Making sure all rules are complied with is an essential part of managing fisheries.
Our aim is to effectively deter illegal fishing in the Australian Fishing Zone. The rules and regulations of Commonwealth fisheries are designed to protect our fish for the future, the properties rights of our fishers and the broader marine environment.
AFMA uses a range of approaches to protect our fisheries, including monitoring our vessels, tracking our catch and cooperating with other countries to protect shared fish stocks. An effective monitoring, control and surveillance program is not just about policing. The setting of rules, collection of information, making sure rules are being followed and educating fishers and fish buyers of the rules are all important aspects of combating illegal fishing.
Supporting AFMA compliance programs are strong fisheries legislation, including strict rules and regulations with clear penalties and sanctions. Fishers and fish buyers caught breaking rules can be fined on the spot, their licence to fish can be suspended or, for the more serious cases, we may prosecute them or have their catch seized.
National Compliance and Enforcement Policy 2015 (PDF, 859 KB) – this policy provides an explanation of AFMA’s compliance and enforcement role and AFMA’s risk based approach across the Commonwealth fisheries.
National Compliance and Enforcement Program 2016-17 (PDF, 969KB) – explains AFMA’s compliance program priorities and objectives for the upcoming year.
National Compliance Risk Assessment Methodology 2017-19 (PDF, 735 KB) – explains AFMA’s compliance risk assessment process.
Administration of the Domestic Fishing Compliance Program report – report of the audit completed by ANAO to assess the effectiveness of AFMA’s administration of its Domestic Fishing Compliance Program.
- Policing our fisheries
- Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing
- Working with other countries
- Patrolling our borders
Fisheries Officers conduct targeted inspections of Commonwealth endorsed operators (these operators include the actual fishing boats and those who receive fish from fishing boats) in an effort to stop fishers from engaging in illegal activities.
All foreign fishing boats that come into Australian ports can be inspected by us. We can also refuse entry of any foreign fishing boat that has been known to be fishing illegally.
Tracking the boats
All Commonwealth fishing boats are tracked via satellite – to vessel monitoring systems. Satellite tracking is the main way AFMA monitor fishing activity across the Commonwealth fleet. AFMA targets Commonwealth boats who fail to have their vessel monitoring system operating at all times. These boats may be ordered into port until the problem is fixed.
Read more about satellite monitoring of fishing boats
Tracking the catch
It is important that operators provide AFMA with the correct amount of fish caught. If they do not, honest operators who are doing the right thing are impacted; which in turn has a negative effect on the future of the fishery.
Catch within our fisheries is monitored in several ways. This includes electronic logbooks, a Catch Documentation Scheme, electronic monitoring, logbooks, observers, audits and inspections.
Read more about our programs:
Education is the key ingredient to increase voluntary compliance. Fisheries Officers conduct education sessions before the start of all Commonwealth fishery seasons. Fisheries Officers also help fishers during inspections, providing one on one education.
For more information look at Australia’s National Compliance Strategy.
Setting the rules
We detect and investigate illegal activities by Australian and foreign fishing boats in the Australian Fishing Zone and in Commonwealth managed fisheries. Enforcing the provisions of the Fisheries Management Act 1991, Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984 and the Maritime Powers Act 2013 are the responsibility of AFMA.
Working with others
Combating illegal fishing using the best resources Australia can provide means working and exchanging information with other government agencies, including state and territory fisheries agencies and Customs and Border Protection.
IUU fishing depletes fish stocks through overfishing and is a serious threat to our region’s food security. It also results in large financial losses to coastal states and can seriously damage marine environments and fish habitats.
Because IUU fishing doesn’t have any management costs the fish is far cheaper than fish supplied by legitimate fishers which presents unfair market competition. IUU fishing for shared stocks can rapidly deplete fish stock in our fisheries.
IUU fishing falls into three basic areas:
- Illegal – fishing that is considered illegal and against the rules and regulations that are in place for that jurisdiction or region.
- Unreported – fish catches that are not reported or not correctly reported to the appropriate jurisdiction or region.
- Unregulated – fishing that is taking place without any rules or regulation being agreed to by the country or jurisdiction of the fisher.
More information about the Australian National Plan of Action to Combat IUU fishing can be found on the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources website.
Australia combats IUU fishing through aerial surveillance, sea patrols and real-time monitoring of fishing vessels. AFMA has strong legislation and compliances programs in place. If IUU boats are caught in Australian waters they can be seized and the crew detained and prosecuted, and in some cases imprisoned.
We work closely with other agencies and countries to fight IUU fishing on a regional and global scale by sharing information and denying access to ports. AFMA has a key role in implementing a number of regional and international agreements and arrangements which identify the tools we and others can use to strengthen the policing systems, or monitoring, control and surveillance programs, to combat IUU fishing.
Capacity building and education in other countries
We work with our neighbouring countries to develop their ability to fight against illegal fishing and to raise awareness of the importance of enforcing the rules.
AFMA uses different educational material, visiting other countries to talk to fishers and their fisheries officers.
Fisheries officers from other countries also visit AFMA to promote the benefits of fisheries management and to educate others on Australia’s fisheries laws and the consequences of breaching these laws.
These educational programs help other countries improve the effectiveness of fisheries policing programs and help them to set up their own rules and regulations as well as reducing the incidence of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in Australian waters.
One of the greatest challenges facing fisheries around the world is managing fish that swim between boundaries and policing fishing on waters that are not under any countries control.
AFMA works with many countries in international meetings to discuss and develop the rules and regulations of shared fisheries. Regional fisheries bodies and regional fisheries management organisations try to make sure shared fish resources are managed protected for the future. The methods to police fishing activities and share information are also discussed at these meetings, including standards.
Our input into these discussions and the implementation of the rules made by these international fisheries is very important as many Australian fisheries catch the same fish stocks managed by these bodies. We work closely with the two lead Australian departments, the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and the Department of the Environment’s Australian Antarctic Division, providing technical and specialist advice.
The regional fisheries and marine management agreements, compliance agreements and treaties, some of which establish Regional Fisheries Management Organisations, that AFMA is connected with include:
- Convention for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna
- Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission
- Convention on the Conservation and Management of High Seas Fishery Resources in the South Pacific Ocean
- Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources
- South Pacific Forum Fisheries Agency Convention
- South Pacific Forum Fisheries Agency
- Areas adjacent to the French Southern and Antarctic Territories, Heard Island and the McDonald Islands
- Regional Plan of Action to Promote Responsible Fishing Practices including Combating Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing in South East Asia
- International Plan of Action to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing
- United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982
- FOA Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries
Memorandums of Understanding
- Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of Australia and the Government of the Republic of Indonesia: Operations of Indonesian Traditional Fishermen in Areas of the Australian Exclusive Fishing Zone and Continental Shelf
- Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of New Zealand and the Government of Australia: Conservation and Management of Orange Roughy on the South Tasman Rise
- Indian Ocean Tuna Commission Agreement
- Southern Indian Ocean Fisheries Agreement
- Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing
- Agreement with the Government of the French Republic on Cooperation in the Maritime
- Agreement with the Government of the French Republic on Cooperative Enforcement of Fisheries Laws in the Maritime Areas Adjacent to the French Southern and Antarctic Territories, Heard Island and the McDonald Islands.
- Agreement on Strengthening Implementation of the Niue Treaty on Cooperation in Fisheries Surveillance and Law Enforcement in the South Pacific Region
- Agreement on Cooperative Enforcement of Fisheries Laws between the Government of Australia and the Government of French Republic in the Maritime Areas Adjacent to the French Southern and Antarctic Territories, Heard Island and McDonald Islands
- United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Agreement for the Implementation of Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 Relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks (the Fish Stocks Agreement)
- FOA Agreement to Promote Compliance with International Conservation and Management Measures by Fishing Vessels on the High Seas
- Treaty on Fisheries between the Governments of Certain Pacific Island States and the Government of the United States of America (1988)
- Niue Treaty on Cooperation in Fisheries Surveillance and Law Enforcement in the South Pacific Region
- Treaty between Australia and the Independent State of Papua New Guinea concerning sovereignty and maritime boundaries in the area between the two countries, including the area known as Torres Strait, and related matters, 18 December 1978 (Torres Strait Treaty)
- Treaty on Cooperation in the Maritime Areas adjacent to the French Southern and Antarctic Territories (Kerguelen and Crozet Islands) and Heard Island and McDonald Islands
We work with the Australian Navy, Customs and Border Protection and state police boats, to undertake at sea patrols of our borders and the waters just outside.
One of the main threats of illegal fishing is to the north of Australia. In these waters fishers from neighboring countries are tempted to cross shared borders illegally to catch shark, reef fish, tropical rock lobster and trepang (sea cucumber). This illegal activity is often driven by overfishing in their own waters, a lack of alternative ways to earn money and poverty in the area.
AFMA works closely has adjoining marine interests with Indonesia, Timor Leste and Papua New Guinea and with Customs and Border Protection Service and the Australian Defence Force to reduce the chance of illegal fishers coming from these regions, including patrolling our shared borders.
Over the past seven years, there has been a continuing and significant decline in the apprehension of illegal foreign fishing boats in our Northern waters, from a high of 367 in 2005-06 down to a low of seven in 2012-13. Strong enforcement measures have been the key to combating illegal fishing, with some boats apprehended in our waters being destroyed and many fishers prosecuted and, in some cases, imprisoned.
AFMA officers also participate in fisheries surveillance and enforcement patrols conducted by both Australia and Indonesia along our shared maritime boundaries. These patrols are a vital component of our joint efforts to deter illegal foreign fishing in Australia’s northern waters.
Torres Strait patrols
In response to a recent increase in illegal fishing activity by Papua New Guinea citizens within waters under Australian jurisdiction in the Torres Strait, AFMA, along with and Border Protection Command are focusing policing activities in the area.
AFMA is also working with the Papua New Guinean National Fisheries Authority to combat the illegal fishing and assist with prosecution. The illegal fishing is focused on trepang, with the price of the fish going up.
Australia ratified the Torres Strait Treaty with Papua New Guinea in 1985, setting out the maritime boundaries and management of the resources in the area. Combating illegal fishing in the region will assist in meeting objectives of the treaty, including protecting the traditional way of life and livelihood of the Traditional Inhabitants of the Torres Strait and adjacent coastal areas of both Australia and Papua New Guinea.
Southern Ocean patrols
High valued fish such as Patagonian toothfish and tuna species are the key species being taken by of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities in the southern-most regions of the Australian Fishing Zone and on the high seas.
AFMA’s officers are involved in patrolling the waters temperate and sub-Antarctic regions to protect Australia’s fisheries resources by deterring, monitoring and apprehended illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing fishing boats.
AFMA also undertakes cooperative patrols with other countries in these regions.
Our officers support Australia’s Southern Ocean patrol program, which is strengthened by working with France who share a fishing boundary with Australia in the Southern Ocean. The treaty between Australia and France and the enforcement agreement allow each country to increase coverage through joint patrols.
AFMA officers are patrolling Australian waters under joint fisheries patrols with the French Navy. The joint patrols aim to detect and deter illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in the adjoining Australian and French and nearby waters.
Pacific Ocean patrols
Australia helps lead the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in the Pacific region through support for the regional fisheries bodies in the area, the South Pacific Forum Fisheries Agency’s Forum Fisheries Committee, the Pacific Patrol Boat Program and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.
Since 2009, we have regularly taken part in the annual joint patrols and maritime surveillance operations in the Pacific Ocean including Operation Island Chief and Kuru Kuru (hosted by the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency), Tautai (hosted by France) and Solania (hosted by Australia).
AFMA regularly participates in the US Coast Guard fisheries enforcement patrols of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission Convention Area.
AFMA, with the assistance of the other government agencies such as the NSW Water Police and Border Protection Command, also lead fisheries patrols on the east coast of Australia and just outside our waters, on high seas area of the Pacific Ocean. AFMA fisheries officers board and inspect fishing vessels through international fisheries management agreements to ensure that the fishing vessel are following the agreed rules and to ensure their operations do not undermine the sustainability of shared fish stocks which would have negative impacts on our fisheries.