The Heard Island and McDonald Islands Fishery is managed by limiting the catch of fish, restricting how many boats can fish and regulating what gear they can use.
Patagonian toothfish and mackerel icefish are also caught by other countries. Australia’s catch of these species is part of the total catch internationally.
|G;Not subject to overfishing
|G;Not subject to overfishing
* Fishing mortality status relates to the level of fishing pressure on a stock - specifically, whether fishing mortality in the year being assessed is likely to result in the stock becoming overfished, or prevent the stock from rebuilding from an overfished state. If fishing mortality exceeds either of these thresholds, a stock is considered to be subject to overfishing.
** Biomass status relates to how many fish there are - specifically, whether the biomass in the year being assessed is above the level at which the risk to the stock is considered to be unacceptable. The HSP defines this level as the limit reference point, below which the stock is considered to be overfished.
|2020–21 total allowable catch (tonnes)
|2021–22 total allowable catch (tonnes)
|2022–23 total allowable catch (tonnes)
|Skates and rays
|Macrourids (all species)
|Macrourids (Macrourus caml & M. whitsoni)
|Macrourids (M. halotrachys & M. crainatus)
|Other deepwater species
Total fishery value
Confidential due to the small number of fishers.
In the Heard Island and McDonald Islands Fishery, fishers mainly use longline fishing gear (demersal or bottom longline) to catch Patagonian toothfish and trawl gear (demersal or bottom trawl) for mackerel icefish. Fishers can also use pots.
The Australian external territory of the Heard Island and McDonald Islands is in the southern Indian Ocean within the area covered by the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.
Major landing ports
- Frozen product – Australia, Japan, United States, China, eastern Europe
12 month season, beginning on 1 December.
Management of catch
This fishery is managed under a quota system that limits the amount of fish that boats can take in the fishery. Patagonian toothfish and mackerel icefish are managed by quota. This quota limit is also known as a total allowable catch. Under this system, each fisher is limited to catching up to the amount of quota that they hold and the whole fishery is limited to the total allowable catch that is set each season. Setting quotas is one of the main methods AFMA uses to ensure these fish species remain sustainable.
Several countries fish for Patagonian toothfish and mackerel icefish in Antarctic waters and these species are also managed internationally. The international Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) is made up of 25 participating member countries, including Australia.
Each year the CCAMLR recommends an annual total allowable catch limit for each member country and AFMA sets Australia’s total allowable catch limit each year for the Heard Island and McDonald Islands Fishery.
The Sub-Antarctic Management Advisory Committee and the Sub-Antarctic Resource Assessment Group reviews the international and domestic science and management of Patagonian toothfish and mackerel icefish and provide advice to the AFMA Commission.
Licence to fish
Fishers need to be allocated statutory fishing rights to fish in this fishery. Currently in the fishery there are:
- 30,000 quota statutory fishing rights for Patagonian toothfish
- 30,000 quota statutory fishing rights for mackerel icefish.
Data about the catch and effort of the fishery is collected from the logbooks that fishers fill out for every fishing shot.
- the species and amount caught
- catch that is discarded
- the catch/release of any protected species and their life status
- the time and location of fishing activities
- the type and amount of gear used.
There are currently two closures in the Heard Island and McDonald Islands Fishery.
- Closure of the area outside of the Heard Island Plateau to mackerel icefish fishing – no fishing is to be engaged in that targets mackerel icefish
- Closure of waters adjacent to the Heard Island and McDonald Islands – no fishing is allowed on the landward side of the line one mile seaward of the outer edge of the territorial sea of the Territory of Heard Island and McDonald Islands.
The Patagonian toothfish and mackerel icefish stocks at the Heard Island and McDonald Islands are assessed every two years by the Australian Antarctic Division. These assessments are reviewed by the Sub-Antarctic Resource Assessment Group and CCAMLR.
Australia (ABARES 2022):
- Patagonian toothfish – not overfished and not subject to overfishing
- Mackerel icefish – not overfished and not subject to overfishing.
Conservation dependent species rebuilding strategies
Both Patagonian toothfish and mackerel icefish are currently considered sustainable and are not under a rebuilding strategy.
Species risk assessments
AFMA regularly monitors the effects fishing activities have on marine species, habitats and communities through ecological risk assessments. The assessment results help to prioritise the management, research, data collection and monitoring needs for the fishery.
After the risk assessment is complete, an ecological risk management strategy is developed to address how AFMA will manage risks to marine species, habitats and communities identified in the assessment as impacted by commercial fishing operations.
Bycatch work plans
A bycatch and discarding workplan outlines ways to minimise the bycatch of species that are at a high risk of being caught as bycatch in the fishery. These species can include threatened, endangered and protected species and other non-target fish species.
View all fisheries bycatch and discarding workplans.
To export from an Australian commercial fishery the fishery must be approved as a wildlife trade operation by the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).
The Heard Island and McDonald Islands Fishery has been granted a five-year List of Exempt Native Specimens exemption, which allows export of fish product from the Heard Island and McDonald Islands Fishery for a period of five years until 2026. The Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water has included several recommendations on the exemption and AFMA must adhere to these throughout the length of the exemption.
View the most recent accreditation conditions and recommendations that must be followed.
Commonwealth marine reserves are areas established under Australian environment law to help conserve the spectacular marine life in our oceans. They allow ecologically sustainable use of our marine resources and provide special places for people to enjoy and appreciate the fantastic diversity of our marine habitats.
Marine reserves are sometimes known as marine protected areas or marine parks and are managed by the Department of the Environment. There is a Heard Island and McDonald Islands marine reserve.
More information about marine reserves can be found on the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water website.
Fishing in the fishery
Fishing operators wanting to fish in the Heard Island and McDonald Islands Fishery must hold:
- quota statutory fishing rights for the target species in the fishery AND
- a boat statutory fishing right.
Download a copy of the Heard Island and McDonald Islands Fishery Management Arrangements Booklet for a full description of all fishing requirements in the fishery.
The Heard Island and McDonald Islands Fishery is managed by AFMA under the Fisheries Management Act 1991, with the Antarctic Marine Living Resources Conservation Act 1981 implementing Australia’s international obligations under Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.
AFMA and the Australian Antarctic Division are charged with administration of these Acts.
Total allowable catch determination
The Heard Island and McDonald islands Total Allowable Catch Determination 2022 sets the total allowable catch limits for each fishing season. These limits are decided by the AFMA Commission.
Trawl fishing capacity determination
The Heard Island and McDonald islands Fishery Trawl Capacity Determination 2020 requires that a fisher has a minimum amount of quota before they can go fishing using trawl gear. This restricts the number of trawl boats to a maximum of three at any one time.
Each fishing season, AFMA officers regularly meet with the Heard Island and McDonald Islands Fishery industry to discuss any concerns. Discussions about the current trends in fishing and catches during the season are also valuable information gained at these meetings. This information is useful for the continuing management of the fishery.
Sub-Antarctic Management Advisory Committee
The Sub-Antarctic Management Advisory Committee is the advisory body for the Heard Island and McDonald Islands Fishery. The committee includes representatives from AFMA, industry, scientific agencies and environmental non-government organisations.
See the Sub-Antarctic Management Advisory Committee for a summary of the latest discussions and outcomes.
Sub-Antarctic Resource Assessment Group
The Sub-Antarctic Resource Assessment Group provides research and scientific advice for the Heard Island and McDonald Islands Fishery. The group is composed of fishery scientists, fishing industry members, an AFMA representative and other government department representatives.
See the Sub-Antarctic Resource Assessment Group for a summary of the latest discussions and outcomes.
AFMA works closely with other government departments, such as the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water. They help in providing advice and guidance on both domestic and international fisheries issues.
Environmental non-government organisations
Representatives from environmental non-government organisations attend the management advisory committee meetings and provide input and advice.
Research and data publications
The below map shows Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, specifically the territorial claims and CCAMLR statistical reporting subareas. Produced by the Australian Antarctic Data Centre:
One of the main monitoring methods used by AFMA is onboard scientific observers. These observers are people employed by AFMA to go out on boats and independently record the catch, effort and biological information of each fishing trip.
They take samples from fish, such as the otoliths or ear bones, and use these to determine the age of the fish caught.
Observers also record the length, weight and sex of each fish caught during a trip and report on the other wildlife that may be seen, the weather conditions, the composition of commercial catch fate of species that are caught as bycatch.
Boats in the Heard Island and McDonald Islands Fishery must carry an AFMA observer at all times.
Read more about our Observer program.
A satellite monitoring system called a Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) is fitted to every boat in the fishery. This system helps AFMA to monitor vessel position, course and speed. The tracking unit regularly transmits the information through a communications satellite to a station on land. This information is sent by secure internet connection to a database at AFMA.
Read more about our satellite tracking program.
AFMA fisheries officers regularly inspect fishing boats and fish receivers. They often visit fishing ports and board boats at sea to try to ensure the rules of fishing are being followed.
For more information on AFMA’s compliance program, please see the compliance webpage.