Updated 11 May 2018

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. In March 2018, jigging and minor line methods were determined as approved methods in the SPF effective 1 May 2018 through the Fisheries Management (Small Pelagic Fishery) Fishing Method Determination 2018. These methods are subject to the following conditions:

  • ongoing monitoring including that an observer is present on the first five trips of any new fishing operation and as directed by AFMA thereafter
  • any vessels using these methods must have an AFMA approved seabird management plan.

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 Government has 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 2017 released in September 2017 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 2018-19 fishing season can be found on the Small Pelagic Fishery page on afma.gov.au.


Where are interactions with protected species recorded?

All fishers are required to report in their logbooks if they have an interaction with a threatened, endangered or protected species.

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

How is spatial management applied in the Small Pelagic Fishery

Spatial management, in the form of regional catch limits, was introduced for mid-water trawling in the SPF in 2015 to distribute effort across the fishery and collect representative data on target species. Although the risk of localised depletion occurring in the SPF is considered to be low, based on the best available science, regional catch limits may further reduce the risk by restricting catches in localised areas of the fishery over time.
AFMA has undertaken a review to ensure that the spatial management in the SPF remains relevant and based on the outcomes of that review, the following arrangements will be implemented at the start of 2018-19 fishing season from 1 May 2018:

  • the removal of the requirement that only 75 per cent of an individual’s quota can be taken in any one of the seven sub-areas of the fishery as any risk of localised depletion is best managed on a small scale;
  • retention of the one degree grids (~60 nm blocks) that require boats to ‘move on’ if the catch taken in a rolling 30 day period reaches 2,000 tonnes which applies to all species; and
  • the revised spatial management arrangements in the SPF apply to all vessels, regardless of method.

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 stakeholders’ 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 monitoring levels in the Small Pelagic Fishery?

The minimum monitoring level 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 first 10 trips for midwater trawl and midwater pair trawl boats. These levels may be adjusted depending on the need for data requirements. Operators are required to carry an AFMA Observer when directed to do so by AFMA.

If an AFMA Observer is not present, fishing activity may be recorded by an electronic monitoring system and the appropriate level of footage reviewed to ensure the data needs are met.

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 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.

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. These closures are enforced through the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery and Small Pelagic Fishery (Closures) Direction 2016, and the Vessel Management Plans.

What arrangements are contained within a Vessel Management Plan?

All mid-water trawl and mid-water pair trawl vessels fishing in the Small Pelagic Fishery must have a Vessel Management Plan (VMP) approved by AFMA before they start operating.

A VMP is a comprehensive boat-specific plan that sets out the day-to-day operational procedures that the boat must adhere to and includes measures primarily aimed at reducing interactions with protected species and reporting requirements.

AMFA’s management is adaptive and as such, VMPs can be updated to ensure they take into account on-the-water experience and the latest developments in techniques to reduce interactions with protected species.

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 and economic 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. A review of the model is currently underway.

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.