Part 1

Overview

Highlight

2014–15

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Chairman’s and CEO’s review

Key achievements for 2014–15

In 2014–15 the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) continued to deliver cost effective management that ensured healthy fish stocks and supported sustainable and viable Commonwealth fisheries.

Significant work was undertaken to reduce red tape in support of the Australian Government’s commitment to reducing the cost of unnecessary or inefficient regulation imposed on individuals, businesses and community organisations. Since the election in 2013 AFMA has identified 35 red tape reduction initiatives that have been submitted to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture and 15 of these initiatives have already been implemented. Revision of legislative instruments and changes to AFMA’s online information, application, reporting and payment systems are also helping to reduce the costs and regulatory burden on fishing businesses.

Over the past year AFMA’s activities have also focused on cost effective ways to help fishers further reduce their impact on the marine environment. In consultation with the commercial fishing industry and research partners we developed fishery specific work plans to minimise the risk to non-target species and ensure the risks to threatened species such as Australian sea lions and seabirds were minimised.

We have also worked towards implementing more cost effective methods of collecting and reviewing data with the introduction of camera-based electronic monitoring in a number of Commonwealth fisheries. Ongoing roll out of e-monitoring in Australia will provide greater insight into fishing operations, including the state of fish stocks and the impacts of fishing on the marine environment. This system will improve AFMA’s ability to manage Commonwealth fisheries and industry’s ability to demonstrate their commitment to sustainable fishing.

As part of this management, AFMA maintains an effective domestic compliance and enforcement program. This risk based program utilises intelligence driven and targeted operations to deter illegal fishing in Commonwealth fisheries and the Australian Fishing Zone. High priorities in 2014–15 were quota evasion and Vessel Monitoring System compliance to ensure all boats were reporting at all times. It was pleasing that Vessel Monitoring Systems compliance rates continued to improve over 2014–15 with the average rate increasing slightly from 97.7 per cent in 2013–14 to 97.9 per cent in 2014–15. Following a drop in compliance rates in March and April 2015, a zero tolerance program was conducted in May–June. This saw compliance rates rise to an average of 99.7 per cent in June 2015.

In May 2015 the orange roughy fishery was re-opened off eastern Tasmania. Re-opening of this fishery is a prime example of management success by AFMA, as well as by government and industry. In the late 1980s and early 1990s orange roughy stocks were severely overfished in Australia, leading to stock declines and fisheries closures. AFMA has been closely monitoring the stocks of orange roughy for many years. In 2015 the AFMA Commission reviewed scientific evidence and expert advice that the stocks are rebuilding and was confident in re-opening the fishery under a conservative total allowable catch of 500 tonnes for the 2015–16 fishing season subject to strict vessel monitoring measures. You can read more about the re-opening of the orange roughy fishery in the feature story on page 27.

AFMA also continued to engage with our international networks, including INTERPOL, in combatting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in the Southern Ocean. Since the start of 2015, with the sinking of the Thunder and detention of the Kunlun (Thailand), Viking (Malaysia), Perlon (Malaysia), Songhua and Yongding (Cabo Verde), there are no known illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing vessels in operation in the Southern Ocean. Progressive reductions in illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in the Southern Ocean over the past decade have supported recent increases in the total allowable catch for Patagonian toothfish in the Heard Island and McDonald Island Fishery.

The most recent Fisheries Status Report (released by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences on 23 October 2014) found that no stocks managed solely by the Commonwealth (AFMA) were subject to overfishing (a stock that is experiencing too much fishing and the removal rate from the stock is unsustainable). This is the first time since 2006 that such a status has been achieved and reflects the effectiveness of AFMA’s management approach. However, six stocks were listed as overfished (a fish stock below the biomass limit reference point), and AFMA will continue to pursue comprehensive management strategies to rebuild these stocks.

Financial performance

AFMA continues to focus on cost-efficient service delivery and has worked closely with industry over many years to minimise costs whilst successfully maintaining service levels.

AFMA reported a deficit of $3.431 million for the 2014–15. This was in line with expectations. The deficit relates primarily to depreciation and asset write-down. AFMA’s total departmental expenditure was $39.963 million, which was $0.222 million lower than the previous year.  AFMA’s administered expenditure was $2.290 million, relating to the caretaking and disposal of illegal foreign fishing vessel; this was some $1.046 million lower compared with the previous year, reflecting lower numbers of vessel seizures. 

Budget outlook

AFMA has budgeted to spend $39.852 million in delivery of regulatory and other services in 2015–16.

AFMA has budgeted for a small approved operating loss in the 2015–16 financial year of $1.798 million. This loss represents AFMA’s depreciation/amortisation expenses.

Administered expenditure is anticipated to remain at recent levels, approximately $5.4 million, but this is highly dependent on the tempo of illegal foreign fishing vessel caretaking and disposal activities.

Our operating environment

AFMA continues to use the best available research, science and other evidence-based information to support our decision making and apply comprehensive risk assessment and management. As fisheries management often involves complex systems, our decisions are based on a precautionary approach particularly where the available scientific information is limited. Our approach is often more conservative than internationally accepted standards.

The profitability of many of our fishing operators is affected by the exchange rate. In the last 12 months cost drivers have generally been favourable. While variable, available indicators suggest operator profitability is rising. Wholesale diesel prices, though up from January 2015 reflecting in part the decreasing value of the Australian dollar against the US dollar, are still lower than recent years and translate into lower fishing costs. Prices for exports have generally increased and conversely, imported seafood has become more expensive. This assists the Australian fishing industry to compete in the domestic market.

Such external factors will always impact on the profitability of the fishing fleet, and AFMA will continue to implement management arrangements that support fishing industry efforts to maximise net returns to the Australian community.

Fisheries management cost processes

While the sustainability of Commonwealth fisheries is reasonably well assured through current and planned management practices, keeping management costs appropriately commensurate with beneficial outcomes to the fishing industry and the community is a constant challenge. AFMA’s cost recovered budget for 2014–15 increased by nearly 4 per cent over the 2013–14 cost recovered budget reflecting a greater level of investment in research.

In 2010 AFMA made a commitment to industry that it would keep cost recovery at or below the rate applied in 2005–06 once corrected for Consumer Price Index increases. We met this commitment in 2014–15 and since 2010, AFMA has out-performed the cumulative Consumer Price Index increases by more than $22.5 million. We are determined to continue to meet this commitment.

Government reviews of fisheries policy

AFMA has continued to work with the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and other government agencies in developing the Australian Government Fisheries Policy, a revised Commonwealth Harvest Strategy Policy and a new Bycatch Policy. It is anticipated the draft policies will be further developed in 2015–16. The outcomes of this work are expected to impact on AFMA’s future operations and the operating environment for key stakeholders.

Environment and sustainability

Under the Fisheries Management Act 1991, our key role is to ensure that the management of fisheries is conducted in a way that is consistent with the principles of ecologically sustainable development and the exercise of the precautionary principle. In this context, AFMA manages the impact of fishing on commercial species, by-product, bycatch and the broader marine ecosystem.

In addition, all Commonwealth managed fisheries are accredited or undergoing renewed accreditation under Part 10 (strategic assessment), Part 13 (wildlife interaction) and Part 13A (export approval) of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

This means that all fishery operations are regularly assessed for their impact on matters of national environmental significance, in particular the Commonwealth marine environment. Interactions with protected species are allowed provided they are in accordance with the accredited management arrangements. Exports from the fishery are permitted for the period of accreditation.

Details of progress on environmental management and responsible fishing are provided in Part 3 of this annual report on page 60.

Outlook for 2015–16

AFMA will continue to pursue its legislated objectives and deliver the Australian Government’s election commitments of ‘competitive and sustainable fisheries, reducing regulation and boosting productivity, and improving stakeholder engagement’.

In 2015–16 AFMA will continue to focus on the cost effective delivery of fisheries management in the Australian Fishing Zone – the world’s third largest. We will do this while working with industry to prevent unacceptable impacts of Commonwealth fisheries on marine ecosystems and organisms. The completion of review and revision of the Australian Government Fisheries, Harvest Strategy and Bycatch Policies will be key elements in AFMA’s efforts to deliver sustainable fisheries for the longer term.

AFMA’s regulation of Commonwealth fisheries will ensure sustainable and profitable fisheries that produce fresh, healthy Australian seafood now and into the future.

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Our Agency

History and establishment

AFMA was established under the Fisheries Administration Act 1991 in February 1992 to manage Australia’s Commonwealth fisheries and apply the provisions of the Fisheries Management Act 1991. Together, these two Acts created a statutory authority model for the day-to-day management of Commonwealth fisheries.

Our portfolio department, the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, retains responsibility for strategic fisheries policy advice and leading international negotiations.

The AFMA Commission is responsible for domestic fisheries management, and the CEO (who is also a Commissioner) is responsible for foreign compliance and assisting the Commission to implement its decisions. For the reporting period AFMA is governed by the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 and the Public Service Act 1999.

During the reporting period our minister was the Hon. Barnaby Joyce MP, the Minister for Agriculture. Senator the Hon. Richard Colbeck was the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture with responsibility for fisheries.

Role and functions

AFMA is the Australian Government agency responsible for the efficient and sustainable management of Commonwealth commercial fisheries on behalf of the Australian community and people with an interest in Commonwealth fisheries. The challenge is to find the right balance between a profitable and competitive fishing industry while keeping the impacts on Australia’s marine ecosystem within sustainable and acceptable levels.

Our fisheries management practices aim to make sure that healthy and fresh local seafood is available to Australians both now and into the future. These practices have regard to the impact of fishing on non-target species and the long-term sustainability of the marine environment.

AFMA generally manages commercial fisheries from three nautical miles offshore to the boundary of the Australian Fishing Zone, as well as Australian boats fishing on the high seas. State and territory governments generally manage fisheries within their borders and inside three nautical miles from shore, except where Offshore Constitutional Settlement exist between the Commonwealth and state governments.

The Commonwealth is also responsible for international fisheries matters, including preventing illegal foreign fishing in the Australian Fishing Zone. Our involvement in managing fish stocks on the high seas is also increasing. Since ratifying the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement in 1999, Australia has been actively involved in negotiating regional arrangements to manage a range of highly migratory, straddling stocks and international stocks.

AFMA is a regulatory agency that pursues efficient and cost effective fisheries management in a way that accounts for the effects of fishing and ensures ecologically sustainable development. AFMA also regulates the use of these fisheries with the aim to pursue maximising net economic returns to the Australian community. In doing so we are accountable to the community and the fishing industry.

Australia’s Commonwealth fisheries are managed in accordance with government cost recovery policy. The commercial fishing industry pays for costs directly attributed to, and recoverable from, the fishing industry, while the government pays for activities that benefit the broader community.

Our stakeholders include the commercial fishing industry, researchers, environment/conservation organisations, recreational fishing, Indigenous interests and other government agencies. We have built a partnership approach with our stakeholders and involve them in developing policies and actions; encouraging them to share responsibility for fisheries management where appropriate.

We also provide fisheries management services to Joint Authorities of the Commonwealth and state governments, including the Torres Strait Protected Zone Joint Authority under the Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984.

Our values

We individually and collectively underpin our service, partnerships and accountability to stakeholders by adhering to the principles of public sector governance.

We are:

  • Impartial – we are apolitical and provide the government with advice that is frank, honest, timely and based on the best available evidence
  • Committed to service – we are professional, objective, innovative and efficient, and we work collaboratively to achieve the best results for the Australian community and the government
  • Accountable – we are open and accountable to the Australian community under the law and within the framework of Ministerial responsibility
  • Respectful – we respect all people, including their rights and their heritage
  • Ethical – we demonstrate leadership, are trustworthy, and act with integrity, in all that we do.