Category Archives: Management

Snapper under control

16th October 2015

Snapper has been small part of the South East Trawl Fishery’s catch for more than 100 years and is an unavoidable part of the sector’s 10,000 tonne catch of other species. There is also a separate, healthy commercial snapper catch in Port Phillip Bay licenced by Victoria which catches around 130 tonnes. Snapper is an iconic recreational species with anglers in Victoria catching more than 500 tonnes.

In recent years fishermen in the South East Trawl Fishery have unfortunately been forced to discard any snapper they caught in excess of 200 kgs per trip. Most, if not all discarded snapper is discarded dead. This management measure aimed to discourage trawl fishermen from targeting snapper but had the perverse outcome of often forcing the infrequent catches of snapper to be discarded dead.

The issue is particularly timely given recent data from Port Phillip Bay suggesting that the snapper there have undergone poor recruitment recently.

However, AFMA and SETFIA have found a better way.

Under the management arrangements in place SETFIA is able to grant an exemption to the 200 kg trip limit provided the skipper believes they can make a case that the snapper was taken incidentally. Skippers call before landing the snapper and are questioned about things such as the catches on other vessels in the area and their recent history of snapper catches. All landings under this exemption must be pre-reported to AFMA which allows them time to have someone meet the vessel or follow up later on to ensure that the catch was unavoidable. All vessels have satellite tracking which AFMA can review.

South East Trawl snapper catches since the co-management arrangement started have been lower than most years and in almost a year only four exemptions have been required. Some exemptions have been made for amounts just over the 200 kg limit and in total only about 8 tonnes of snapper have been landed under the scheme to date. Total South East Trawl catches over the last year are less than 20 tonnes or around 3% of the total catch.

Interestingly, much of this year’s snapper catch came from waters deeper than 200m which may come as a surprise to recreational anglers.

A glass house called accountability and reforms Australia desperately needs

16th January 2015

In undertaking a 2014 Nuffield Scholarship I have so far traveled to seventeen countries researching resource management practices, commercial fishing techniques and the legislative processes in place that govern the two. These three things are linked when considering how best to regulate an industry that extracts from a self-replenishing resource to ensure that extraction never surpasses that-which is renewable.

In doing so I have witnessed industry practices performed that I have personally felt are abhorrent and in complete contravention to what needs to be achieved in order to have sustainable fisheries. I’ve also seen amazing technological developments in fishing methods that have reduced environmental impact, eliminated bird interactions, reduced carbon emissions by 50%, seen the next generation and possible future of low impact trawl technologies and witnessed first hand how Australia could benefit from many of these innovations and management practices.

I’ve met legislators, regulators and compliance officers who have been doing everything from near impossible jobs given the systemic corruption occurring in some countries to bringing about some of the most progressive management reforms to support industry that could be imagined.

Nothing however could have prepared me for the utterly absurd, politically motivated and frankly stupid policy recently legislated in Brussels over the EU’s revised Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

The Green movement has representation in the EU parliament of 58 out of 766 sitting members. Recently however this disproportionate representation was successful in a campaign to introduce last minute legislation as part of the revised CFP, which would have made it illegal for any fisherman operating under EU guidelines to discard anything during the course of normal operations at sea.

All fisherman would have been forced to retain all by-catch on board regardless of whether it had a commercial value, could have been returned to the water alive or whether its removal would have had a net negative effect on the marine ecosystem. It was a politicized piece of legislation that offered exactly zero forethought regarding how it would be implemented, regulated or achieved. No consideration was given to the significant logistical and financial burden that would be placed on fisherman to dispose of excess or unsalable fish in landfill while they were already struggling through other difficult reforms.

Any concept of a science-based approach was completely ignored for short-term political points.

A policy advisor working for the Environmental Defense Fund actually told me that so little thought was given to this piece of legislation that before the Parliaments Christmas break they had decided that there would not be a discard policy in the revised CFP. Upon returning to work they were told that had changed and that there was now a zero discards policy.

A number of member countries including Spain, France, and Britain banded together to secure eleventh hour reforms that would see a phased, sensible reduction in discard quantities achieved over the short to medium term. Agricultural farmers the world over are seeing the benefits of returning as much organic matter to their soils as possible to increase levels of organic carbons, promote greater biodiversity in soils, minimize use of artificial fertilizers and aid in substituting nutrients that cultivating takes from the earth. To assume anything which is taken from the ocean and returned is waste is beyond logic, sound reasoning and has little scientific basis.

While reductions in by-catch should be the aim of any fishery (with zero by-catch being the holy grail) returning by-catch to the sea is not waste. In many cases it provides forage for seabirds, seals, sea lions, pelagic fish, sharks and other marine creatures that benefit directly from it. In fact it has been shown through a number of scientific studies that discards can have a positive effect on some marine ecosystems. The key is to measure all discards to ensure our extraction levels are not passing levels that are considered renewable.

What makes the recent short sighted events in Brussels appalling is that in British Columbia, Canada they have achieved the near perfect balance between maximum sustainable yield harvesting, economic viability for fisherman, public accountability, food production and care for their marine environment.

During the 1990’s Canada’s fishing industry was, by its own admission, out of control. Fortunately their Department of Oceans and Fisheries (DFO) and industry had enough internal leadership and vision to bring all the stakeholders to the table and identify a clear objective that they wanted achieved. That was to have sustainable fisheries. Simple really.

Instead of taking the EU’s or in many cases Australia’s example and implementing top down regulation that becomes prohibitive for industry to adapt to changing circumstances, they gave industry the chance to play a major role in how their fishery was to develop and much of the management structure was developed from the bottom up.

Now every vessel operating in BC’s Integrated Ground fish Fishery is fitted with onboard cameras or carries observers, this makes them answerable to each other and to the public at large. Huge amounts of data are collected, audited by an independent third party and then used to manage their fish stocks down to the very last kg.

The result is fishers working side by side on the water that no longer see each other as competition but as allies in ensuring their stocks are looked after in the best possible way. The trawl sector voluntarily closed 50% of all of BC’s EEZ to bottom trawling (90% is closed in the south-east of Australia), placed quotas on corals and sponges and is proactively pursuing a program of electronic logbooks that will minimize time spent on compliance and reduce regulatory costs to the extent of millions.

Fishermen in this fishery are still permitted to discard but any discard must be accounted for and is deducted from the fisherman’s quota for each species. This has worked so well in getting fisherman to cooperate that fishermen have left up to 70% of quotas uncaught where stocks needed rebuilding.

The results are astounding and just as importantly the fisherman love it. All of the 50 Canadian fishermen I spoke to agreed with the structure of management and over half took great pride in saying they were part of the cleanest, greenest and most sustainable fishery in the world.

It was not an easy road, didn’t happen overnight and in the end fisherman had to get an independent arbitrator in to finally agree on what was a fair structure that wouldn’t disadvantage any one fishing sector. Overall though the results speak for themselves and it was worth it.

The only reason such politicized decisions were possible in Brussels was largely because for years EU fisherman were opposed to many reforms and in conflict with each. Where there is a leadership vacuum uninformed others will fill it. In this case it was top down regulation and unworkable quota conditions that meant fisherman had no choice but to discard. They rightfully feared a public backlash over the practices and subsequently did what they could to hide the practice. In doing so they lost the trust of their consumers and environmental groups were able to implant fear in an unknowing public.

Had the EU fisherman banded together, the same as their counterparts in BC had, the result could have been so different. Instead though they still saw the person fishing next to them as their main competition.

The reason such events are so relevant to our fishing industry in Australia is that recent history has shown that our own governments are not above making politically based decisions that disregard science and cause incalculable damage to our primary industries. The controversy surrounding Australia’s Small Pelagic Fishery (aka “super-trawlers”), Australia’s network of Marine Protection Areas, some state bans on GMO farming and bans on live cattle exports are local examples.

Australia’s Offshore Constitutional Settlement is an agreement between each State and the Commonwealth dividing management by fishery, species, method or geography. In many cases it forces fishers in one jurisdiction to discard perfectly good and valuable product because the fish are managed by another overlapping jurisdiction. Most of this discarded fish goes unreported and stock assessments suffer.

Another example is spatial closures that were put in place to “protect” one fishing sector from another. This means that even if fishermen have quota or a new cheaper and more efficient method that has less environmental consequences becomes available they may not be able to utilise it. Presently the SEESF trawl sector has been reduced to operating within 13% of its original grounds. The gillnet sector has been limited to operating shallower than 183 meters while the hook sector limited to operating deeper.

These sectorial restrictions have inhibited the ability of an industry to adapt to seasonal variation, environmental conditions and economic circumstances by limiting them to a single method. Parts of industry have embraced these rules believing it provides a competitive advantage for their sector over another. In the end though these rules have divided industry and is one reason we see so many industry associations. In the shark gillnet fishery there are two competing associations. It has turned individual operators and businesses into monoculture fisherman who cannot diversify and use other methods in other fisheries without having to go through multiple regulatory hurdles that for many small businesses is simply too hard and expensive.

Our Canadian cousins have shown us that when all parties are brought to the table and work together, reforms that lead to a truly progressive, cooperative and accountable industry are possible.

The extremely precautionary approach toward fisheries management in Australia means that the sustainability of our fish stocks is not in question but the sustainability of our fisherman is. Australian fisheries need far-reaching reform if we are to have sustainable fisheries that are economically viable, provide high quality seafood to our citizens, create jobs and most importantly maintain their social license to exist.

The only way our commercial fishing industry can hope to survive going into the future is as a unified voice across all sectors that speaks loudly enough for our right to exist. This cannot be achieved when we continually see each other as competition as opposed to allies. If industry stands together as a unified force we have a far greater chance of achieving reforms beneficial to us all. Fishermen are naturally competitive but when looking to the future we must realise that whether we like each or not is immaterial. We are all living together in a very large glass house called accountability. There are people and organizations on the outside of this house that don’t like us much and often take shots at the house slowly shattering the glass. While they are doing this, we’re stupidly still throwing stones at each other.

A+ for large trawlers in the small pelagic fishery

22nd December 2014

Two years after the Ministers of Environment and Fisheries imposed a temporary ban on the use of large scale freezer trawlers in the SPF, an Expert Panel has produced a report that gives a cautious green light to fishing. The Panel found that these vessels should be managed in a precautionary, risk-based way – effectively the approach that is already used by AFMA.

The Harvest Strategy for the SPF was endorsed as being conservative against international benchmarks, consistent with best available advice on the management of small pelagic species, and provided a sufficient ecological allocation to predators and the broader ecosystem.

The Panel dispensed many myths about the fishery:

• It clearly identified that the disappearance of surface schools of jack mackerel off the east coast of Tasmania in the 1990s was caused by environmental factors not fishing, and that similar events had occurred in the 1950s and 1970s as a result of warming water temperatures.

• It confirmed that catches of SPF species would not have an impact on SBT that are wide ranging predators; and

• Confirmed that the ability of the large scale freezer vessel to stay on a school of fish and continue to fish it until it was depleted is determined by the schooling behaviour of the fish, not by the vessel being used.

The Panel made useful suggestions for how fishing operations should be managed to help mitigate impacts on seals, dolphins and seabirds through direct interactions with the gear and through possible local depletion of their food sources. These included spatial and temporal closures around breeding colonies and forage areas, improvements to SED designs, and the use of high intensity, directional pingers.

Overall, the Panel report is a useful document that provides guidance to fisheries managers on how to design closures to protect central place foragers while endorsing AFMA’s precautionary, risk-based management approach, and created no barriers to the use of large scale freezer vessels in the fishery.

Cooked seafood one step closer to being properly labelled

22nd December 2014

A Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee has reported on the current requirements for labelling of seafood. The Committee’s terms of reference included whether the current seafood labelling requirements:

  1. provide consumers with sufficient information to make informed choices, including choices based on sustainability and provenance preferences,
  2. whether they allow for best-practice traceability of product chain-of-custody;
  3. the need for labelling for cooked or pre-prepared seafood products,
  4. whether current labelling laws allow domestic seafood producers to compete on even terms with imported seafood products.

The Committee found that seafood consumption in Australia has doubled since 1975 and that 75% of all seafood consumed in Australia is imported. Also that 70% of Australian consumers prefer local seafood to imported seafood and that consumers consider freshness first and then country of origin when buying seafood.

The Committee made only one recommendation. That being that the exemption regarding country of origin labelling under the Food Standards Code for cooked or pre-prepared seafood sold by the food services sector be removed, subject to a transition period of no more than 12 months.

In other words they recommended that all cooked and pre-prepared seafood be labelled with its country of origin.

An end to Victorian caught inshore fish?

28th November 2014

The Victorian Government has announced it will buyback commercial fishing net licenses in Port Phillip Bay within 10 years, and pledged $20 million to begin the process if it is re-elected. The State Opposition followed announcing a similar scheme within days of the Government’s announcement.

SETFIA understands that the Victorian Coalition Government was pushed into urgent action when it discovered weeks from the election that a consortium of tackle shop owners were on the brink of an agreement with the Victorian Opposition to create a recreational fishing haven in Port Phillip Bay.

Days later Rex Hunt addressed a crowd of 700 recreational fishermen, thrust an imported fishing rod into the air and celebrated the loss of family livelihoods.

The Victorian Minister for Agriculture the Hon. Peter Walsh has previously stated that the balance between recreational and commercial catches was correct. The Minister did not consult with his Fisheries Advisory Committee that was established after a promise in the last election. Minister Walsh added that recreational anglers would be, “guaranteed a better catch…” after the buy-back.

Many of the fisheries that will be removed including king george whiting, black bream, silver trevally, rock flathead and southern calamari were recently certified as sustainable by the Australian Conservation Foundation.

Based on 2012-13 data 500-600 tonnes of local seafood will be removed from supply. Melbourne Chefs took to Twitter to voice their displeasure.

Demand is expected to be filled by air freighted imported fish from New Zealand. Mr Craig Boote owner ofWestfleet Seafoods on New Zealand’s west coast stated that the closure of the Port Phillip Bay fishery was a sad outcome for Australian fishers but at the same time very positive for the New Zealand industry. He expected to see his business’s exports to Australia increase. Mr Boote explained that based on sales to Australia he had just opened a new build factory and wharf at a cost of NZ$15m and was currently employing 110 staff.

Johnathon Davey from Seafood Industry Victoria explained that it was now obvious that Victorian seafood consumers did not understand where their seafood came from and that SIV would address that. He added that the loss of fishing and integrated fishing/fish shop businesses would see the livelihoods of 30 Victorian families ended. SIV have launched a petition supporting Victorian commercial fisheries that can be signed here.

What happens when commercial fishing ends?

26th November 2014

In 2001 NSW introduced a recreational fishing fee that generated revenue for the Government. Some of this revenue was used to remove commercial fishing and create a “Recreational Fishing Haven” in the Tuross Lake. A report by the NSW Department of Primary Industries aimed to estimate the recreational fishing effort and harvest in the Lake, to see if there had been a change in this effort and catch and to understand if recreational fishing quality changed. This was achieved by surveying recreational anglers before and after the removal of commercial fishing.

The report found that the recreational catch of some species increased and some decreased but that there was no material change in the total recreational catch following the removal of commercial fishing. However following the removal of commercial fishing, recreational fishing effort increased by 25%, probably due to the attractiveness to recreational anglers of a recreational fishing haven. It can therefore be inferred then that recreational fishing catch rates actually decreased following the removal of commercial fishing. The full report can be found here.

Intelligence no prerequisite for politics

18th November 2014

Having recently spent two months travelling throughout Europe on a Nuffield Australia Scholarship researching varying fishing practices and management regimes I was, for a brief moment, proud that Australian fisheries are managed so well, so sustainably and that Australian fisherman are leading the world in using the lowest impact techniques available globally.

My pride in being an Australian fisherman quickly turned to fury, frustration and utter disgust following the recent events occurring in the lead up to the Victorian State election.

To announce a ban on what are globally considered low impact, sustainable fisheries defies common sense, ignores science, will cost jobs and decrease the level of access consumers and restaurants have to local produce all in order to gain a few urban votes that the government may otherwise lose.

The methods bay and inlet fisherman in Victoria use are considered passive, low impact and sustainable. Having just this week met with Greenpeace’s EU policy spokeswoman for Oceans and Fisheries, Saskia Richartz, I can honestly say that Greenpeace is advocating for commercial gillnetting as they consider it a passive, selective, low impact method of fishing that has minimal interactions with broader marine animals and the wider marine ecology. If Greenpeace, of all NGO’s, is advocating for the use of gillnets then the Napthine Governments argument that removal of commercial netting will make the bay’s more sustainable is absurd.

I read in The Age comments made by the Premier that this plan would mean better catches for Victoria’s 750,000 recreational anglers. It seems in his extreme and desperate haste to secure votes he has decided to ignore the other 5.1 million Victorians who rely upon commercial fishing to provide a source of fresh, healthy, nutritious food that the public is told they should be eating more of.

Melbourne more than any other Australian city, or perhaps more than any other international city, has a remarkable food culture that it should be proud of and advocating to the greatest extent possible. Seafood and its regional provenance is an integral part of that. To chase the votes of a handful of recreational anglers at the expense of the cities restaurants, tourism industry and sustainable fisheries is political opportunism at its worst. I doubt international visitors to Melbourne and any one of its thousands of restaurants have a large desire to consume Tilapia farmed in sewerage ponds of SE Asia, yet that is the choice now being offered.

Already Australia is importing 70-80% of our domestic seafood consumption, mostly from China and SE Asia where the question of sustainable practices are far from being answered. Aside from sustainability questions, as Asia’s rising middle class increase their income and living standards it is commonly known that a much larger percentage of their domestic seafood production will be consumed in their own countries and not exported as it presently is. This will have grave consequences for countries like Australia that have driven their own sustainable fishing industries into a state of near non-existence and substituted quality local product with inferior imports.

The voluntary buyback occurring in the Gippsland Lakes is a further example of opportunistic politics compromising seafood production at the expense of Victorians who wish to access local produce that has been sourced sustainably. If Minister Walsh actually cared about his portfolio as minister for food security he should be advocating and promoting the local industries that provide that security, not forcing them out of existence to acquiesce a minority of the Victorian population who are recreational anglers.

I’m sure Premier Napthine may not be aware of every intricacy of global seafood production or sustainable environmental practices; however there are many in Victoria and Australia who are and advise to government on such matters. That no such consultation was taken on a policy decision that has such far-reaching ramifications cannot be argued as ignorance, simply as utter, opportunistic and shortsighted stupidity. Worse is that it sets a precedent for all other governments that cheap votes can be brought at the expense of local primary production industries.

In a world where 800 million people presently do not have access to sufficient protein to sustain basic human health and with a human population set to increase by 2.5 billion within 35 years shutting down sustainable food production industries such as the Napthine Government is proposing to do was best summed up by the words of Voltaire from over two centuries ago, “common sense is not so common.”

Its official – no overfishing occurring in the south-east

24th October 2014

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, Senator Richard Colbeck, yesterday released the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) Fishery Status Reports 2013-14. This is the 19th year that the report has been run. The report assesses the status of all 93 Commonwealth fish stocks across 21 fisheries.
The independent report found that no stocks managed by the Commonwealth Government are subject to overfishing.
In the south-east last year’s report stated that only eastern gemfish was subject to overfishing. However, the latest report shows that this has been stopped and that eastern gemfish is no longer experiencing overfishing. The “clean” report for the South East Trawl Fishing is the only year other than 2006 in which no stocks have been affected by overfishing.
The status of ocean perch also improved from amber to green and there were no negative movements in the status of South East Trawl stocks.

New Commission

1st July 2014

The Parliamentary Secretary, Senator the Hon. Richard Colbeck, has announced the makeup of the new AFMA Commission. The number of part-time Commissioners has been reduced from nine to seven. The appointment and end dates for the part time Commissioners have been staggered providing for better succession in the future. The current Commission has three new members [top row];

The Hon. Norman Moore (Chair) [top left] is most recently known for his work in the Western Australian state parliament and as Minister for Fisheries, Mines and Petroleum, and Electoral Affairs.

Ms Catherine Cooper [top row, middle] currently chairs the South Australian Fisheries and Aquaculture Research Advisory Committee and Aquaculture Advisory Council. Ms. Cooper was a finalist in both the 1997 and 1998 Telstra Business Women’s Awards and is a former Chair of the Fisheries Council of South Australia.

Mr David Hall [top row, right] is the Managing Director of fish tagging manufacturing company, former Executive Director, Grape and Wine Research and Development Corporation and Director of Fisheries in South Australia and the Northern Territory. He is currently a Victor Harbor Councillor.

Current commissioners Ian Cartwright [lower left], Professor Keith Sainsbury [2nd from left lower row] and Richard Stevens [3rd from left lower row] have been reappointed for a two year term. As AFMA CEO, Dr. James Findlay [lower right] continues his role as AFMA Commissioner.

AFMA’s CEO Dr Findlay said “The current group of part time commissioners have provided outstanding leadership and guidance during their five and a half year term and I’m sure the new commission, with a mix of old and new, will build on this strong foundation.”

Senator Colbeck thanked the outgoing Chair Michael Egan, “It takes strong leadership and commitment to oversee AFMA and its responsibilities. We wish Mr Egan the very best for the future and thank him for his work as outgoing chair”. Senator Colbeck also thanked outgoing commissioners Dr John Glaister, Ms Jennifer Goddard, Ms Elizabeth Montano and Ms Denise North for their valuable contributions to AFMA.

Trawl fishery management costs down 24%

13th January 2014

AFMA sets a budget in each fishery each year. SETFIA is involved in process for the South East Trawl Fishery (SETF).

AFMA’s budgetary year is the financial year (end June to 1 July). However, the first (of three) levy notice arrived in January. The delay in sending the first levy notice means that if the previous year’s budget has been over/under spent or over/under recovered that this net amount can be added or deducted from the current budget. This is called the acquittal process.

AFMA have publically committed to not increasing their total budget by more than cumulative CPI increases based on the 2005/06 financial year. SETFIA worked hard to negotiate a 6.7% reduction in this year’s budget. Adding CPI means that in real terms the reduction last year was in the order of 10%.

AFMA have announced that they under-spent the 2012/13 SET budget by 7.5%. Budget reductions and underspends mean that 2013/14 levies will be 24% or $765,000 less than 2012/13. Across the approximately 50 SETF permits this is a saving of approximately $15,000 per operator on average. The actual savings will depend on the types of permits and quota held.
The 7.5% underspend is a result from AFMA’s willingness to review costs and to consider the timing of major items such as research. The Association commends all AFMA staff for their efforts. Substantial savings came from delaying the fishery independent survey until winter 2014 and a move to electronic logbooks. The 2014 fishery independent survey will mean that levies are likely to increase next year due to the scheduling of a large research project although savings will be sought in other areas to offset some of the cost.

This 24% reduction in the SETF budget is more than the average 17.5% average reduction across all AFMA managed fisheries.