Updated 10 May 2017

Fishing in the Small Pelagic Fishery

Rules and regulations of the Small Pelagic Fishery

Science of the Small Pelagic Fishery

Stakeholder engagement

Fishing in the Small Pelagic Fishery

What fishing methods are permitted in the Small Pelagic Fishery?

The Small Pelagic Fishery Management Plan 2009 permits the use of the purse seine and mid-water trawl fishing methods, or another method determined by AFMA (See Part 4, Right to fish in the fishery).

Is pair trawling allowed in the Commonwealth Small Pelagic Fishery

On 10 May 2017 the independent AFMA Commission approved the determination of midwater pair trawling as an approved method in the Commonwealth Small Pelagic Fishery for an initial 18 month period, pending approval of the revised SPF Dolphin Strategy. This strategy was approved on 12 April 2017 and implemented on 10 May 2017.

Find more information about the decision and conditions that apply on afma.gov.au.

Why aren’t ‘super trawlers’ banned from fishing in the Small Pelagic Fishery?

A “Super trawler” has been defined by the Australian government as “a fishing boat over 130 meters in length overall undertaking fishing related activities”. The federal has government permanently banned boats of more than 130 metres in length from fishing in Commonwealth waters.

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

AFMA makes decisions using the best available scientific and economic information along with advice from fishery stakeholders to ensure fishing in all Commonwealth fisheries, including the SPF, is sustainable. AFMA does this through an ecological risk management framework.

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 Total Allowable Catch (TAC) system, which restricts the catch of each target species to sustainable levels, irrespective of the number or size of boat that fish.

Operators in the fishery are allocated a share of the TAC, known as ‘quota’, for each target species, which can be leased or permanently transferred between operators. The success of AFMA’s management is evident with the independent ABARES Fishery Status Reports 2016 released in September 2016 indicating that no target species in this fishery is overfished or subject to overfishing.

In terms of bycatch and protected species, AFMA uses a scientific ecological risk assessment process to identify and quantify risks posed to each species, from fishing. AFMA then develops management actions to reduce the risk to these species.

What are the catch limits in the Small Pelagic Fishery?

Total allowable catch limits (TACs) are set each season by the independent AFMA Commission.

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 SPF Harvest Strategy, underpinned by the best available science, is used to set these limits.

The limits for the 2017-18 fishing season can be found on the Small Pelagic Fishery page on afma.gov.au.

Why did the catch limit for Eastern Blue Mackerel and Australian Sardine increase?

TACs are set by the independent AFMA Commission taking into account the best available science.

The TACs are calculated using the best available science and rules as outlined in the SPF Harvest Strategy. Scientific Daily Egg Production Method (DEPM) surveys are used to estimate the biomass for each of the SPF stocks and the TAC is set as a proportion of that biomass. In 2015, results from new DEPM surveys became available for blue mackerel east and Australian sardines, which resulted in these species moving to the highest Tier (i.e. that allows the highest level of catch to be set) of the Harvest Strategy.

DEPM surveys are considered best practice internationally for determining the biomass of small pelagic stocks.

The SPF Harvest Strategy has been scientifically tested and found to not only meet the biological and economic requirements of the fishery but is also considered safe from an ecosystem perspective. The 2017-18 TACs have been set in accordance with the Harvest Strategy.

Consistent with how catch limits are set in all Commonwealth managed fisheries, some TACs increased, while others have decreased compared to the 2016-17 season, depending on the latest science.  Where data is limited or is uncertain, more precautionary catch limits are set.

Where are interactions with protected species recorded?

AFMA publishes all threatened, endangered and protected species in Commonwealth fisheries on a quarterly basis  under Protected species interaction reports on afma.gov.au.

Rules and regulations of Small Pelagic Fishery

What sort of rules and regulations apply to boats in the Small Pelagic 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
  • the Small Pelagic Fishery Dolphin Mitigation Strategy
  • 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, such as barrier nets and excluder devices to minimise risks to seals and dolphins, and tori lines, bafflers and offal management to minimise risks to seabirds
  • completing catch and effort log books
  • having to land all catch in Australia
  • only being able to sell to a licenced Commonwealth fish receiver
  • 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 Small Pelagic 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 electronic monitoring and observer levels in the Small Pelagic Fishery?

The minimum observer 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 and midwater pair 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 and midwater pair trawl boats. These levels may be increased based on the need for data. Operators are required to carry an AFMA Observer when directed to do so by AFMA.

If an AFMA Observer is not present, a minimum of 10 percent of trawling fishing activity recorded by electronic monitoring will be independently reviewed across the fishery to verify interactions with protected species.

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 bought, sold or leased in and out. 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.

Why did AFMA change the rules for interactions with dolphins?

The dolphin mitigation strategies in the SPF are more far reaching and consistent than the current arrangements.

In addition, the management responses in the new SPF Dolphin Mitigation Strategy are more severe than the existing Direction. This is consistent with the bycatch principles approved by the AFMA Commission in 2016 and is more consistent with the approach used in other Commonwealth fisheries. The Strategy aims to keep the number of dolphin interactions low but if a certain level of dolphin interactions is exceeded, the operator can be excluded from the whole fishery for six months.

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 boats Vessel Management Plan.

Science of the Small Pelagic Fishery

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 caused by fishing in the Small Pelagic Fishery and there is low risk of it occurring in the future at current TAC levels.

The risk of localised depletion in the Small Pelagic Fishery is low because the TACs 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.

What is the latest research in the Small Pelagic Fishery?

The latest research relevant to the Small Pelagic Fishery includes:

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

Stakeholder engagement

How does AFMA enable the views of stakeholders to be considered 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 that can include from the commercial fishing industry, conservation and recreational fishing sectors, scientific and state government 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.

If I can’t attend the Stakeholder Forum, how else can I ensure that my views on the management of the Small Pelagic Fishery are considered?

Members of the South East Management Advisory Committee are appointed to provide advice on the respective Commonwealth fishery. If you are unable to attend the Stakeholder Forum, AFMA encourages you to contact your member regarding your views.

A list of members can be found on the South East Management Advisory Committee page.

Periodically AFMA will call for submissions on various proposals related to the respective fishery.