Fishing quota, also called Individual Transferrable Quota (ITQ), provides a share of the fish catch or fishing effort allowed in a fishery to an individual fisher. Fishing quota is usually specific to a fish species as part of a fish stock (a distinct population of a species). In best practice fisheries management, a sustainable fish catch or amount of fishing effort for a species or stock is set for a fishing season and is usually termed a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) or Total Allowable Effort (TAE). The fishing quota allocates a portion of that TAC (as a weight of fish) or TAE (as an amount of fishing gear) to the owners of the fishing quota.
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How do fishing quotas work?
Catch based quota entitles a fisher to catch a certain amount (usually in kgs or tonnes) of a fish species, fish stock, or sometimes a group of species/stocks, in a fishing season which can be up to a year in length. Fishing boats must have enough fishing quota to cover the amount of fish that they catch. AFMA primarily uses a legal instrument called a Statutory Fishing Right (SFR) to implement and administer fishing quotas.
SFRs are granted under statutory management plans and exist as long as the plan remains in place. The amount of catch that each SFR is worth can be changed by AFMA over time based on changes in the TAC. TACs may change based on a scientific assessment of the fish species or stock so that catch levels are sustainable and maximise net economic returns.
Effort based quota entitles a fisher to use a certain amount of fishing gear (such as a length of net, number of hooks, etc.. depending on the type of fishing and gear used). Fishers can only use the amount of fishing gear for which they have quota. TAE can also be changed seasonally so that effort levels are sustainable and maximise net economic returns.
AFMA assesses the status of fish stocks and determines the level of catch or fishing effort that is sustainable. AFMA implements harvest strategies that maintain key commercial stocks at ecologically sustainable levels and within this context, maximises the economic returns to the Australian community. You can find a guide to the sustainability of Australian seafood fish stocks at FRDC's fish.gov website. AFMA then sets the total allowable catch (TAC) or effort (TAE) for the species or fish stock.
The stock assessment produces an estimate of the sustainable level of catch (termed the Recommended Biological Catch (RBC)). Discards from Commonwealth fisheries and catches recorded from other jurisdictions (State and Territory commercial and recreational fishing catches) are subtracted from the RBC. A TAC is then recommended to the AFMA Commission who is the decision maker for Commonwealth fishery TACs.
In some AFMA fisheries, the stock assessment produces an index of abundance that increases and decreases based on the size of the stock. As the index of abundance is proportional to the size of the fish stock it already takes discarded fish and other jurisdiction’s catches into account so there is no reason to deduct them when recommending a TAC to the AFMA Commission. For these types of assessments the TAC is generally increased or decreased proportional to the increase or decrease in the index of stock abundance.
The TAC is then divided between the quota owners proportional to how much quota they own.
Often fishing quota is transferable, meaning that quota owners can buy or sell it. AFMA also allows fishing quota to be temporally transferred (leased) for a fishing season. This means that if a quota owner wants to catch more fish of, or use more fishing effort for, a certain species or from a certain stock they need to buy or lease quota from another quota owner.