Small Pelagic Fishery – FAQs

Last updated 16 October 2014

Upcoming activities

Latest science

Sustainability of the fishery

Management of the fishery


Upcoming activities in the Small Pelagic Fishery

Upcoming events until the start of the next fishing season on 1 May 2015
Expected time Event
17 October 2014 Recreational and Conservation Stakeholder Forum, Hobart
22 October 2014 Small Pelagic Fishery Expert Panel report due to the Minister for the Environment (date of any release of the report is unknown at this stage)
18 November 2014 Expiration of Final (Small Pelagic Fishery) Declaration 2012, that prohibits midwater trawling in the Small Pelagic Fishery with factory boats over 130m with over 2,000 tonnes of fish storage capacity
January-February 2015 Possible second Recreational Fishing and Conservation stakeholder forum (will be confirmed prior to Christmas)
February-March 2015 Small Pelagic Fishery Resource Assessment Group meeting to provide advice on recommended biological catch for 2015-16 season, including the results of the Eastern Australian Sardine and Jack Mackerel daily egg production method survey
March 2015 South East Management Advisory Committee meeting to recommend Small Pelagic Fishery total allowable catches for the 2015-16 fishing season to the AFMA Commission.
March-April 2015 AFMA Commission consideration of recommended Small Pelagic Fishery total allowable catches for the 2015-16 season.
26 April 2015 Expiration of the Final (Small Pelagic Fishery) Declaration (No. 2) 2013 that prohibits midwater trawl vessels over 130m with fish storage capacity over 1600 tonnes from receiving or processing  quota species in the Small Pelagic Fishery.
1 May 2015 The 2015-16 Small Pelagic Fishery fishing season starts.

Why is a recreational and conservation stakeholder forum being held?

The purpose of the first forum is to bring a wider audience up to speed with current and proposed future science and management, and to engage with conservation and recreational fishing stakeholders about AFMA’s future management of the fishery.  There have several important developments over the past two years including daily egg production method surveys and advice regarding adjustments to the Small Pelagic Fishery Harvest Strategy.

AFMA may hold a second meeting in late January or early February 2015 to discuss the Expert Panel findings and provide further advice on Small Pelagic Fishery science and management.

What is the purpose of the Small Pelagic Fishery Expert Panel?

In January 2013, the then Minister for the Environment appointed an Expert Panel on Declared Commercial Fishing Activity to investigate the environmental impacts of midwater trawling by boats greater than 130 metres in length with storage capacity for fish in excess of 2000 tonnes.

The Panel’s findings are due to be presented to the Minister for the Environment in October 2014. Another Expert Panel is proposed for the second Declaration that applies to boats with a fish storage capacity of greater than 1600 tonnes and includes receiving or processing fish in the Small Pelagic Fishery.

Is a ‘super trawler’ coming to fish in the Small Pelagic Fishery?

AFMA has not received any new applications for a boat of any size to fish in the Small Pelagic Fishery since the Final (Small Pelagic Fishery) Declaration 2012 that prevents boats over 130 metres in length and with more than 2,000 tonnes storage from fishing in the fishery was made.

The Declaration ends on 18 November 2014 after the Minister for the Environment receives the Small Pelagic Fishery Expert Panel’s report. More information can be found on the Department of the Environment’s website.

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Latest science in the Small Pelagic Fishery

What is being done in preparation for the 2015-16 season?

Key work underway for the 2015-16 Small Pelagic Fishery fishing season commencing on 1 May 2015 includes:

  • surveys on the East Coast of Australia to update population estimates for jack mackerel, blue mackerel and Australian sardine
  • CSIRO research to confirm the sustainable harvest levels of the different Small Pelagic Fishery species
  • consideration of the risks of localised depletion in the Small Pelagic Fishery and potential management rules to address any risk arising
  • the annual fishery stock assessment.

Is there any new data being used to set sustainable catch limits in the Small Pelagic Fishery?

Yes. Daily egg production method surveys are being conducted with support from the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation. Results are expected to be available for setting total allowable catches for next fishing season starting on 1 May 2015.

Small Pelagic Fishery total allowable catches are set according to the Small Pelagic Fishery Harvest Strategy. The strategy uses a tiered approach which recognises that where information on a species is limited, harvest rates should be set at a lower level. The strategy identifies that, once improved and more recent species information becomes available, primarily through stock assessment, harvest rates may be increased.

Are daily egg production method surveys going to be conducted every year to maintain total allowable catches?

Daily egg production methods are not required every year. However, if a daily egg production method survey is not done allowable catches reduce by 2.5 per cent each year from a maximum of 20 per cent of the total spawning stock down to 7.5 per cent.

Regardless of if the catch limit is set at 20 per cent or 7.5 percent of the spawning stock, the fishery is monitored and assessed every year to maintain sustainable catch limits.

Will climate change effects on stocks be detected?

The Fisheries Research and Development Corporation has funded a number of research projects looking at the effects of climate change on fish stocks. Daily egg production method surveys and annual fishery assessments estimate the size of fish stocks and changes in abundance. Fishing catch and effort information is also used. Together these should detect trends in the distribution and abundance of Small Pelagic Fishery species, some of which may be due to climate change.

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Sustainability of the Small Pelagic Fishery

How does AFMA ensure that fishing in the Small Pelagic Fishery is sustainable?

As an independent government regulator, AFMA takes advice from Australian and internationally recognised scientists to set sustainable total allowable catches. total allowable catches for target species in the fishery for the 2013-14 season are set at less than 7.5 per cent of stock size. This is a precautionary approach and is more conservative than internationally accepted standards.

Total allowable catches are strictly enforced by AFMA using high tech systems to support compliance officers working both at sea and in ports. Information on compliance tools can be found on the Compliance page of the AFMA website.

How are Small Pelagic Fishery boats required to minimise bycatch of protected species?

When requested by AFMA, fishing boats operating in Commonwealth waters must carry independent AFMA observers to monitor fishing activities and any impact on the marine environment. Observers collect biological data about fish and bycatch, which forms part of the scientific assessment used to decide sustainable catch limits.

All Small Pelagic Fishery mid-water trawl boats must develop, carry and abide by vessel management plans tailored to each boat to minimise interactions with seabirds, seals and dolphins. AFMA also requires mid-water trawl boats to use seal excluder devices to protect species such as seals and dolphins. AFMA routinely assesses and monitors seal excluder devices used on Commonwealth fishing boats.

What has been done about localised depletion?

There is no evidence of localised depletion in the Small Pelagic Fishery and there is low risk of it occurring in the future.

The Small Pelagic Fishery Resource Assessment Group which provides science based advice to the AFMA Commission, considers that, for the purposes of the Small Pelagic Fishery, localised depletion is ‘a persistent reduction in fish abundance in a limited area, caused by fishing activity, over spatial and temporal scales that negatively impact on predatory species and/or other fisheries’.

The risk of localised depletion in the Small Pelagic Fishery is low because the total allowable catches only allow the harvesting of a small percentage of the total fish stocks and the species are highly mobile. Also, research indicates that in Australian waters predator species can move to other areas or change food source if Small Pelagic Fishery species are not available at a particular time.

Small Pelagic Fishery Resource Assessment Group has considered possible management measures to reduce any risk of localised depletion and the AFMA Commission will consider whether any additional management measures are required before next season.

What do we know about the movement of the fish?

Fish movement depends on many factors including life history of the species, water temperature, ocean currents, food availability and reproductive requirements. As for almost all fish species in Australia, the impact of these factors on the movements of Small Pelagic Fishery species is not certain. However, stock boundaries for Small Pelagic Fishery species have been identified. Within these areas the species are highly mobile and occur over a wide geographic range.

Provided stock sizes can be estimated and any risk of localised depletion can be addressed, the fishery can be safely managed without knowing everything about fish movement.

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Management of the Small Pelagic Fishery

How does AFMA limit the amount of fish that can be taken from the fishery?

AFMA sets total allowable catch limits for the fishery each year. Total allowable catch limits are restrictions on the total amount of fish (by weight) that can be taken from the fishery each season. The best available science is used to set these limits, and due to the importance of small pelagic species in the food chain, the total allowable catches are set at precautionary levels in the Small Pelagic Fishery.

What sort of rules and regulations apply to boats in the fishery?

AFMA has strict regulations in place to ensure that all fishing operations, including those of large boats, are undertaken sustainably.

The fishery is managed through a  quota system, which restricts the catch of each target species to sustainable levels. Operators in the fishery are allocated a share of the total allowable catch limits for each target species, which can be transferred between operators.

All midwater fishing vessels operating in the Small Pelagic Fishery are subject to rules including: being fitted with a GPS tracking system; carrying AFMA observers where required; using a seal excluder device to prevent capture of seal and dolphins; and strict total allowable catches.

What are the total allowable catch limits in the Small Pelagic Fishery?

On 28 April 2014 the AFMA Commission set the total allowable catches in the Small Pelagic Fishery.

These can be found at Small Pelagic Fishery Total Allowable Catches for 2014-15 Season.

What is the basis for AFMA’s decision making?

AFMA is required to pursue the objectives in the Fisheries Management Act 1991. These include ensuring that fishing is consistent with ecologically sustainable development and maximising the economic returns to the Australian community.

AFMA consults with and seeks advice from a range of stakeholders including scientists, commercial and recreational fishers and environmental groups. While AFMA takes these views into account it is ultimately the AFMA Commission that make decisions to best pursue AFMA’s objectives.

Why doesn’t AFMA publish individual boat movements and catches?

AFMA publishes annual fishery catch information at Details about individual boat movements and catches are not made public by AFMA because the information is commercially sensitive and releasing it can disadvantage companies against their competitors. View the annual catch data published on

What are observer levels in the Small Pelagic Fishery?

The baseline coverage is:

  • 10 per cent for purse seine
  • 20 per cent for midwater trawl.

New boats that enter the fishery are required to have observers (the first five trips for purse seine boats, the first 10 trips for midwater trawl boats).

These levels may be increased based on the need for data from observers, primarily length and age samples, and monitoring of any discarded fish and any interactions with protected species.

Can lessons be learnt from the South Australian Sardine Fishery?

The South Australian Sardine Fishery takes approximately 30,000 tonnes of Australian Sardine mostly from within a small area of roughly 20,000 square kilometres.

Despite this, an ecosystem assessment has identified that localised depletion is not of concern in the South Australian Sardine Fishery.

The key lessons for the Small Pelagic Fishery from the South Australian experience are the importance of regular daily egg production method surveys if higher catch levels are to be maintained and the potential for area based management to reduce the impacts of the fishery on the ecosystem.

To that end, in addition to daily egg production method surveys that have taken place in 2014 and AFMA is exploring options for area based management to reduce the risk of any localised depletion in the Small Pelagic Fishery.

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