCC and the Minister.

The FCC’s role included a wide range of delegated responsibilities, representing a clear shift towards the “collaborative” government-stakeholder partnership area of co-management.

For the first time, the FCC and Fisheries Committees were expertise-based and co-involved commercial, recreational and traditional fishing, aquaculture and conservation interests.

Underpinning this broad partnership version of co-management, the Act recognised four organisations as representing State-wide recreational fishing (VRFish), commercial fishing (SIV), aquaculture and conservation interests.


Review of consultative arrangements

In 2007 the Brumby Government launched a “consultative arrangements review” aimed at achieving a new flexible framework that “provides for performance-based, fit-for-purpose consultation and engagement overseen by key stakeholder representatives“.

The review concluded that the FCC arrangements were too rigid, and raised concerns over efficiency, complexity, accountability, stakeholder representation and governance.

New arrangements were designed to ensure that all fishery interests could have an input into fisheries management decisions. To that end, consultation was broadened beyond the ‘peak bodies’.  The new framework centred on stakeholder consultation plans based on “principles of effective consultation.

The review stated that, at the completion of each future consultation process, “decisions made will be communicated to stakeholders” confirming that this form of co-management was consultative in name but with decisions firmly in government hands.

To implement the review, the Act was amended in 2009 and featured the inclusion of eight “consultation principles”.  While stating that consultation should be “clear, open, timely and transparent“, the principles made it clear that consultation would be targeted at commercial sector, recreational fishers, aquaculture operators, conservation groups and indigenous groups.

The Act amendments repealed references to co-management and “recognised peak bodies”.


Fisheries Advisory Council, 2013-2017

Prior to succeeding at the 2010 election, the Coalition committed to “legislate to reinstate a consultative process that involves all the peak bodies in the industry“.  Debate on the 2013 Bill indicated confusion regarding the distinction between consultation and genuine involvement of stakeholders in strategic fisheries management decisions.  The 1995 Act was amended to establish a cross-sectoral Fisheries Advisory Council whose role was to “advise the Minister on strategic matters relating to management of fisheries“.  The Brumby Government’s “principles of effective consultationremained, with no constraint on continued “fit for purpose” consultation.

In 2013 and 2014, an “Interim FAC” met to prepare for the FAC’s eventual work plan.  The FAC was appointed in October 2014, then met twice in 2015 under the newly-elected Labor Government.  At the second meeting, the Government clarified the FAC’s immediate priority: help with delivering the Target One Million recreational fishing policy commitments.

One of those commitments was to replace Fisheries Victoria with a statutory authority and further FAC meetings were suspended in mid-2015; it was discontinued in 2017.

Thus ended Victoria’s most recent co-management entity.  Since 2015, co-management in Victoria has reverted to sector-by-sector arrangements, much as existed prior to 1995.  Prominent longer-running examples include:

  • the Fisheries Cost Recovery Standing Committee
  • annual TAC and quota-setting negotiations for quota-managed fisheries
  • the Statewide Recreational Fishing Roundtable
  • development of fisheries management plans
  • annual discussions of the coming year’s fish stocking plans
  • advice to governments on annual RFL project funding allocations.


A touch of irony

The pre-legislation Interim FAC was chaired by Peter Neville, who was the lead author of the report “Co-management: managing Australia’s fisheries through partnership and delegation.

The report said that “fisheries co-management is an arrangement in which responsibilities and obligations for sustainable fisheries management are negotiated, shared and delegated between government, fishers, and other interest groups and stakeholders”.  It described the spectrum of decision-making arrangements, ranging from centralised government control to the “delegated model” where decisions were made jointly by government and stakeholders, and agreed actions were delegated to fisher bodies.


Productivity Commission comments

In their 2016 inquiry report on marine fisheries and aquaculture in Australia, the Productivity Commission observed that “the process of involving stakeholders in the management of fisheries has centred on co-management“.  They described the various forms fisheries co-management around Australia and noted nine preconditions for success, including “a legislative basis to delegate powers.”

The Commission recommended that all governments should have clear policies and guidelines on the application of co-management in marine fisheries.  They noted that Victoria was the only jurisdiction lacking a legislative basis for “the delegation of certain powers to non-government third parties.


Victorian Auditor-General comments

In its 2015 better practice guide, the Victorian Auditor-Generals Office (VAGO) stated “Public participation is a critical input to government activity, and developing effective strategies, programs and projects.”  Noting the absence of government-wide guidance, the Auditor-General announced his intention to use the guide’s principles to benchmark public participation performance.

In fact the VAGO report identified Victoria as the only Australian jurisdiction without guidelines to agencies on better practice involvement in decision-making.  It set out the stepwise increments in “levels of public participation:”
inform → consult → involve → collaborate → empower.

This parallels Peter Neville’s description of fisheries co-management models ranging from centralised “command-and-control” to delegated partnerships.  From what is publicly, accessible, Victoria’s co-management arrangements have reverted to the “inform” or central control end of these scales.

The VFA consults with fisheries and aquaculture interest groups and allied industries and complies with mandatory requirements to invite public input on management proposals.  However, there is no trace of community-wide “involvement” in decisions involving publicly-owned fish resources, consistent with the mandated consultation principles.  Nor is there any standing cross-sectoral body to advise on strategic fisheries issues.


Victoria’s fisheries consultation principles

The Labor Government terminated the FAC in 2017, based on the establishment of the VFA with its statutory obligations to community and stakeholder participation in fisheries management.  As the current state of co-management in Victoria is at the ‘inform’ and ‘consult’ end of the scale, it is critical that the VFA rigorously addresses its consultation obligations.  Section 16 of the Victorian Fisheries Authority Act 2016, titled “Principle of stakeholder engagement and community participation” commits the VFA to comply with the consultation principles set out in the Fisheries Act 1995.

However, Hansard records (VFA Bill 2016, 25 October 2016) indicate that the Government takes a narrow view of who has an interest in the use of community-owned fish resources: certainly not the Victorian public or seafood consumers.  Upper House debate on the “principle of equity” moved from equity between “different classes of fishers” to equity between those who can catch their own fish and those who depend on access through commercial fisheries.  Moving to the “principle of stakeholder engagement and community participation,” Agriculture Minister, Jaala Pulford, was asked who the Government believed to be stakeholders and how it would ensure equal consideration would be given to all.  Her answer: “The same approach … that it currently does.  We certainly engage with the commercial fishing industry … and with recreational fishers.

The Minister was asked, specifically, did the Government consider seafood consumers to be stakeholders and would it engage with Victorian seafood consumers?  The answer: “There is no change proposed, in the same way that consumers of cheese are not high on our list to engage when we talk to people about the dairy industry.

The Minister either ignored – or was unaware – that cheese is a privately produced and owned commodity while fish are a community-owned resource.  This distinction has profound implications for governments’ obligations to consult and for the community’s rights to be involved.

The crucial point is that the current Government dismisses six million Victorians, the majority of them seafood consumers, as valid stakeholders when it comes to fisheries policy and management matters.


Where now for the VFA?

Still in its first year of operation, the VFA board has some serious thinking to do regarding stakeholder engagement and community participation in fisheries management.  Both the 1995 Act and the 2016 VFA Act specify principles that bind the VFA to far more inclusive engagement and open participation than has been evident recently.

Will Victoria sea-saw between cross-sectoral co-management partnerships and narrowly targeted fit-for-purpose consultation, depending on the government of the day?

Or, will the VFA board take the lead in developing co-management and community engagement arrangements that will serve government and stakeholder interests over time without interruption whenever Victoria has a change of government?

The 2001 ENRC review of co-management in Victoria found that “co-management is about a partnership with the community, as well as with particular sectors.”  Will we see the likes of that again?


* Ross Winstanley is a keen angler, fishing writer and fisheries consultant.  For 30 years he worked with Fisheries Victoria in policy, management and research and assisted with drafting the ENRC’s 2002 Inquiry into Fisheries Management report.