The National Surveillance and Response (NSR) unit is a team of six AFMA Fisheries Officers who work primarily within the Australian Maritime Border Operations Centre as part of Australia’s Maritime Border Command. The team plays a vital role in detecting and deterring illegal fishing in the Australian Fishing Zone (AFZ) and areas of interest outside the AFZ, as well as providing fisheries input into Australia’s civil maritime security program. The NSR unit works closely with the Australian Defence Force and the Australian Border Force delivering specialist fisheries advice when conducting surveillance or investigations and apprehensions of foreign fishing vessels.

NSR has worked within Maritime Border Command for the last 12 years and have played an important part in reducing illegal fishing in Australia’s waters.  AFMA’s fisheries expertise, together with support from partner agencies and international counterparts, has reduced the numbers of illegal foreign fishing vessels from an all-time high of 367 in a 12-month period in the mid-2000s to just 14 in 2017-18. This coordinated approach is also particularly evident in the Southern Ocean where there are now no known illegal fishing vessels currently in operation in Australia’s area of interest.

The NSR team members bring a range of skills and backgrounds to the role, from law enforcement officers to fisheries managers and policy writers, bringing their knowledge and experience to a working environment that is forever changing and unpredictable. The NSR team are on call to respond to and advise on issues relating to illegal fishing 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  On any given day, they may be coordinating the deployment of Fisheries Officers on patrol vessels, authorising the apprehension of suspected illegal foreign fishing vessels or communicating directly with a variety of foreign fishing vessels regarding their movements through Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

In addition, the NSR unit works closely with Australia’s international counterparts in sharing intelligence and planning regional fisheries operations to further enhance our abilities to detect and deter illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

The team is required to be across any number of issues relating to fishing activities at both a foreign and domestic level. They are law enforcers, information analysts, stakeholder liaisons, relationship builders, decision makers and problem solvers. It’s an exciting job where no two days are the same.

Illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing (also known as IUU fishing) is one of the greatest threats to sustainable fisheries and the ongoing health of marine ecosystems.  Fish species such as tuna, marlin and sharks migrate thousands of nautical miles, moving in and out of the fishing areas of different countries.

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.

Cooperating with other countries, particularly our neighbours, is important to combat illegal fishing in Australian waters and to manage shared fish stocks that swim between boundaries.

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.

International agreements

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 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


  • 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
Australia has one of the largest fishing areas in the world.  AFMA uses different methods to protect these waters from illegal foreign fishing including assisting and educating neighboring countries, working with countries to treat the causes of illegal fishing and patrolling our borders.

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.

Northern patrols

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.