80th AFMA commission meeting – Chairman’s Summary

Commission meeting 17 & 18 November 2021

The Commission convened for its 80th meeting in Canberra on 17-18 November 2021, with some Commissioners attending virtually due to COVID-19 travel uncertainties.

Major items discussed and decisions taken included:

The Commission noted the creation and filling of a new General Manager role in AFMA to lead the Data Transformation and Electronic Monitoring Program. Ms Claire van der Geest was introduced to the Commissioners as the new GM.

The Commission discussed a number of fisheries policy and management issues with the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment (DAWE):

  • On the National Fisheries Plan, DAWE noted the 2019 election commitment and the shared vision and framework for the Commonwealth, States and Territories, and industry. Key priority areas included: Streamlining of governance, sustainable use, the sharing of resources, opportunities for indigenous communities, recreational fishing, and the promotion of sustainable fisheries management. It was noted that DAWE was working on final iterations of the plan.
  • On Australia’s engagement with international fisheries bodies, discussion particularly focused on the recently adopted Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) interim yellowfin tuna rebuilding measure to address overfishing of that stock. It was recognised that Australia was a comparatively small player internationally in this fishery. It was noted that Australia continues to use a range of tools for facilitating international engagement including its positive fisheries management reputation, the good work of CSIRO, the use of funding and aid relationships, consultations with industry, such as Tuna Australia, and work across agencies, including the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Attorney Generals’ Department.

The Commission considered industry updates, correspondence from Tuna Australia, Australian Southern Bluefin Tuna Industry Association, Scallop Fisherman’s Association of Tasmania, Atlantis consulting1 and the industry members from the Western Tuna and Billfish Fishery (WTBF). The value of Commissioners taking opportunities to meet with industry was highlighted, and the Commission resolved to seek greater face to face contact once travel restrictions allow.

The Commission considered a presentation from AFMA on Annual Catch Entitlement (ACE) models and agreed there was merit in exploring the concept further, including the broader role of undercatch in the Quota Management System. The Commission requested that AFMA prepare a more detailed paper on ACE, including recommendations, for the Commission’s consideration, noting that any change would be a long term process and would require detailed industry consultation.

The Commission considered a presentation on the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery (SESSF) from AFMA. This continued the discussion from recent Commission meetings regarding the challenges facing the SESSF and addressed multiple issues including access rights, and the extensive governance, science and monitoring framework that supports the management of quota species and the impacts of climate change. Addressing these issues in the light of increasing stock uncertainty is a high priority for 2022.

AFMA provided a briefing on the Minderoo Foundation, Global Fishing Index (GFI). AFMA’s view is that the GFI methodology and assumptions are deeply flawed and produce results that don’t make sense, such as Australia’s “D” rating despite scoring highest in the world regarding governance.

The Commission considered and agreed on actions for a number of Fishery management items including:

  1. Bass Strait Central Zone Scallop Fishery – in noting the current Harvest Strategy review, agreed on the importance of the Fishery Gross Model (FGM) model to integrate economic information into the TAC setting process being considered by the RAG and MAC in early 2022;
  2. Heard Island and McDonald Islands Total Allowable Catch limits- determined the catch and bycatch limits for the HIMI for the 2021/22 season;
  3. Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery Total Allowable Catch limits- determined the Total Allowable Commercial Catch limits (TACCs), undercatch and overcatch provisions and the determined weights for the quota species in the ETBF for the 2022 fishing season. The Commission deliberated extensively over the reduction to the TAC for swordfish recommended by the harvest strategy, noting the strong opposition from industry members of the Management Advisory Committee and from Tuna Australia. The Commission supported the recommended TAC reduction as it was confident that the inputs to the harvest strategy (notably standardised catch per unit effort) were likely reflective of a decline in abundance rather than only an artefact of changed fishing practices;
  4. Western Tuna and Billfish Fishery Total Allowable Catch limits – determined the 2022/23 TACCs for the quota species. The Commission discussed the TAC for yellowfin tuna at length in light of a request from industry representatives that AFMA should retain the Yellowfin tuna TACC at 5,000t but restrict catch to 2,000t in accordance with the IOTC measure through some other management mechanism, such as a voluntary arrangement. While sympathetic to industry’s concerns about a reduced TAC, the Commission recognised that, as a responsible fishing nation, Australia is obliged to both support and comply with decisions taken by IOTC to reduce overfishing of Yellowfin tuna. Further, the mechanism by which this obligation is implemented would be subject to scrutiny by IOTC’s Compliance Committee, noting that implementation of catch limits in the past have been evidenced by the formal, domestic TAC determination. The Commission also noted the requirement in the Commonwealth Harvest Strategy Policy that requires AFMA to determine a catch limit that is “the same or less than that permitted under the relevant international arrangement”;
  5. Southern Bluefin Tuna Total Allowable Catch limits – determined the Australian National Catch Allocation, the actual live weight values and overcatch and undercatch percentages under the Southern Bluefin Tuna Fishery Management Plan 1995 (the Plan) for the season commencing 1 December 2021;
  6. Southern Squid Fishery Total Allowable Catch limits – determined the Total Allowable Effort limit for the SSJF for the 2022 fishing year, noting the ongoing discussions on a possible “lower catch and effort trigger” to be built into the fishery harvest strategy;
  7. Catch limits for Black Tiger Prawns (Broodstock) – agreed to continue the co-management arrangements for the 2022, 2023 and 2024 fishing seasons including: a) a 9,000 individual prawn supply limit between the maximum of three broodstock permits; and b) Move-on provisions for Sawfish – operators must move more than three nautical miles if four or more sawfish are caught in a single shot.

The Commission noted that these arrangements reflect the best available scientific advice from the Resource Assessment Group and agreed to maintain annual monitoring of total catch (5-year running average) against the two different model estimates of MSY to assess possible risk to stock sustainability until at least another assessment is undertaken.

Commissioners concluded the meeting with a discussion for 2022 meeting dates and locations, and also noted that AFMA’s 30th Birthday is in 2022.

Helen Kroger


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