Until recently, the FAO’s food price index failed to incorporate seafood, a key contributor to the global food system. The omission of seafood was surprising because fishing dates back at least 40,000 years and seafood now contributes 15% of average animal protein consumption to three billion people worldwide. Moreover, fisheries and aquaculture directly employed 44.9 million people in 2008, with an estimated total of 540 million people deriving their livelihoods from seafood-related industries. In 2010 this changed and the global fish price index (FPI) was included in the FAO’s Food Outlook.
A price index collapses price and quantity information on many different products into a single number. Essentially, the FPI tracks the extent to which seafood as a whole is becoming more or less expensive.
The FPI rose 15 percent in May, well above the level at same time in 2012 and passing the previous peak in 2011. The price of high-end fish around the world has spiked to an all-time high due to a recent rise in demand in China that is outpacing supply. The FAO says that factors such as growing urbanization, which brings about more supermarkets, results in increased demand for seafood in emerging markets, especially China. The Chinese diet is changing and has already boosted demand for grains and livestock feed. Now the index shows that the same demand is rising for high-end seafood such as tuna, oysters and shrimp.
There is no official index of Australian seafood prices but the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Science’s (ABARES) December 2013 Productivity analysis of key Commonwealth fisheries states that the average port price for South East Trawl fish peaked in 2009/10 at about $4.20/kg but have declined since and remained stable at about $3.50/kg in 2011/12 and 2012/13. These prices are confused by changes in the landings of different species within the fishery. Very little South East Trawl fish is exported but the fishery’s markets are exposed to imports of fresh fish from New Zealand and frozen fish from other countries so port prices are affected by the strength of the Australian dollar.
In the 1800s a story emerged of English cow herders sharing a common tract of land. Individual herders added cow after cow and the land’s productivity began to decline. The herders knew that too many cows would make the land useless but all assumed that there was no way to avoid this so all continued to add cows before it was too late. This became known as the tragedy of the commons. It is a term that refers to the depletion of a shared resource by individuals, acting independently but acting rationally according to each one’s self-interest, despite their understanding that depleting the common resource is contrary to the group’s long-term best interests. In the 4th century BC Aristotle said, “That which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it.” SETFIA believes in maintaining strong property rights in the fishery because some form of ownership means that stakeholders will support rules and work together to go above and beyond these rules to protect the common resource in the long term.
The Sealord Group, New Zealand’s largest seafood company, has announced it has purchased a NZ$750,000 acoustic optical system (AOS) to conduct research on New Zealand fish stocks. An AOS is a device that emits multiple frequency signals to calculate the amount of fish present. It is particularly effective in assessing aggregations of deep-sea fish and has been used in Australasia to assess blue grenadier (hoki) and orange roughy. The New Zealand Minister of Primary Industries the Honorable Nathan Guy launched the new AOS on board Sealord’s vessel the Thomas Harrison. Mr Guy stated that it will provide a boost to the science that contributes to New Zealand’s world recognised Quota Management System. Sealord’s announcement is a bitter sweet development for the Association. The survey technology was conceived by Australian orange roughy scientists and developed in Australia through several surveys run by SETFIA at a cost of more than $1m. New Zealand seems to be growing its reputation for world leading fisheries science in using the AOS while the Australian stock assessment process is slow to fully adopt the results of the very successful AOS surveys run on eastern Tasmanian ORS stocks. SETFIA plans to run another AOS survey of eastern orange roughy stocks in July in the hope that the scientifically robust AOS surveys will be used to assess that fishery in the near future.
In order to pursue its objectives, AFMA makes a range of management decisions in the South East Trawl Fishery (SETF). Given increasing pressure to improve the cost effectiveness of management there is a need to assess the level of information required to make decisions with the appropriate level of risk. This is commonly referred to as the risk catch cost framework.
The level of fishing actvity in the South East fishery contributes to the risk. The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Statistics (ABARES) have released data showing that fishing effort peaked in the South East Trawl in 2001 at 112,000 hours and nearly 30,000 tonnes. Following the buy-out of licenses effort and catch decreases by about half in 2007 and has stayed relatively constant ever since.
The Association is hopeful that the risk catch cost framework will be applied in practical ways and become more than just a theoretical approach.
By Dr James Findlay, CEO AFMA.
As Commonwealth fishers understand very well, AFMA undertakes cost recovery for expenses incurred as a direct result of management of commercial fishing. While demands on both industry and AFMA continue to rise, AFMA made a commitment to industry to keep a lid on costs. This included keeping the total recovered costs between 2007 and 2009 below the 2005-06 level and then keeping costs from 2010 onwards at the 2009-10 level indexed for the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
So how have we gone? While there have been some significant increases for some individual fisheries, the overall result is pretty good. The cost recovery in 2012-13 is only 2% higher than the 2005-06 level in total and when adjusted for CPI this represents a decrease of more than 14% in real terms or nearly $10M more in fisher’s pockets. Even since 2009-10 when AFMA allowed cost recovery to increase up to the level of CPI each year, increases have been somewhat less than inflation resulting in $2.7M less in levies being collected than if cost recovery had just increased at the rate of inflation. These results show that AFMA is serious about keeping costs down and actions such as 10% staff reduction, sub-leasing around 30% of AFMA’s Canberra office and rolling out GoFish, elogs and other, more efficient systems have allowed AFMA to keep costs down without impacting on the quality of AFMA service delivery.
There is still more to be done but future changes will require industry and AFMA to collectively make some decisions about the form and style of delivery of AFMA services going forward. Future savings options could include widespread use of e-monitoring, e-logs and/or outsourcing some or all of the observer program. Other options include industry rather than AFMA preparing submissions for Wildlife Trade and Strategic Assessments under environmental legislation. Greater use of individual cost recovery through Fee for Service and reducing the reliance on the collective levy system will also assist AFMA in making sure that cost recovery is as equitable as possible (i.e. those fishers who are receiving particular AFMA services are paying for them). AFMA will continue to work closely with the Commonwealth Fisheries Association, SETFIA and other parts of the industry to develop and implement new ways to improve the cost-effectiveness of AFMA services.
The Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Community (SEWPaC), the Hon. Tony Burke has declared the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery to be an approved Wildlife Trade Operation (“WTO”). This is valid until the 25th of February 2016. There are a series of standard conditions that requiring the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) to communicate with SEWPaC, act in line with the EPBC Act (1999) and evaluate and report on stock rebuilding strategies. Putting arrangement in place to rebuild gulper shark populations is also a condition but has already occurred. In addition to the conditions there are a number of recommendations for the trawl fishery including the need to determine the impact on non-target shark stocks, to continue to report on by-catch and discard workplans, to minimise seal interactions, to continue to use offal management in seabird management plans (“SMPs”) and finally to consider expanding the trawl fishery’s SMPs to other sectors in the fishery.
The Association welcomes the granting of the WTO noting that that all conditions were already being met by existing actions and that the Association in partnership with the AFMA were already making good progress on seal and seabird interactions. SETFIA is concerned that AFMA have expended significant time and cost working through the WTO process which are in addition to those required by the Fisheries Management Act (1991). The cost of both processes is cost recovered from the fishing industry.
Other activities holding WTOs include taxidermists wanting to export stuffed animals, organisations exporting wallaby skins, flower and fern exporters and Merv Cooper’s Crazy Crabs™ who presumably export live land hermit crabs.
The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) has undertaken an independent performance audit of the effectiveness of AFMA’s administration of their domestic fishing compliance program. The report noted that 320 Commonwealth licensed vessels land in 75 ports around Australia. In 2011-12 the compliance program conducted 222 vessel and fish receiver inspections with 32% of vessels inspected at least once. The report concluded that AFMA has developed and implemented effective arrangements that aim to reduce or eliminate compliance risks based on compliance intelligence and a documented risk assessment framework. The report found that AFMA’s compliance adhered to Australian Government Investigations Standards. The report recommended that AFMA should set and measure targets across all compliance risks and activities.
The EPBC Act (1999) states that in order to export fish a fishery must be accredited. This can take the form of an exemption or a Wildlife Trade Operation (“WTO”). A WTO is made through an instrument signed by the Minister for the Environment. The Minister can grant a WTO for up to three years and can set down conditions on the accreditation. The South East Trawl Fishery is part of the larger Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery (the SESSF), this fishery holds a current WTO accreditation. The conditions for this fishery include: reporting on progress on reducing by-catch and discards, the completion of Ecological Risk Assessments, work to reduce seabird interactions, to provide statistically robust levels of observer coverage and to implement measures to manage Upper-Slope Dogfish. Much of the work currently occurring within the fishery is to address these areas and you will have noticed that many articles in the newsletter are about these subjects. SETFIA’s members are proud to operate within a WTO fishery. The Association aims to improve consumer understanding that a WTO certification demonstrates sustainability. There are currently no rules for fish imported into Australia to be from a WTO fishery nor hold any other measure of sustainability.
The Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) regularly runs surveillance flights over trawl vessels to ensure that vessels were complying with their seabird management plans (SMP’s). In May 2012 two vessels were ordered back to port. The Association fully supports seabird management plans and will continue to work with member and non-member vessels to ensure they understand their responsibilities.