Category Archives: Management

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.

Mandatory electronic logbooks in the South East Trawl Fishery

22nd January 2018

The Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) has announced that, as of 1 May 2018, all South East Trawl (SET) vessels that have fished more than 50 days in either the 2016 or 2017 fishing seasons will be required to use electronic logbooks (e-logs) to report on their fishing operations.  SETFIA members have resolved to support this move.

Up until now operators have had the option of using traditional paper logbooks to provide this information but as of the 2018 fishing season, they will be required to move to an eLog reporting platform through an AFMA-approved e-log program.

E-logs will allow SET fishers to report their fishing operations, including daily catch, discarded fish and protected species interaction data, in real time and allow this data to be received by AFMA in near real time, closer to actual fishing events.  Accurate and timely data is essential for research and management of the SET. E-logs will also also provide real cost savings to fishers by eliminating the manual data re-entry component associated with paper logbooks and is currently estimated to cost $18 per day.

The SET has made significant progress in this direction, with more than 62% of fishing vessels already voluntarily using e-logs to provide their catch and fishing information to AFMA.

E-log software is provided by private companies and there are currently two Australian providers . To use e-logs, SET operators need to follow these steps:

1.       Register on AFMA’s online portal GoFish. Anyone else that is going to submit e-logs on an Operator’s behalf, such as the Skipper or crew members, should also register on GoFish.

2.       Email AFMA on with your GoFish ID, vessel name and fishing method used.

3.       Purchase an approved third party e-log software from one of the two current providers.  See the AFMA website for their contact details –

4.       Work with your chosen software provider to set up your e-log software for reporting.

For more information on how to sign up for e-logs see:

For instructions for trawl operators see:

For instructions for Danish seine operators see:

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