Productivity Commission Release Draft Report

The Productivity Commission (PC) is the Australian Government’s review and advisory body on policy, regulation, social and environmental issues. Its role is to recommend policies in the long-term interest of the community. The PC has recently released its draft report on marine fisheries and aquaculture.

Appointed by the Federal Treasurer, the enquiry aimed to find economic efficiencies, policy and environmental outcomes, reduce regulatory burden and improve commercial fishing’s profitability.  It considered multi-jurisdictional (i.e. state, territory and Commonwealth) fisheries management, harmonising environmental and fisheries management legislation, commercial fishery accreditation schemes, cost recovery, participation of Indigenous Australians, the balance between commercial, indigenous and recreational interests and the interests of seafood consumers.

The report acknowledged the work the Australian Government had done to restore the status of stocks to generally positive states.  It suggested that commercial fisheries should move as a default position to apply transferable quota systems (Iike the South East Trawl).  The report explained that this would result in fewer constraints on fishing practices and provide a more efficient and effective means of adhering to harvest limits.  However, it did not acknowledge the huge cost required to administer quota systems and set quota.

The Association has already given written in-principle support to the PC’s recommendation that the NSW Offshore Trawl Fishery should be absorbed into South East Trawl by the end of 2018.  The NSW fishery’s catches are already debited to the South East Trawl’s quotas so issuing them formal quota should not cost South East Trawl quota owners anything.  It also stops inter-sectoral squabbling, provides management economies of scale and better recognises NSW operators’ hard earned historical rights.  Many of the NSW operators are already SETFIA members and/or hold SET permits.

The good news for recreational anglers is that the PC recommended that recreational fishing receive recognition within fisheries management and that all regulators should develop allocation policies for recreational fishing rather than just ignoring recreational catch.

However, most of the report is far less positive about recreational fishing. It states that there is weak knowledge of the impact of increasingly successful but un-managed recreational fishing on some fish stocks.  It goes on to say that recreational fishing is at best sporadically monitored despite its impacts on stock sustainability and that it rivals or even exceeds the commercial catch of some species. The report also points out that recreational fishing is subject to less monitoring than commercial fishing and that controls on the total catch of recreational fishers should be implemented.  Even catch and release was criticised suggesting that it is associated with higher mortality rates for deeper water species.  Of huge interest to recreational anglers targeting southern bluefin tuna is the recommendation that the Australian Government should set catch limits for the recreational sector by December 2018.

The PC proposed that the Australian Government should conduct a national survey of recreational fishing in 2017-18 and every five years after that, with all the states contributing to the cost of this survey.

The recommendations about recreational catch have prompted discussions about the Victorian Government’s “Target 1 Million” plan – which would see the problems the PC has described increased by 20-30% in Victoria.  Victorian recreational fishers need to consider whether they want a third more fishermen on the water and cars at the boat ramp, a third longer wait to launch and a third less per capita catch.