Updated 6 June 2016

Sustainability of the fishery

Management of catch

Management of bycatch and discards

Rules and regulations of the Small Pelagic Fishery

Boat-based management

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 and other fishery stakeholders to assist AFMA in pursuing its legislative objectives and ensuring that fishing in all Commonwealth fisheries, including the Small Pelagic Fishery, is sustainable.

Catch limits for target species are set in accordance with strict guidelines outlined in the Commonwealth Fisheries Harvest Strategy Policy and fishery-specific Harvest Strategies. 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, known as ‘quota’, of the total allowable catch limits for each target species, which can be transferred between operators.

In the Small Pelagic Fishery, the success of our management is evident with the ABARES Fishery status reports 2015 released in October 2015 indicating that no target species in this fishery is overfished or subject to overfishing.

To manage the impact of fishing on the broader marine environment, including bycatch and protected species, AFMA has adopted and implemented an ecological risk management framework.

Underpinning AFMA’s fisheries management framework is a comprehensive monitoring program that includes Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS), fishers’ logbooks, on-board observer and cameras. This way AFMA knows where all 300-Commonwealth fishing boats are at all times, what and how much they are catching.  In addition, compliance with fishery rules is also monitored through AFMA’s compliance program.

How is the risk of localised depletion managed?

For the purposes of the Small Pelagic Fishery, localised depletion can be considered ‘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’.

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

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 fishing for Small Pelagic Fishery species in Australian waters has only minor impacts on other parts of the ecosystem, as alternative food sources exist for large predator species like tunas.

Management of catch

How does AFMA limit the amount of fish that can be taken from the Small Pelagic Fishery?

AFMA sets total allowable catch (TAC) limits for key species in the fishery each year. These limits are restrictions on the total amount of fish (by weight) that can be taken from the fishery each season, irrespective of how many boats fish. The best available science is used as a basis to set these limits.

To catch fish in the Small Pelagic Fishery you must hold quota which entitles you to a proportion of the total catch. Quota can be traded between fishers at any time in a fishing season. Managing commercial catches by setting a TAC and having a quota system means that the sustainable catch cannot be exceeded regardless of the size or number of boats.

TACs 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.

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

At its April meeting, the independent AFMA Commission set the total allowable catches in the Small Pelagic Fishery for the 2016-17 season.

These can be found on the Small Pelagic Fishery page.

Why are the total allowable catch limits for the 2016-17 fishing season the same as the 2015-16 fishing season?

At its April meeting, the independent AFMA Commission set the catch limits for target species in the Small Pelagic Fishery for the 2016-17 fishing season, commencing 1 May 2016.

The total allowable catches for the 2016-17 fishing season have been set at the same level as the 2015-16 season. This decision allows time for the additional testing of, and consultation on potential changes to, the Small Pelagic Fishery Harvest Strategy. In making its decision the AFMA Commission considered the best available science and views from key stakeholders.

What is the latest research in the Small Pelagic Fishery?

The latest research in the Small Pelagic Fishery includes:

Research and data publications for this fishery can be found on the Small Pelagic Fishery page.

How does AFMA ensure that the views of stakeholders are represented in the decision-making process?

Considering the best available science and the views of stakeholders is an important part of AFMA’s management of Commonwealth fisheries, including the Small Pelagic Fishery.

Management Advisory Committees (MACs) are the primary way AFMA engages with stakeholders regarding the management of a fishery. In terms of the Small Pelagic Fishery, the South East MAC provides advice to the AFMA Commission on management matters relating to this fishery. Membership of the MAC contains a spread of expertise from the commercial fishing industry, conservation and recreational fishing sectors, scientific and state government representatives as well as the relevant fishery manager.

Scientific advice is typically provided to AFMA by Resource Assessment Groups (RAGs). In October 2015, the independent AFMA Commission decided to trial a scientific panel, together with stakeholder forums, to enable more stakeholders to engage in the advisory process while maintaining the focus on the scientific and economic advice it is seeking.

The Small Pelagic Fishery Scientific Panel members were appointed on 1 December 2015 for the trial period of two years. Attendance at stakeholder forums is by invitation. Stakeholders wishing to attend must first register their interest with AFMA after which an invitation may be extended.

The Panel’s advice, along with advice from stakeholders and the South East MAC, is considered by the independent AFMA Commission when making decisions related to the Small Pelagic Fishery, including on matters such as the harvest strategy and setting catch limits in the fishery.

More information can be found on the Small Pelagic Fishery Scientific Panel and stakeholder forum page.

What is the difference between recommended biological catch (RBC) and total allowable catch (TAC)?

The RBC is the maximum amount of catch can be taken sustainably for one species in a given fishing season. The TAC is normally determined by deducting state catch (including any recreational catch) and discarded fish from the RBC. The total allowable catch (TAC) is the amount that is allocated to Commonwealth fishers to catch each season.

Management of bycatch and discards

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

Under the Fisheries Management Act 1991 (FMA) AFMA is required to manage the impacts of Commonwealth managed fisheries on all aspects of the marine ecosystem. AFMA does this via an ecological risk management (ERM) framework which details a robust and transparent process to assess, analyse and respond to the ecological risks posed by Commonwealth managed fisheries. Find further information regarding how ecological risks are managed in the Small Pelagic Fishery.

Protected species interactions are managed in the Small Pelagic Fishery through a range of measures including:

  • area closures (e.g. around Australian sea lion colonies)
  • trigger limits and area closures (e.g. for dolphins, if a single dolphin death occurs in any one of the seven management zones as a result of mid-water trawling, then that zone will be closed for six months)
  • bycatch mitigation devices (e.g. fur seals and seabirds).

Bycatch and interactions with protected species are heavily monitored in the midwater trawl sector of the Small Pelagic Fishery and bycatch as proportion of total catch is low (less than 2 per cent).

Where can I find information on the number of seal and dolphin mortalities as a result of mid-water trawl fishing in the SPF?

AFMA publishes all threatened, endangered and protected species interactions in Commonwealth fisheries on a quarterly basis on our website under Protected species interaction reports.

Rules and regulations of the Small Pelagic Fishery

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

The Small Pelagic Fishery Management Arrangements Booklet summarises the main requirements for fishing in the Small Pelagic Fishery. Rules and regulations for boats in the Small Pelagic Fishery include:

  • the Small Pelagic Fishery Harvest Strategy
  • the Small Pelagic Fishery Bycatch and Discarding Workplan
  • being fitted with a GPS tracking system to allow AFMA to track a boats location in ‘real time’ (known as a Vessel Monitoring System or VMS)
  • carrying independent observers or electronic monitoring (including cameras), as required by AFMA to monitor their fishing practices
  • using equipment to reduce interactions with wildlife, like excluder devices to minimise risks to seals and dolphins
  • completing catch and effort log books
  • having to land all catch in Australia
  • only being able to sell to a licenced Commonwealth fish receiver
  • six month triggered closures for mid-water trawlers, that is, if a single dolphin mortality occurs in any one of the seven Small Pelagic Fishery management zones the relevant zone is closed for six months
  • compliance officers routinely inspecting catch and log books when vessels return to port.

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, maximising the net economic returns to the Australian community and optimal utilisation of the living resources of the Australian Fishing Zone.
AFMA must, by law, make science-based decisions.

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

Where can I find information about boats and their catch in the fishery?

AFMA publishes annual fishery catch information at data.gov.au. 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 data.gov.au.

AFMA publishes all threatened, endangered and protected species interactions in Commonwealth fisheries on a quarterly basis on our website under  Protected species information report.

What are observer levels in the Small Pelagic Fishery?

The minimum coverage is:

  • 10 per cent of days fished in the fishery for purse seine
  • 20 per cent of days fished in the fishery for midwater trawl.

New boats that enter the fishery are required to have observers for the first five trips for purse seine boats and the 10 trips for midwater trawl boats. These levels may be increased based on the need for data. Operators are required to carry an AFMA Observer at any time when directed to do so by AFMA.

The monitoring requirements for the Geelong Star are outlined in the current Vessel Management Plan.

Please note: The Vessel Management Plan for the Geelong Star is currently under review. Those with an interest in the Small Pelagic Fishery may provide comments by going to AFMA’s website at: afma.gov.au.

If you do make comments please provide, where possible, the scientific basis or evidence to support any proposed changes.

What boats can fish in a Commonwealth fishery?

To operate in a Commonwealth fishery, a boat must be an Australian boat and hold the relevant fishing concessions. There are several ways that a boat can be an Australian boat. These are outlined in Section 4 of the Fisheries Management Act 1991.

What are quota statutory fishing rights?

A quota statutory fishing right represents a share or percentage of the total allowable catch allowed in that fishery. Each season a total allowable catch is set for the respective fishery and a proportion of this catch is allocated to fishers based on the number of quota statutory fishing rights they hold. The total allowable catch is set in tonnes. It may vary from season to season depending on how much fish can be sustainably caught.

Therefore the number of tonnes that an individual or company can fish, also known as quota, will also vary from season to season. The quota held by an individual or company can also vary within a season as statutory fishing rights can be sold or leased. Like farmers who choose to lease part of their property for a set time to another farmer to produce food, fishers can lease or sell their statutory fishing rights to other fishers.

What closures apply to the Small Pelagic Fishery?

Mid-water trawl boats in the Small Pelagic Fishery are subject to a range of closures in place primarily to protect Australian sea lions and dolphins. These closures are enforced through the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery and Small Pelagic Fishery (Closures) Direction 2016, Small Pelagic Fishery (Closures) Direction No.1 2015, and the Geelong Star Vessel Management Plan.

On 20 April 2016, AFMA announced that more than one million square kilometres of additional offshore waters near southern and eastern Australia will open to mid-water trawling in the Small Pelagic Fishery.

This decision was made after AFMA found that Small Pelagic Fishery mid-water trawlers pose a low risk to deep water species such as orange roughy and gulper sharks so many of the closures that apply to trawling in the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery should not apply in the Small Pelagic Fishery. More information on this can be found at More offshore waters opening in Small Pelagic Fishery.

Boat-based management

What is a vessel management plan?

A vessel management plan (VMP) is a comprehensive boat-specific plan that sets out the day-to-day operational procedures that the boat must adhere to and includes measures primarily aimed at reducing interactions with protected species and reporting requirements.

AFMA’s management is adaptive and as such, VMPs can be updated to ensure they take into account on-the-water experience and the latest developments in techniques to reduce interactions with protected species.

Do boats fishing in the SPF require a vessel management plan before they can fish in the fishery?

All mid-water trawl vessels fishing in the Commonwealth Small Pelagic Fishery must have a VMP approved by AFMA before they start fishing. This is a legal requirement and is a condition on the fishing concession to allow operators to fish within the fishery.

Where can I find a copy of the vessel management plan for the Geelong Star?

The current vessel management plan can be found here: Geelong Star Vessel Management Plan (PDF, 2 MB)

Please note: The Vessel Management Plan for the Geelong Star is currently under review. Those with an interest in the Small Pelagic Fishery may provide comments by going to AFMA’s website at: afma.gov.au.

If you do make comments please provide, where possible, the scientific basis or evidence to support any proposed changes.

How is the Geelong Star’s position being monitored by AFMA?

The position of the Geelong Star is monitored by an AFMA approved GPS tracking system known as a Vessel Monitoring System or VMS. All Commonwealth fishing vessels are required to have an AFMA approved Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) fitted and operating at all times.

What is VMS (Vessel Monitoring System)?

A VMS is a satellite based automatic location communicator (ALC) that regularly transmits the vessel’s position, course and speed. More on AFMA’s VMS system can be found on AFMA’s website.

AFMA monitors the position of the entire Commonwealth fleet via its VMS software. All VMS derived data is commercial-in-confidence and is therefore not publically available. The data received from VMS is analysed and utilised for both law enforcement and resource management purposes.

AFMA has a dedicated team to ensure strict compliance and routine monitoring of all VMS requirements.

What is AIS (Automatic Identification System)?

AIS is a communications device and is administered by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, not AFMA. It uses the Very High Frequency (VHF) radio broadcasting system to transfer packets of data over the VHF data link. More information on Automatic Identification Systems is available on Australian Maritime Safety Authority website.

What is the difference between a Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) and an Automatic Identification System (AIS)?

There are two main differences between VMS and AIS:
1. Coverage area – VMS is satellite based system which means that the vessel is transmitting continuously no matter where it is located on the earth’s surface. AIS transmits information on VHF radio. The information can be received by other AIS units or receivers.
2. Data availability – Vessels are monitored by AFMA on a 24/7 basis and VMS data is not publically available. AIS can be viewed on some publically available websites such as marinetraffic.com